Town Council votes to end contract with CAO

Edie Doepker is shown in this file photo taken during Morinville's centennial celebrations in April.
By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – While most town employees have been clearing out their desks in preparation for the temporary move to the Morinville Parish Hall; one Town employee cleaned out her desk for good Thursday afternoon. In a 4-2 vote late Wednesday afternoon, Morinville Town Council voted to terminate its contract with Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Edie Doepker.

Council had called the special meeting for 5 p.m. July 13, the day after their regular council meeting. After calling the meeting to order, Council immediately went in camera which prohibited media from observing what was discussed. When the public meeting resumed, council voted on what had been discussed in private – the ending of Doepker’s contract.
That recorded vote was a 4-2 decision in favour of ending the contract, Councillors Ben Van de Walle, Nicole Boutestein, Gordon Boddez and Lisa Holmes voting in favour, Mayor Lloyd Bertschi and Councillor Paul Krauskopf voting in opposition. Councillor David Pattison did not attend Wednesday night’s special meeting of council.

Reasons for Doepker’s removal were not elaborated on or answered and any potential factors leading up to the vote were not discussed in the public portion of the meeting.

Doepker came to Morinville as Chief Administrative Officer two years ago after two decades as a senior executive in the public sector. Her previous municipal and private sector roles include being a principal at Edie Doepker & Associates, General Manager Leisure and Parks Services for the City of Coquitlam, and Director of the Business Families Centre at University of British Columbia, Sauder School of Business.

Under Doepker’s term as CAO, Morinville developed a new brand and corporate identity, completed an extensive Municipal Sustainability Plan to guide the community over the next quarter century, and implemented a series of short- and long-range business plans. Additionally, it was under Doepker’s guidance as CAO that the Town of Morinville expanded its administrative staffing by approximately 18 positions. While the former initiatives remain largely unknown in the community, the hiring of so many new positions met with opposition from some members of council and the public during 2011 budget talks.

One of those positions added in the 2011 budget year was that of Deputy Chief Administrative Officer. That position was recently filled by Debbie Oyarzun who will now assume the role of Acting CAO for the Town of Morinville in Doepker’s absence.

According to the Town of Morinville’s website, “The Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) ensures the programs and services of the Town of Morinville are delivered in accordance with Council approved policy in a professional, effective and efficient manner. The CAO is responsible for motivating and developing skills of department heads and their staff to foster productivity, professionalism and high morale. The CAO, reporting directly to Town Council, has general control and manages the administration of the government and affairs of the corporation.”

The termination of Doepker’s contract is the second termination of a CAO in Morinville in the past two years, and the third change of CAOs since 2006. will continue to report on this story as details become available.

UPDATE 3:20 P.M.

The following press release was issued late Thursday afternoon

Morinville sets new direction
Morinville, Alberta….The Town of Morinville has begun the search for a new Chief Administrative Officer.
Mayor R. Lloyd Bertschi stated: “In a 4 to 2 vote on Wednesday, July 13, 2011, Council decided to move in a new direction. Edie Doepker did a great job for us and we will miss her. We wish Edie well in her future endeavours.”
In the interim, Debbie Oyarzun takes on duties as the acting Chief Administrative Officer, Bertschi announced.
The Town of Morinville is a vibrant, growing community north of the City of Edmonton. With a population of 7,636, Morinville views itself as a healthy business and residential community that offers a rich quality of life in a small town setting.

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  1. With all the list of accomplishments that Ms. Doepker has finished, one would wonder which direction the new members on Council are trying to take the Town? The new members must be well aware of what they are doing – after all, they HAVE been doing this for 8 months now and appear to consider themselves as the experts.

    Elected members should remember that they are just that – and I for one will not be voting for these 4 in the next election.

    I for one wish nothing but luck and prosperity for Ms. Doepker, I think she has been nothing but good for this Town and hopefully there will be a candidate that is willing to come here, knowing that this is the 5th person in that chair in as many years.

  2. I am deeply saddened and frustrated by this decision of Council. The Town finally had a very dedicated and knowledgeable CAO after years of turmoil, distrust and poor morale, and I feel this might be a road that Council will travel again, fasten your seat belts. It is truly a dark day for Morinville, we finally got this Town in good shape and now this will set the Town back and it may never recover. Edie had the respect and support of Town employees which took alot to achieve. I truly believe Council needs to put their own agendas aside and work as a team which is not currently happening, if you have a disfunctional Council it will not work. It is the job of Council to set the direction, Council failed and not the CAO. I am a strong supporter of change but sometimes change is not always good. I hate to think what this Council’s new vision and direction is, is this a coup? What do you think it is costing the Town of Morinville for a decision of four Council members, that seem to be so concerned with the Town’s budget? It may be very difficult for this Council to earn respect and gain any support from their own employees and quite frankly who would want to take this position with all the historical and now current baggage. I wish Edie all the best, she was an exceptional CAO and a well respected colleague. I had great respect for all members of Council during my terms cause it is a thankless job and now all I can say is my heart goes out to Lloyd and Paul cause I know this will not be an easy or enjoyable term and I know how much you love this Town. I guess time will tell but I know where my vote will not be going next election, and I think we all need to pay more attention and make your voice heard.

  3. I must agree with Jon’s comments.
    In this week’s Free Press Ms. Boutestein and Ms. Holmes mention all the things they were not aware of after being elected. As Ms. Holmes stated, “We got elected and we got a binder full of budget documents.” Perhaps some homework should have been done before the election so you would have had some idea of what you were signing up for.
    It would appear that these council members were so eager to learn that they turfed the one person who probably could have guided them the most!
    As for Councillors’ Van de Walle and Boddez, I have lost any respect I may have had in the past and will certainly not vote for them again. Perhaps one of them would like to apply for the vacant position of Chief Administrative Officer. I’m certain that all four councillors put together could not add up to the credentials Ms. Doepker brought to the town.
    The town’s new Tag-Line is “growing together” but it would appear that we are going backwards. It appears that this decision was made very quickly and without much forethought.

    The only “direction” I see the town going from here is down.

  4. I wish to promote a second opinion. Ms. Doepker was indeed knowledgeable. Unfortunately what the above posters did not mention is that her communication and relationship skills were lacking. In a new direction a change was obviously needed. Credentials mean nothing when your people skills are left wanting.

  5. Shame on all of you Ben Van de Walle, Nicole Boutestein, Gordon Boddez and Lisa Holmes. Word of mouth travels quite fast in a small town, and I for one will not be voting for you 4 in the next election! Because of your decision to terminate the most competent and intelligent CAO Morinville has ever seen, we will now be left trying to fill a position that no one is going to want because they will be afraid of losing their job before they even start. This is because of the high turnover rate of CAO’s in the last 6 years.
    the combined experience of the 4 of you, doesn’t hold a candle to Edie’s experience! She has dedicated her best time and efforts to this town and you just snuffed it out in an instant. Shame, shame, shame on you.
    I hope we make it through this crisis! Good luck finding someone as good as Edie!

  6. I too was very shocked and taken back at councils sudden decision to let our CAO go. I feel the need to address Marvin’s comments on Edie’s so called “people skills”. When I was first introduced to Edie I was immediately impressed with the geniune, sincere approach I felt from her. I felt valued and connected with her and thought to myself that she is someone I would feel totally comfortable approaching with “any” issue. I have worked with and around many people with great credentials on paper, but my first and lasting impression of Edie was that her credentials go far beyond anything put on paper and that she does not put herself above anyone else. I have no doubt that Edie will do fine in whatever endeavors she pursues next, but I can’t say I feel as confident on the future of our community at this point. Can’t wait for the next election to come!

  7. I for one am not so quick to shoot down the decision of the 4 councillors. I worked for the Provincial Govt. for 36 years and know that many things are not what they seem to be in the public.

    I trust the decision of the councillors and will support them in their future endeavors.
    Linda Lyons

  8. While I agree that we do not know the whole story, I still find it a sad fact that they let her go! I contacted The Town office a few times with different issues and Edie responded to me personally every time. I had a conversation with her at the trade show and she was very personable and interested in what my concerns and issues were.

    As I said we will never know the entire story and we have no choice but to accept the decision of Council, but I am curious what kind of price tag comes with terminating her contract when only 2 years ago they did the same with the previous CAO? As a tax payer I do believe that Council should HAVE to publish this information.

  9. As I don’t find myself within the inner circle of the council, I can’t say for certain why they let Edie go. I don’t know what reasons they have for the decision. I honestly doubt anyone else posting so vehemently against knows the ACTUAL reasons for her dismissal. I’ll reserve my judgement and anger(if warranted) for a situation I know the details of.

  10. This decision will cost approx. $70,000.00 which relates to 1% tax increase. That is a huge impact on the taxpayers.

  11. I had the opportunity on a couple different occasions to deal with Edie, and she seemed confident, knowledgeable, and passionate.

    That being said, there is absolutely no way that 4 members of council voted to terminate her contract without a very, very good reason. Shame on all you people for boo’ing the hardworking members of council without getting the facts! Never mind favouring one side of the story, we don’t know EITHER side of the story yet! Boo them for not releasing information on a timely basis, absolutely, but you can’t second-guess a decision without knowing anything about it.

    In fact, 4 members of council believed the Edie did something improper, so maybe you should actually have your pitchforks pointed at the Mayor and Councillor Krauskopf! Maybe not though, I have no idea what Edie did, so I can’t armchair quarterback this one, but neither can you.

    I have respect for Edie, I wish her good luck, but I am ABSOLUTELY looking forward to the possibility of getting a CAO with a different viewpoint on fiscal responsibility and stability. When town administration presented the 2011 budget to Council, they mentioned they would be drawing down financial reserves, but nobody had any idea how much the town actually had in reserve. That’s like you cutting cheques without having a clue what your bank balance is. It’s just absurd and extremely concerning.

    Add that to the $3 million upgrade of the town hall, COMPLETELY financed by by debt which will be paid for by future taxes. They didn’t save up a SINGLE PENNY for this, and recommended a complete 3 million overhaul rather than the $300,000 upgrade that would have been required. As Mr. Dafoe pointed out above, there is also the huge issue of the $1 million plus of brand new salaries included in 2011. You can’t add almost 20 new positions in a small town like Morinville in one year and expect the process to be efficient or cost effective. Unlike capital costs, this million+ will be paid EVERY YEAR!

    Our taxes here are approaching the levels of St. Albert. With the debt spending going on, it seems likely they might even EXCEED St. Albert. People will not move here if the costs far exceed the benefits. I’m excited for the growth opportunities that Morinville has, but we really, REALLY need some checks and balances in our spending, as it is completely out of control and no longer seems to have any attachment to needs or reality.

  12. I feel that it’s probably necessary for me to properly qualify my statement that ‘taxes are approaching the level of St. Albert’. So I’ve taken my lunch hour to call around, crunch some numbers, and try and bring some discussion and thought to this.

    For 2011, the mill rate (taxes paid per $1000 of property value) in Morinville is 6.39. St. Albert is 6.83. This means that for an average house of $350,000, you are only paying $200 more in annual taxes in St. Albert.
    For the purpose of comparison, Edmonton’s 2011 mill rate will make the heart of any Morinville resident skip a beat… 4.68

    Another metric is total Municipal (operating) budget paid for by residents, per resident.(based of est 2010 population)
    Morinville ($5.7m / 8108) = $710 per person
    St. Albert ($57m / 60,138) = $958 per person
    Edmonton ($427m / 812,439) = $525 per person

    Regrettably, we don’t have swimming pools, exercise facilities, a well-connected park system, etc like both of the comparisons do.

    Morinville has some exciting and fantastic growth potential, but there needs to be some financial resolve and evaluation of where to spend money in the most efficient manner. We need to evaluate our competitiveness versus other communities, figure out why people aren’t moving here, and fix those issues.

  13. Perhaps Donna could also fill us in on the cost of terminations for the previous CAO’s positions as well? I believe she voted on at least two pervious CAO terminations while she was on council? While she’s at it maybe she could include the cost of all Senior Management termination payouts during her time on council as well?

    This Town is in the early stages of a major financial melt-down. The decisions that have been made over the previous 36-48 months (with respects to borrowing) are going to come back to haunt us.

    I will reserve my judgment on the decision to fire Eddie until the end of this Council term. We will then have the opportunity to evaluate not only this decision, but the subsequent decisions that are going to define this Council as a whole. The money spent during the last Council and CAO tenures are going to be a major problem for this Council and the next couple. Unfortunately it will be the Council that finally gets things under control that will suffer, not the previous ones who made the bad decisions.

  14. Sean S – Edie did nothing wrong. She moved the town in a GOOD new direction. The 4 council members have their own agenda that they are keeping secret for now. They say they want a new direction, but haven’t told us what it is. As of yesterday, it began going backward. Good luck Town of Morinville.

  15. I hope that $70,000 severance cost to the taxpayers was worth it – oh wait, we’ll never know the reasons will we…I guess that comes with the “trust” we place in our elected officials, however it’s a bit hard to do when they pull something like this. Maybe the AUMA should look into it and give us an answer.

    Perhaps the word severance would be a good one for our new councillors to learn if they ever decided to read more of their budget binders – it’s what you pay someone when you fire them for no apparent reason.

  16. You don’t know me, but I work in your Town. Every day I come to work at the Town office to earn a living … to support my family … just like you. And despite the many obstacles I face every day, I continue to put a smile on my face, carry out my role to the best of my ability, and remember all those things my parents taught me about treating people with dignity and respect. And just like you … I feel as though the rug has been pulled from underneath me.
    I have watched existing staff ushered out the back door, and new staff marched in the front . Not always given an explanation, and quite frankly I don’t need to know all the details, but surely someone must recognize the negative impact these decisions have made on staff, and the town’s residents. Imagine how other communities view our Town and Council as we once again dismiss another colleague, Edie Doepker.
    A co-worker recently described Town staff as “a group which cares about each other, supports one another, teases and laughs with each other, and makes a point of going the extra mile so the residents enjoy a higher quality of life” … just like you … “we celebrate life!” Sounds like a family.
    Residents need to know that it was Edie, with her wealth of knowledge and experience, who made our jobs easier with the leadership she provided and we will be forever grateful for her commitment. We will never doubt the accomplishments made during her time here.
    Just like you … we will feel the lasting ripple effect of one hastey decision made by a vote of council whose lack of experience/personal agendas will resonate in and around our community … and just like you … we will miss her.

  17. I was on council when we were forced to accept two CAO resignations. At the time, there were some who wondered why and thought that it was a mistake. I can assure you that for me, there was absolutely no doubt that it was the correct action to take.

    So, it is with some reservation that I comment here, as I was not in the room when the decision was made, nor do I know why Edie was let go.

    I do not accept that the resignation needed to be sought. I hope that any short comings were made clear to her and that time to correct these short comings was given.

    When a CAO is released, we lose more than just a CAO in the end.

    Members of her management team who were hand picked by her because they possessed the kinds of attributes she felt helped build a strong team might not be the same ones the new CAO will be looking for. They will then be let go so as to build his/her own team.

    Anyone of the current management team that applies for the vacant CAO job may be let go because they will be seen as a threat to the new CAO unless they are the one selected.

    Members of the current team may not want to work with the new CAO so they will leave for greener pastures.

    Staff will have to learn all over a new way of doing things, as changes will come with a new CAO.

    The town will once again be left treading water instead of moving forward.

    I am also concerned about what appears to be a split on council by what I believe to be a disgruntled councillor and a couple/few followers. Many votes go 4 to 3 in favour with the same three opposing. This time they managed to get the one more they needed.

    Some of these same councillors slow up agenda items because they feel they do not have enough information, however the councillor package is available days in advance and if more information is required, it should be sought BEFORE the meetings so that it can be voted on and moved ahead.

    One of these councillors does not even read the package at all and then asks all kinds of question to get an understanding of the issue so as to vote, wasting the councillors time, that took the time to come prepared.

    How often are these councillors seen at town events? Most, not often.

    It would not hurt town members to attend some of the council meetings through out the year to see how your elected officials conduct themselves and to see what is really going on in your town.

    Joe Gosselin

  18. Ms. Doepker’s dismissal was the tragic consequence of unsophisticated and short-sighted political maneuvering. I wonder if the full range of negative consequences of terminating Ms. Doepker was ever comprehended by any of the four Councillor’s who orchastrated her removal.

    Ms. Doepker was well respected among colleagues, ever-present at community events and deeply committed to improving this community. The same cannot be said of these four Councillors whose ongoing devisive actions have polarized Council, battered the morale of senior administration, angered a solid majority of the staff, and likely caused long-term damage to the reputation of this municipality and its recent upward trajectory. Blind ambition and vindictiveness seem to have overshadowed good governance and reason.

    Council exists to serve your needs, not the political aspirations or personal agendas of individual Councillors. I urge all citizens of Morinville to become more active in the political realm, and to exercise your democratic right to attend Council meetings and ask your elected officials to justify their actions to its electorate. Go and see how your elected officials govern themselves during Council meetings, ask yourself if these are people who seem to have the community’s best interests in mind, and if they are acting in a respectful and dignified manner – are they good ambassadors, do they make you proud, or embarrassed.

  19. The direction and guidance of Lloyd Bertschi, Paul Krauskopf and Edie Doepker has always been that of forward thinking. They have worked tirelessly positioning this town to be an effective regional partner open for business when the ship of opportunity arrives at Morinville’s shore laden with the many opportunities that the projected provincial growth and regional upgraders present. This vision is fully embraced and supported by the directors and their staff. Through their inspiration, integrity, motivation and leading by example many accomplishments have been achieved working as a team during Ms. Doepker’s term as CAO. Alas, others who are sorely lagging behind in the comprehension of the elements necessary for the town’s growth, success and development have chosen to outvote them. The growth that would have been generated by the increase in staff and services would have more than offset the increased expenditures that it appears were the issue. For Morinville to prosper, growth is a must.

    I fully believe that everyone deserves patience and support as they embark upon a very steep learning curve. I also believe that everyone should have personal goals to strive for. But should the growth of an entire community be put on hold for the personal interests of four individuals focused in another direction? Should the professionals hired on as town staff have their momentum, and thus their ability to best serve residents, inhibited due to the removal of their leadership? In fact, Ms. Doepker was the source of knowledge and experience that was needed to assist those facing such a steep learning curve. Perhaps the new members of council could learn from the seasoned councilors; there is something to be said for experience. Rather than choosing to put a halt on the team’s momentum, imagine what could be achieved if everyone could learn to function as a team.

    The vote to terminate Ms. Deopker has left the community having to sort through this and wondering where their vote will be going next election – who should we send out to meet the ship of opportunity when it arrives? Who will be prepared to present our community professionally as a place to do business? One has to hope that the ship does not arrive before the next election.

  20. Shelly-good impute. Deopker was and is excellent in her profession and always portrayed much pride and elegance. Some of the Councillors are perceived as being on personal me-me me agendas and seem to feel threatened with their lack of knowledge. Maybe some should take the time to take the community in mind and learn and grow in their position as councillors- for themselves and for the community they are suppose to represent.

    It is more than always wanting to get your name in the news or pic in newspaper,it is more than showing up once a month for a mtg and falling asleep, it is more than knocking your fellow councillors and town staff calling them down to make yourself look better. Unfortunately Morinville perceives to have a dysfunctional council, some should maybe consider the by-election route and leave room for people who really care.

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