3 Years at the Helm - Resigning CAO Ron Campbell Discusses the Good the Bad and the Ugly

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
April 23rd, 2009

Rossland City Hall will be losing a key piece of its operations as of the day this article comes out with city CAO Ron Campbell having announced his resignation early last week. Currently enjoying a number of weeks accumulated vacation time before his resignation is official, Campbell is now out of the office, taking some time off, and looking towards the future as he maps out his next venture. Catching up with Ron at City Hall this week, I had the chance to chat with him about the good the bad and ugly aspects of his three year tenure running the City of Rossland.
Firstly, for those who may not know, what is it that a CAO does?
It’s the Chief Administrative Officer so it’s an officer of the corporation for one and also in my position here I’m also the corporate officer. It’s actually two roles here. Both are officer roles. In my CAO role I’m responsible for running the corporation of the city of Rossland so all of the department heads report to me and I report to council. Council has one employee, which is me, and then the department heads report to me and I report to them. My responsibility is to make sure that any policies or directions from council are implemented and to run the corporation and to meet the requirements of the provincial government through the legislation.
The corporate officer’s role is maintaining the records. It’s actually listed in the act: the officer has very specific roles that report back to the province and then there are other things I do for council. I have to keep all of the records, keep minutes and all of this. That’s the overall goal.
How long have you been in the Rossland CAO position?
In June it will be three years. I came over from the city of Vernon
What brought you to Rossland?

When I resigned in Vernon, this position was brought to my attention. Initially, I didn’t apply for this job: it was brought to my attention by the consultant of the recruitment firm Rossland had hired at the time and he asked me if I might be interested in doing an interview. So I came and the interview panel (which was the former council) thought I would be the right fit and asked me if I would take the job. So we negotiated a bit and here I am.
Three years later, was it a good choice?

I think it’s been a privilege to serve the people of Rossland and to serve council. We’ve accomplished a lot of good things, I think very positive things for the community and I’ve enjoyed that. I’ve enjoyed working here with the staff and for the people of Rossland it’s a beautiful community.
Over the three years what are you most proud of?

The two biggest accomplishments that I think are very positive for the city are the Strategic Sustainability Plan, Visions to action and the subsequent Sustainability Commission and task forces over the last two years and running into three years now. There was an incredible amount of community involvement in that process–second to none that I’ve ever seen. The province sees it as an example of how other communities should do sustainability planning.

When you have that public involvement where the law is actually developed by the community not politicians, not special interest groups but by the community and that’s what happened here it was really an exciting time.

The other big thing in my mind is developing a very professional staff here. Hiring all professional staff and converting city hall from what it was in the past and –not saying that was bad but in those days you didn’t’ always need a professional staff and modernising the whole corporation and developing a service of excellence to the community. For me it’s been really good working with everybody here. We have an excellent management team here, we work hard but we enjoy what we do here and providing service to the community.
To go back to the sustainability plan, one of the outcomes of that that was a very big issue to me and for the community was the OCP the new Official Community Plan which, again, was built literally by the community; it’s a document that reflects all of the input from the community over a two year period so it’s a community document–not city hall’s.
When I first started here from a financial perspective the way we handled our financials was really not in accordance with modern accounting standards. In addition to that, the city was running a deficit, which is illegal. You can’t under the act, you’re not allowed to run a deficient, but the city had for a few years been running deficits. We got rid of that in the first year so that’s big. We now run marginal surpluses every year and that’s excellent for the community.
There have been some divisive issues in Rossland during your time as CAO. What have been some of the biggest challenges you’ve faced?
Well, the golf course for one. That was a big community issue, from a staff perspective it was a very difficult time for city council and therefore a difficult time for staff because we monitor information that we had to churn out about the kind of correspondence that we were dealing with that made it a very busy time for us. I think at the end of the day when council decided to approve the development permit but with layers of requirements so although the development permit was approved it has layers of requirements hat have to come back to the city before a shovel of dirt can be turned, so the development permit approval did not mean approval of the golf course, it just meant approval to go and get a lot more detailed information and I thought that was an appropriate approach that council took with that issue.
Looking back, knowing what you know now and with the experience you’ve gained with the community, is there anything you would have changed or done differently given the chance?
Probably one thing we would have done differently was the boundary expansion north because that became a very significant issue to the residents out there and the residents of the community. In retrospect, we could have done that much differently. Even though the offer that we put on the table for them was unique in the province and it went further than anywhere else in the province with five year and ten year conversion period it probably still could have been done in a different way that would probably not have raised the hackles of those people out there the way it did.
It seemed at times over the past three years that communication over the issues or lack of effective communication on the issues caused a lot of rumours and distrust.
I’m not quite sure why that happened, but like I say that one in particular (boundary expansion north issue) could have been handled differently. The other issues I don’t think there were communication gaps. We held a town hall meeting and we provided information about everything we do and made a comprehensive presentation on all of the things that we do, so council is trying to get information out. It’s in the newsletter and that was starting to improve in the last half of the last council. The new council is working hard on it they want to make sure the community is apprised of what’s happening.
What do you see as the biggest issues that Rossland and the new CAO will have to take on?
The environmental issues are big in this community and should be. Certainly land use and the boundaries is another big issue that needs to be addressed. Sustainability and Visions to Action–carrying that process one over the next couple of years is probably one of the biggest issues. It doesn’t have to be but really should be worked on and maintained and get all of the objectives that were in that plan addressed. Whether we accomplish them or not it remains to be seen but at least address them.
The golf course, with the economy the way it is, won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. We’ve heard nothing from them in a while.

What advice would you give the incoming CAO?

To really rely on our staff here who are very competent and capable and if they get any seasoned CAO they are going to be able to come in here and know the ropes. The first thing the new CAO would have to do is really understand the issues in the community and know what the community wants. Read the Sustainability Plan because that is the voice of the community. The Sustainability Plan will tell you what the community wants to do in the foreseeable future.

Any parting words?

Enjoy the journey for every destination is but a doorway to another.

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