Opinion: New Morinville CAO has not previously managed a town

The first of two opinion columns by freelancer Ed Cowley running this week.

by Ed Cowley, freelancer

The town of Morinville is hiring a CAO who has no experience operating under the Municipal Government Act of Alberta. He has decades of experience managing under the federal Indian Act according to the town.

“While there are different guidelines governing municipal governments and First Nations, the nature of the work is inherently the same. They both guide and oversee the programs and services that most impact the day-to-day lives of its residents and business owners,” stated Mayor Simon Boersma. “I am confident that the leadership skills, vision, and experience Mr. Narayan has gained through his experience over the past 29 years makes him the perfect choice for our CAO. He will skillfully lead Administration in advancing Council’s strategic plan and ensuring we provide Morinville residents with effective and efficient day to day operations.”

The town of Morinville had issued a press release earlier this month announcing the hiring of its new CAO, stating the selected candidate spent over two decades in “First Nations municipal management.” First Nations operate under the federal Indian Act. However, towns in Alberta operate under the Municipal Government Act.

All Morinville council members were asked by email to explain their understanding of the situation since First Nation Bands do not operate under the Alberta Municipal Government Act and the town of Morinville does not operate under the Indian Act.

Members of council were asked the following questions by email.

“1. What is ‘First Nations municipal management’?

“2. Is the town of Morinville operated under the same legislation as First Nations municipal management?”

The Mayor and three councillors responded to the questions. Two first-term councillors and one second-term councillor did not respond.

“Having not written the press release you refer to; I would direct you to communications for clarification on their choice of wording,” stated coun. Stephen Dafoe..

“My understanding of First Nation-Municipal Management comes from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. They, along with Community Economic Development Initiative and CANDO authored a publication in, I think, 2016. The document is Stronger Together-A Toolkit For First Nations-Municipal Economic Development Partnerships.

“From that publication’s introduction:

“‘Across Canada, First Nations and municipalities are strengthening their regions by collaborating on service agreements, land use planning and economic development. Through this process, they are working to reconcile past differences and build powerful new relationships based on mutual respect, understanding and a common vision for their future’. [The full document can be found at: https://fcm.ca/sites/default/files/documents/resources/tool/stronger-together-toolkit-cedi.pdf]
“Of course, those types of collaborations predate the document above,” stated Dafoe.

“As to your second question, municipalities operate under provincial and federal regulations. While First Nations operate differently than municipalities, provincially there is involvement with First Nations, including the recent Alberta Indigenous Opportunity Corporation, and First Nations Development Fund,” noted Dafoe.

Second-term councillor Scott Richardson stated, “Thanks for the email. I’m not sure I fully understand the question. But I’ll do my best to answer.”.

“1. First Nation Municipal Management would be the same management as any other municipal management,” he stated.

“2. While the town of Morinville may not fully be under the same legislation as First Nations I believe it would be similar in nature on how to run an organization. Similarly if we hired a CAO from Ontario the legislation would be different to that in Alberta but the organizational management would be the same or very similar,” noted Richardson.

First-term councillor Maurice St. Denis responded, “I would like to preface my response to your questions with a few questions of my own? As I have stated previously, I have the utmost respect for the work that you do in our community. You see municipal politics through such a refined lens–so I can’t help but think your question is rhetorical.  Why are we getting lost in the minutiae? If the statement read ‘First Nations Management’ would the focus of your column change?

“Municipalities and First Nations fall under different orders of Government. Obviously you know this. Naleen Narayan has worked with First Nations for over 29 years in many different capacities—as an Electoral Officer, Band Administrator, Director of Education, Economic Development Officer, Financial Advisor and most recently as a CEO. He has experience in negotiating utility service agreements, reviewing organizational structures, evaluating field staff, developing and nurturing equity-sharing relationships with regional partners, and developing policies in finances, governance, HR, and personnel. Naleen is more than qualified for the CAO position. Much of the legislation Naleen would have been working with in his previous roles would have no-doubt fallen under federal legislation–but his purview would be the same. Our administration will assist in getting Naleen up to speed on our policies, bylaws, budget and the MGA [Municipal Government Act],” explained St. Denis.

“Naleen was chosen because he was the most equipped candidate to strengthen relationships (and our position) within the region, to create efficiencies within our organization, to generate new sources of revenue and to improve our financial position,” St. Denis concluded.

So by the end of this month Morinville will have a rookie Mayor, who did not serve even as a councillor before Oct. 2021; three rookie town councillors with less than one year’s service under a rollercoaster of a CAO, interim CAO, and acting interim CAO; and a new CAO with no stated experience managing under the Municipal Government Act of Alberta.

Regarding the town’s communications department, here’s the response when the questions were sent to ‘All Mayor and Council’ on the town website.

“Thank you for reaching out for information for your freelance column.  As you are aware, all media requests received by email, including those received through the Town website, are treated as an official media request. The Mayor, as the official spokesperson, would provide the official response on behalf of the Town.  If you are looking for individual points of view from the Mayor and Councillors, and you are not requesting an official statement from the town, please e-mail each member of Council individually [addresses were provided].  It is completely at their discretion should they decide to respond,” stated the town of Morinville communications department.

The town of Morinville paid its CAO more than $250,000 in each of 2020 and 2021 but did not announce the pay package for the new CAO.

All seven members of council voted in favour of the hiring.

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  1. As somebody who has sat on Council before, I believe that I have a good understanding of the decision that was made and can provide some input.

    I tend to agree with Councillor St. Denis with his comments. The reality is, I don’t really think that it matters that much.

    Everybody needs to start somewhere. The new CAO has almost 30 years of experience in managing aspects of other communities, and other communities. Regardless of the legislation that he was under, he had to learn to work within the framework of the law, build relationships and lead an organization. These skills are inherently what the CAO requires. Remember, the leader of an organization is generally not the person to get their hands dirty with a shovel, or to verify transactions in a database. They are there to watch over their team, to provide guidance and strategies to accomplish the directions from Council and to ensure that laws are being followed.

    I work in the private sector, and one of the best things I’ve seen happen at my workplace is a manager, or a director that is brought in from an entirely different industry, that has some great leadership skills and ways of looking at things. The fresh perspective can often find solutions to problems that are innovative and forward thinking. Morinville could use that as it continues to grow.

    I applaud Council for making their choice. From an outside perspective, it looks like the CAO is not only qualified, but also provides some diversity to the town and to the leadership team. Great move all around Council. Great move!

  2. Please have a close look at the record of previous town councils and managers. Not good. In fact, very poor. The best thing that has happened to this town is a new mayor, several new councilors and a new manager. Next election, let’s get rid of all those old councilors that are left!

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