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Wednesday 13 April 2011

The Linchpin of Rural NL

Wikipedia defines linchpin as "... a fastener used to prevent a wheel or other rotating part from sliding off the axle it is riding on." In other words it holds it all together. And after 5 years of working with the municipal sector I can say that municipal administrators easily fit that definition.

April 6-8th, I had the pleasure of attending the 39th Annual Convention of the Professional Municipal Administrators or PMA of NL. These are the staff that take council minutes, collect taxes, ensure services are maintained and in general they are responsible for keeping the lights on. When it comes to the issues that rural NL faces, the administrators see the focused results every day. Broken infrastructure, shrinking populations, changing demographics, disappearing volunteers and serious shortages of financial resources make the day to day work in a town council office a constant challenge.

NL currently has in the neighborhood of 276 municipalities and based on a 2007 Census Report released by Municipalities NL the average full-time permanent staff compliment for approximately 75% these towns is 1.2. What that basically means is that the majority of towns have one staff person who is responsible for most all the work that towns are responsible for.

This recent PMA Convention had over 20 new administrators, and each of the last 3 years had 25-30 new administrators as well(If my memory is correct). While new blood can be a great thing for any sector, this turnover of over 100 staff over the past 4 years is indicative of the stressful working environment in small town NL. Administrators in NL are generally overworked, undertrained, underpaid, and not offered the appropriate, and required support systems.

This certainly doesn't apply to all administrators but it does apply to far too many. Over drinks, stories are told of administrators who deal with regular abuse from residents and from elected councillors. On the other hand there are those administrators who are not properly trained or who appear to have chosen a career that does not match their specific skill set.

The municipal sector in NL is in serious need of restructuring and there is no doubt that administrators will have to play a key role in that process. Unfortunately there are serious issues that will arise with regard to properly trained staff who can handle planning, financial analysis, and a series of skills that are currently in short supply. They are the linchpin to the current system, and will be just as important to any new municipal system.

Administrators are vital to the survival of rural towns and they are rarely appropriately thanked for their contribution. I know one administrator who is the only full time employee of a town, and he also happens to be the volunteer Fire Chief, collects the garbage, plows the roads and in general keeps at least one town running. He deserves a huge thank you.

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