City of Chestermere’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Bernie Morton, is celebrating all of the accomplishments made throughout his first year spent in the city.
“Gaining the trust of council is a top priority for any CAO. Helping them be the best version of themselves, and helping them all work in the right direction,” Morton said.
Any strong, healthy community has a solid mix of community engagement, a council that listens to the community, joined by proactive responses from administration, and all departments of the city, Morton said.
“Rather than it being us versus them, we all want a strong livable, financially affordable, healthy community and everyone has a role to play,” he said.
“If we understand the intricacies, of how each of these roles intersects with the other, we produce fantastic outcomes.”
Typically, Morton would have taken time to understand the ins and outs of any new organization, before embarking on initiatives.
Although Morton spent time on a listening tour, attended coffee with council, met with resident representatives, and with community organizations, he was ultimately thrown into dismantling Chestermere Utilities Incorporated (CUI).
“Council had some huge priorities that they wanted me to tackle right away,” Morton said.
“I started Aug 1 last year, it was just a couple days into it when the mayor walked into my office with a foot-high file titled “CUI” and said, ‘You got to fix this,'” he said.
Working on the CUI file occupied approximately 40 per cent of Morton’s time.
“I knew CUI was a challenge coming into it, the complexities of CUI were really not known to me, and not known to many people,” Morton said.
To dismantle CUI, Morton was required to analyze the challenges within the organization, make recommendations to council, change the CEO, incorporate a transitional team and manager. While working through the complexities of dissolving the company and implementing the services offered back into the city
“I was fortunate to have a very good team working with me and supporting our efforts collectively as a group to make that happen,” Morton said.
“It was a very complex organization that didn’t need to be complex. It wasn’t managed in the best way that it could have been managed in my estimation,” Morton said.
“It is very unfortunate to see that our community has had to go through such trying times to make things happen,” he added.
Currently, the City of Chestermere is now implementing the changes made to CUI to serve the community better.
Although CUI took up a significant amount of Morton’s time, he was also occupied creating the new Amazing Chestermere strategic vision.
“CUI was on top of the other roles of the CAO. It didn’t mean that the other things didn’t need to get done,” Morton said.
“My goal as the CAO is to implement the requests of council, which should reflect the desires of the community, and make things happen,” he added.
When this council first began their term, they came with new ideas to implement that would serve Chestermere better. However, they didn’t have the resources or a budget that was required to achieve their goals.
“There were many excellent ideas, but none of the ideas were fleshed out in terms of the types of resources that were needed,” Morton said.
He added, “Staff were doing their very best to try to take this square peg and put it in a round hole, and it was causing them great frustration.”
Morton showed council that they needed a vision and trust in the staffers to achieve their goals opposed to a 50-page document.
“This new vision document speaks to different things we can do to strive towards a name that makes our community amazing,” Morton said.
The Amazing Chestermere strategic vision showcases how important it is for the city to enhance partnerships, enhance relationships, and create amazing neighbourhoods while having active management within the organization.
“I was happy that council gravitated towards that new and better way of visioning,” Morton said.
Throughout the year, Morton and Mayor Marshall Chalmers have spent a tremendous amount of time working on enhancing partnerships with Calgary and Rocky View County to expand transit, and stabilize taxes, he said.
When the budget was first presented to Morton in the late fall of last year, the organization was very siloed, which produced an expected 14 per cent tax increase.
“It’s working with each of the departments, breaking down the silos, and understanding how the left hand and the right hand need to be coordinated to provide the best possible customer service to our community,” Morton said.
A foundation is while taking pride in public services, striving towards service excellence, and teaching new ways of budgeting.
“We have strong numbers. A two per cent tax cut, eight per cent utility rate reduction, and a 14 per cent reduction in our staffing,” Morton added. “We didn’t reduce services at all.”
Following Morton’s arrival to Chestermere, there was a complete redesign to the organization, with an emphasis on each department understanding the other departments and how they worked.
“It’s not a reduction in the services; it’s how to manage better with the teams that we have,” Morton said.
“The group that we’re left with are highly engaged, very motivated, and take great pride in their work,” Morton added. “If I didn’t have this great team supporting all of the work that we’re doing, we wouldn’t have been nearly as successful as we have been.”
Despite the countless hours Morton has spent dissolving CUI and spearheading the Amazing Chestermere strategic vision, he is still focused on a variety of other initiatives.
It was vital for the City of Chestermere to listen to the development community coming into Chestermere and cut red tape.
“We’re dealing with remnants of past practices that hadn’t been made clear,” Morton said.
The mayor and council have been listening to the desires of the development community and exploring better practices.
“The front-ending signing agreement with Qualico Communities and Anthem United was music to their ears,” Morton said.
He added, the agreement drives down costs, eliminates the need for the city to incur debt, and improves the timing for their projects.
Although Morton has implemented many initiatives to better Chestermere, it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of the community.
“The support from the community has been wonderful. Welcoming a new CAO, people not being afraid to share their challenges, and frustrations but also their love for the community, and desire to share our vision of what an amazing Chestermere looks like,” Morton said.
He added, his family has settled into Chestermere.
“I coach soccer, my wife volunteers at the school where my children go. The neighbourhood that we live in is very welcoming and friendly,” Morton said.
“In terms of the transition, both professionally and personally I know that it was the right decision for us to relocate to this amazing city,” he added.