By Kaitlyn Clark
The Haldimand Press
CAYUGA—Haldimand County has 330 fulltime employees, 331 part-time or temporary employees, and 278 volunteer firefighters serving a population of over 45,000 with an annual budget of $165 million. And at the head of it all is Don Boyle, Chief Administrative Officer.
“Sometimes I say I’m on the bottom, just trying to hold everything up and move it forward. I see my role as really working with Council to achieve their vision. One of the biggest things is aligning the resources, both financial and human, to tie all the departments together so there are no silos and decisions are made with a full understanding of the impacts it could have,” said Boyle on his work. “I like the term city manager.”
Boyle joined Haldimand County October 4, 2007. His first goal was to understand the community’s priorities and focus Council, but that wasn’t as simple as it sounds.
“It’s not like you’re focusing like say Haldimand Motors; they sell used cars and they repair them. Here, you’ve got from a long-term care home … to taking raw water from Lake Erie and turning it into clean drinking water, to the wastewater treatment so you can put it back out to Lake Erie, to fixing, buying, and fixing vehicles like you are Haldimand Motors…. It’s one administration dealing with close to 200 different businesses.”
Boyle said the County is also often caught in the middle with their many businesses, trying to give the best customer service to those seeking permits, while keeping the best interests of the general public in mind as well.
Boyle started with a career goal of becoming a recreation facility manager in Brampton, but once he became a supervisor he realized it was unlikely there would be room for him to move up. He took a business administration course at Wilfrid Laurier University and when a position opened in East York he made the jump. When they amalgamated with Toronto he moved there, eventually becoming the Director of Recreation. While he loved his work there, the politics were “tiring”.
“You needed like 23 people to vote for your report to pass it, which meant you potentially had 21 people who thought you were an incompetent bureaucrat…. It was never a unanimous vote,” said Boyle.
He added that with 700 full-time and about 10,000 part-time staff, it was impossible to meet everyone. Here in Haldimand, he meets with all new staff and interviews any outgoing staff to measure their satisfaction with the job. All 26 metrics have seen improvement since 2007, and Boyle is particularly proud that satisfaction with management has risen from 32% to 75%.
“It’s no longer just nice to have happy staff, it’s critical. One, you need to retain quality staff (because) there is a shortage of qualified people,” said Boyle. He made a commitment to recruit within the community, with over 80% of staff currently from the County; he is also pleased that the County has been able to attract talent from surrounding areas as well. His open-door policy also means that he hears directly from people on the front lines, which helps him make decisions on how to both better the work environment and help staff become more efficient.
On making the shift from Canada’s most populous city, Boyle said, “Toronto, as big as it is, coming here is just as busy…. There’s equally as many things taking place, and sometimes the small issues get a lot of attention that maybe would not get that attention in a big city.”
“You can fit two cities of Toronto inside of Haldimand, but we only have 25% of their road network here,” said Boyle, noting the complexity of plowing 25% of their road network with less than 1% the population to support it.
Boyle’s ultimate philosophy is to “do the small things right, look after the basics, and then move the yard stick a little bit each day to improve the big things.”
He noted that 80% of every capital dollar goes to maintaining current assets.
“In Toronto, they were all about shiny new balls every day. But before we do that, there’s other things that are falling apart. Coming here, they heard it right away…. There’s priorities. Make sure the roof is fixed before you buy the new 70-inch TV. In this community, that’s embraced.”
“In 2007, my first impression was that Haldimand was a small, rural community trying to become a big city, thinking they needed more policies and formalization. At the very same time, Toronto and every big city was trying to become a small city, trying to personalize themselves,” said Boyle. “One of the things I stressed was that our strength is our size, our proximity to residents, and our ability to build relationships.”
One change Boyle made was to get rid of the County’s recreation department, despite his background in exactly that, because he saw the opportunity to work with the many community groups already in place instead: “We were actually competing with local community groups.”
Boyle worked to eliminate fees for special events and provide grants to build capacity within the community’s existing groups, along with offering free recreation services, such as public skates and swims.
“It was a philosophy of less government and more creating a culture for the community to operate things,” said Boyle.
“For instance, the Dunnville and Cayuga arenas, each of them more than $1.2 million in fundraising for a municipal asset, that’s unheard of. It’s very unique to Haldimand, and I think that’s what builds the ownership of these facilities. People know that they’ve contributed to them, they’re their facilities,” he continued. “Haldimand is a caring community where people really want to do well and help each other. That was refreshing. Volunteers really are the backbone of the community.”