The Wizard of Us… the man behind the curtain in Brantford civil service.
Inside this concrete bunker is the hub of Brantford municipal decision making. We are generally aware of the role of City Councillors but know little about the bureaucracy that runs the operation. One person, the only employee reporting directly to Council, is the CAO (Chief Administrative Officer).
Darryl Lee is retiring from that position after more than three decades in municipal leadership, including Brant County, Hamilton and Simcoe, although most of that in Brantford. Two years ago he took on the role of CAO and immediately immersed himself into all aspects of a 189 internal business units with about 1800 employees. He was tasked to create a strategic path for retaining the best and most proficient staff as well as create an environment to recruit from outside those that would fill the gaps as necessary. Oh, and keep within the Council determined budget…
“It is a really competitive market for senior leadership. We have to try to match what bigger cities offer.”
Many communities are searching for the same expertise and they may have more budgets or intriguing projects to draw the right candidates. The nature of a single tier government, like Brantford, is that every aspect is dealt with locally and there is no sharing of resources with other communities with regional objectives like neighbouring Hamilton or Waterloo. By nature of that responsibility, the work load is greater but resources are limited without regional contributions. In order to entice the greatest applicants, it is expensive to compete, but necessary.
When you meet Darryl, he immediately offers a welcoming handshake, a humble smile and a glint in his eye. It is no small task to maneuver the maze of local politics. He has to listen…a lot!..to criticism and unsolicited advice from anyone: smile knowingly when accosted by newly elected officials that have just discovered the volcano they are sitting on; act as a research expert; engineer; water specialist; legal authority; contract negotiator; human resource manager; community planner; risk manager; and father confessor. His life is no longer his but at the beck and call of the frustrations and joys that come from civic leadership. It should be no surprise his wife and family would appreciate at least a year to get to know him again. The role expects: expediency and a pile of detail; humility and confidence; leadership and compromise; and a whopping dose of humour. One might wonder how civic leaders tolerate the vagaries of public expectations weighed against the realization of meager resources. The CAO makes decisions ultimately from Council direction and tries to mitigate political motivations versus realistic outcomes on behalf of the community. Some are aggressive and others arrogant, Darryl is neither. He is deliberate and empathetic, pragmatic and progressive. His senior leadership team respects his decisions and models his approach.
Darryl Lee may be leaving the municipality of Brantford, but he is leaving it in great shape for his replacement, Brian Hutchings. Big shoes to fill to be sure, but worth trying.
Godspeed young man. You may have forgotten how to kick back, but you deserve it!