There has been a shuffle of senior staff at the City of Terrace after two longtime city officials retired.
Heather Avison, chief administrative officer (CAO), retired in November after eight years as CAO for Terrace. She first started working for the city in 1992 as a part-time secretary for the planning and public works department. Over the years she took on roles with increasing responsibilities before being named CAO in 2012.
“It’s been a really wonderful experience,” Avison said at her final council meeting on Nov. 9. “I’ve had an incredible opportunity. Starting as a part time planning secretary I never imagined that I would have an opportunity to be the CAO and it’s been a real honour to serve in that capacity for the community that I grew up in.”
Kris Boland, who is currently deputy CAO for the Regional District of Kitimat-Stikine (RDKS), will replace Avison. He is set to start in early January.
Carmen Didier, who worked for the city as director of leisure services since 2007, retired in November. Her position has been filled by Rob Schibli, who was previously director of public works. Schibli is managing both leisure services and public works until a replacement director of public works is found. A city spokesperson said the hiring process has been postponed for the public works position until after Boland takes over as CAO in January, to allow him to participate.
The Terrace Standard sat down with Boland on Nov. 26 to talk about his new role.
“Can’t say enough great things about Heather [Avison], she’s just such a wonderful person. It’s an honour to be able to step into her shoes,” Boland said.
“I’m really looking forward to knowing the team over there, I hear from mayor and council and Heather that they have an extremely dedicated team so as the CAO and the leader I want to know what I can do to support the staff and make sure they’re the most successful that they can be.”
Boland grew up in Coquitlam, and lived in Maple Ridge and Mission before coming to the northwest around a year and a half ago. After high school, Boland attended the British Columbia Institute of Technology and received a financial management diploma.
He started off working as an accountant at a warehouse and distribution company and then working at a Mack dealership for seven years before getting a job in the District of Mission’s finance department.
“That was a great period of growth for me because I started out as accounts payable and worked my way up to assistant controller, and that experience was really my springboard,” he said.
“I was starting to get a little bit exhausted by the bottom line focus in the private sector, so there was a real appeal for me when I saw the opportunity come up at the District of Mission to get away from that private sector bottom line oriented mentality and shift into something a little more community service focused.”
He said that he was able to advance into higher level management positions, eventually becoming the District of Mission’s chief financial officer.
“It really gelled for me, how meaningful the work we do for community is in local government and how you can really make a difference locally by working hard behind the scenes, so that’s kind of what gets me fired up.”
In Mission Boland worked alongside Ron Poole, who was then Mission’s CAO and who is now CAO for RDKS. Prior to that, Poole was CAO for Terrace and Kitimat and Boland credits Poole as a major influence on his choice to move to the northwest. He said that Poole saw what he was capable of and put him in a position to succeed.
“He was a really great mentor for me, he taught me a lot, I didn’t have CAO on my radar and he saw that potential in me long before I saw it in myself and he kept encouraging me and giving me the opportunities,” he said.
“He was fantastic in terms of career growth in Mission.”
Boland moved to Terrace with his wife and two young children in 2018 to take a job as the RDKS deputy CAO and the project manager for the Northwest BC Resource Benefits Alliance.
“It was a huge transition for us to consider uprooting our family just as my daughter would be going into kindergarten the next year and my son would be starting pre-school the next year, and no family supports up here.”
Boland said that as a lover of the outdoors, Terrace looked and felt just like home. He said his family has fallen in love with the community and that it means everything to them to be able to stay.
One of Boland’s biggest skill-building experiences was his role as the project manager for the Northwest BC Resource Benefits Alliance (RBA), which is a collective of 21 local governments stretching from Vanderhoof to Haida Gwaii. It negotiates with the provincial government for a share of the northwest’s resource revenue to reinvest in communities to make sure they are livable, sustainable, and able to accommodate new projects.
That role put him in a position to improve existing lines of communication within the alliance, and have dialogue with high profile figures in the provincial government. He admitted that as a “bit of a local government geek,” it was rewarding and a little surreal to sit in meetings with cabinet ministers and the premier.
He was also able to meet several City of Terrace staff members and councillors which should give him somewhat of a leg up on the challenge of building relationships when he starts his new role during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I wouldn’t say it worries me but I see that as a challenge to really connect with the staff,” he said.
“We are making do with virtual meetings and I think we’ve all been kinda surprised with how well that’s gone but it’s not the same as sitting face to face.”
Either in person or online, Boland said he will emphasis teamwork and cooperation as Terrace’s new CAO.
“My goal would be to involve the staff in decision making, especially the senior management team,” he said.
“I’m not the bang the table type everyone needs to fall into line manager, I’m more about building consensus and involving people and I have a lot of respect for staff and the professionals and the passion that everyone brings to the table, and I think that benefits the community.”