–Britt Santowski, Sooke PocketNews
Introducing Don Schaffer, interim Chief Administrative Office (CAO) in Sooke
Don Schaffer, a Victoria native who has worked for various municipal governments through British Columbia, was recently appointed interim Chief Administrative Officer at the District of Sooke. His appointment started in late December 2018, and his contract is set to end on April 30, 2019; by then, the District could have appointed a full-time CAO. The search is ongoing. Schaffer has served at the city of Victoria for six years, and at Prince George for nine. He’s provided interim CAO services for Uclulet and Fernie over the past few years, and worked at a few other gap-filling stints with other municipalities.
Schaffer’s primary job, as he sees it, is to act as a conduit between Council (the elected officials who determine direction and policy) and staff (those who carry it out). His immediate priority will be working on a strategic plan for the current group of elected officials, the majority of whom are new (four of the seven elected are first-time Councillors). The strategic plan is a living document that sets the vision and intentions for the group. Schaffer sees it as a living document, continually updated through a rolling positive feedback loop.
Longer term would be the refresh of the decades-old Official Community Plan (OCP), and given that this typically takes years to produce (at the most recent Council meeting the mayor said the last OCP took four years, and typically they take two years from beginning to end), it will be out of scope for Schaffer.
When asked about the top attributes he brings to the District, he included his life-long passion for learning. Before entering into the world of local politics, Schaffer worked in the newspaper industry (1979 to 1998). On realizing that 20 years down the road he would probably be asking new people the same old questions, he decided to head off this career-long boredom by seeking a life in municipal politics. (No offense taken….)
A career in local politics means working in an environment of constant change, with mandates and priorities shifting sometimes every four years (with a new local election and possibly a whole new elected body) and sometimes every couple of weeks (following Council meetings). Constant change means constant learning, and that held a certain appeal.
Another key attribute he brings is an ability to remain calm. Explosiveness tends not to generate results. He sees his role as interim CAO as primarily facilitating communications between the elected officials and staff. At times, conflicts emerge, be it a conflict in vision, priority, interpretation or personality type. His job, as he sees it, is to listen with open ears and an open mind.
“None of this is about me,” he says. “It’s about Council and staff. Not listening is detrimental.”
His door is also wide open to the public, and he invites anyone with concerns to come speak with him. The District’s phone number is 250-642-1634; further contact information is available on their website.
“If you don’t speak up, no one can hear you,” he says.
Schaffers seems to be a perpetual optimist. When referencing the termination of any CAO or executive, he coins it as “an opportunity to learn about the operations of other municipalities.” He sees the staff at Sooke as as being intelligent, hard working and well-intentioned, an excellent combination. And, regardless of their political stripe, Schaffer maintains that all elected officials bring with them the desire to positively impact their community. Each has good intention; each offers something that can be learned from. As far as the current council, where four of the seven elected officials are new to Council, he sees each as wanting to make “good things happen in Sooke.”
Several things stand out in speaking with Schaffer: he is clearly open, willing to learn, and pre-programmed for optimism. His doors are open, and he is clearly interested in helping Sooke’s elected official set their priorities for their upcoming term of service to the community. He’s determined to learn from all who have something to offer.
Whatever insights Schaffer acquires during his short tenure at the District of Sooke, he promises to pass them along to the new CAO, once someone is selected. From the sounds of it, his optimism and positive outlook may help to smooth out what has been a rather bumpy ride over the past few years.
Want to learn more about Schaffer? Visit his page on LinkedIn.
Note: Please do not copy-and-paste-and-share this content; doing so is a copyright infringement. This is an article is owned and authored by SPN, and is not a press release. Press releases are intended for wider distribution; this is not that. This article is written exclusively for SPN subscribers.