New CAO looking forward to continuing her work

CAO Debbie Oyarzun
By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – After reviewing nearly 50 applicants, narrowing it down to a field of 12 and conducting in-depth interviews with four finalists, Morinville has a new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO). Morinville Town Council announced at their Feb. 28 regular meeting that Debbie Oyarzun was the successful candidate.

Oyarzun was originally hired as Deputy CAO under then CAO Eddie Doepker. When Doepker’s contract was terminated in July of 2011, Oyarzun was made interim-CAO and has been in the position for the past seven months.

Although relatively new to the municipal administration scene, Oyarzun has a varied experience, including a Master’s Degree in science and 19 years’ experience with provincial and federal governments. She has worked in the private sector, owned her own consulting firm, and ran a Latin nightclub with her husband.

“She was very clearly heads above the other three candidates in terms of interview,” Mayor Lloyd Bertschi said, adding when the process began there was some thought to simply give her the job as she had been doing it for some months. “Debbie said, ‘Absolutely not. If I’m going to get this job it has to be fair and square, and a competitive process.’ By going through this process she legitimately was a unanimous number 1 choice of council the day of interviews.”

Bertschi said Oyarzun has done a good job over the past seven months working with council. “When she first started she took us all out one on one and had a conversation with each of us to try and get to understand everyone better, understand where they’re coming from better,” the mayor said, adding under Oyarzun’s role as interim-CAO she has increased the amount of council workshop time. “She’s done a really good job of pulling this council closer together.”

Oyarzun is looking forward to continuing that work with council and her administrative team, and said she was pleased she was selected to continue that work.

“Having been in the interim position for seven months I really invested a lot of time and effort working with council to bring them to where they are today, looking at processes, hearing their needs, and trying to address them,” Oyarzun said. “To me it was a good result in that because I put all that effort in there, I wanted to reap the benefits of it. I want to see the benefits of it. I want to be on the receiving end now being able to work with them as we move forward in this positive light.”

The new CAO said had the search for a replacement for Doepker come sooner in her time as interim-CAO she may or may not have put her name forward, but given the opportunity came after some months, she decided to apply. Having brought council further on the road to working cohesively, she said she felt she was the right person to carry them further along that path.

[subhead]Key objectives planned

Oyarzun said she has some key objectives in her role as CAO. Chief among these is a Collaborative Governance Initiative, a project that was givent he official go ahead Feb. 28. “That governance project will help us look at roles and a clarification of roles and responsibilities, clarification of mandates, enhance our communication,” Oyarzun explained. “I’ve been working solely on communication because to me transparency is very important, and it just gets everyone on the same page. But I want to take it up a notch now.”

The CAO said she will be looking at several processes in the municipal organization with an eye to documenting them and being accountable to those processes. “I think – again – it goes to transparency,” she said. “Once you have something documented, it makes it more transparent. Then if you need to make changes or you need to justify something, you’ve got a place to start.”

Oyarzun said she will be looking internally to make sure Morinville is well positioned for the work ahead. “Do we have the right people in the right place doing the right thing at the right time, and do they have the right tools and resources to do it,” she said. “We’re in that awkward stage now. We’re not a small town anymore. We’re not a great big city yet, but the expectations from residents and from council and from other stakeholders is that we’re moving towards that big city. So we’ve got to pull ourselves out of that smaller town-approach to doing things and really focus on getting our processes documented and getting value behind them.”

Oyarzun’s hiring is the third CAO the Town of Morinville has hired in as many years, a situation that left the mayor surprised the position attracted nearly 50 candidates, given the community’s track record. For Morinville’s new CAO there is a confidence she is here to stay, although she said she realized a new council could have a new vision down the road.

Oyarzun, has decided to call Morinville, or at least the area surrounding Morinville, home. The CAO said she and her husband have purchased land five or six minutes from Morinville and are going to build a home there.

“That was one of the things that attracted me to the original [Deputy CAO] position here, was that I could actually move out of Edmonton and move within the community and work within the community rather than having to commute back to Edmonton,” she said, adding much of the family’s business has been moved to Morinville and her son attends school here.

It is anticipated a search for someone to fill the Deputy CAO position Oyarzun originally held will begin soon.

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