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Former Coaldale CAO offers advice for a town moving forward

Posted on January 27, 2015 by Sunny South News

As one of the former CAOs for the Town of Coaldale mentioned in the Jan. 20, 2015 article titled, “Coaldale chamber asks town what’s up with the latest CAO woes,” I thought I would shed some light on the questions and concerns outlined by the chamber. The average term of a CAO, in a single municipality, is between three-five years.
This high turnover is the result of many factors with the most obvious being political volatility and the intense nature of the position. Believe it or not, Coaldale is well within the norm.
My predecessor, Leo Ludwig was CAO for over five years and I was in the position for three years. I would have remained in that position had I not chosen to resign for a number of reasons that speaks to the concerns outlined by the chamber.
Firstly, I had an exceptional working relationship with council during my tenure.
As a team, the organization went through some major changes that included failures, improvements and significant victories. All of which were part of an evolving municipality trying to transition from a sleepy bedroom community into a thriving, self-sustaining small city.
It wasn’t until after the October 2013 municipal election the relationship between myself and a small minority of council deteriorated.
All it takes is one adversarial councillor to disrupt a highly functional team which throws things off course. I recognized this division and opted not to continue, as the focus of certain council members conflicted with what I was prepared to endure. I felt strongly it was what was in the best interests of myself, council and the community as a whole to bring in a CAO that could thrive in this new environment.
Secondly, being the head of an organization that runs a town is not easy or straightforward.
Most of what a CAO does is never seen or recognized by staff, chamber members or the community — so it is very hard to pass judgment, especially when tough decisions have to be made. Budget cuts, staffing issues, instituting efficiency and performance management measures and accountability are never popular but the municipality needs the CAO to do these things.
Municipal Affairs tends to step in when they aren’t being done. Plus, it is not realistic to put the town’s success or failure on one person. It is truly a team effort for better or for worse.
The chamber of commerce is right to provide a voice that questions the direction of the town. There is no question Coaldale is in an unstable situation.
Any municipality that is lacking a CAO and has a negatively divided council will surely struggle. It is hard on staff and residents but it is council’s right to determine who their only employee is. The chamber is not privy to the confidential interactions between council and the CAO, nor should they be.
For any organization to publicly state false information they know nothing about is irresponsible. As any good lawyer would know, personnel issues are confidential.
It would be helpful for the chamber to assess what their motivation is for questioning. If the chamber wants to perpetuate the public image Coaldale is unstable, divided and critical of council, how does that help move the community forward in a positive manner?
Instead, help council by providing useful feedback and offering support both privately and publicly.
Based on what I’ve read in the Sunny South News these last six months, the chamber sees nothing positive in the Town of Coaldale and that is unfortunate because I see much to be proud of.

Respectfully submitted,
Bonnie Farries

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