Vermilion’s Chief Administrative Officer: A Multi-Faceted Role
In Alberta, every municipality employs a Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), and in Vermilion, Kevin Lucas fills this important role.
A municipal council is required by legislation under the Municipal Government Act (MGA) to establish a CAO position, complete with determined duties and functions. The council actually has to do this through a bylaw, and any amendments to the job description have to be approved by the council.
Hired and appointed to the position by the Town Council, a CAO reports directly to the council. While they are the only employee of the council, they also support and advise the council in their decisions and planning. This doesn’t mean Lucas tells the council what to do or decide, but it is his responsibility to ensure that council has all the pertinent information regarding legislative rules, best practices, possible problems that could arise, and any needed background information regarding a subject.
When the council makes a decision or passes a bylaw, it is the CAO who is responsible to see that the actions required to implement them are carried out. They ensure that the municipal staff who need to do the work have the correct information, timeline and resources to carry out the council's decision.
As the Town’s administrative head, Lucas is responsible for the supervision and direction of the 35 full-time employees positions that the Town employs. He is accountable to the council for the administration of the Town and how it functions. As Lucas says, he is responsible for making sure that the Town has the right number of people to be able to do their jobs safely. With the way the COVID pandemic changed the face of office management, Lucas and his administrative staff have worked hard to find a way to create a successful hybrid setting of both in-office and at-home productiveness among Town employees. He recognizes the benefits for both the employees and Town residents of balancing staff’s office time.
If a council member has concerns about a Town employee or has a resident come to them with a concern, the CAO is who they bring those concerns to. Basically, Lucas as the CAO is the Council’s employee, but all other Town staff fall under his responsibility.
The maintenance of the Town’s records and information also falls under the CAO’s umbrella. Safe storage and accurate documentation of bylaws, minutes, and other official documentation is a part of Lucas’ responsibilities.
In some ways, like the Council members, Lucas is one of the faces of Vermilion. He is the central liaison between Council and residents, and does meet with the public regarding bylaws, policies, concerns, programs, and Town activities. He regularly attends grand opening celebrations, and community events, meeting residents and welcoming visitors.
“This is not an 8 to 5 job,” Lucas states, “I need to be accessible at all times of the day and night.”
He ensures that the residents of Vermilion have access to information regarding Town activities they need and makes sure that the transparency and accountability advocated by the Town is carried out.
While the Town does employ a Finance Director to ensure the budget is adhered to, ultimately, the financial management of the Town is also a CAO’s responsibility. Lucas also looks into accessing funding sources outside of Vermilion, applying for eligible grants from both the provincial and federal governments.
The CAO also has input on planning and development of Vermilion. Unlike Council members, who may focus on what can they accomplish in four year elected terms, the CAO has to look at more long-term situations not only on a Town level, but also in the relationships with other municipalities in the region, such as the County of Vermilion River and surrounding Towns and Villages. Lucas spends a substantial amount of time developing connections and partnerships with outside government agencies and works on selling the community to the world.
In order to accomplish the long list above, a CAO must have a thorough understanding of the Municipal Government Act (MGA). At present, the MGA is one of the Alberta government’s largest pieces of legislation, with 21 parts and over 700 sections totalling 592 pages of riveting municipal rules, regulations, policies and procedures. On top of understanding this huge Act, Lucas also has to have some general knowledge of the several Provincial Acts that affect municipalities, including the Local Authorities Election Act, Emergency Management Act, Employment Standards Code, the Cemeteries Act, the Forest and Prairie Protection Act, Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act, Highways Development and Protection Act, the Interpretation Act, the Libraries Act, Oaths of Office Act, Occupational Health and Safety Act, the Peace Officers Act, the Safety Codes Act, the Traffic Safety Act, and the Weed Control Act.
Lucas embraces all the facets of his job, and is confident that Vermilion will continue to grow in all areas due to the hard work of the Town employees, the Council and the continued support of the residents.