Morinville names top administrator

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Interim CAO Debbie Oyarzun becomes Morinville's new CAO

Morinville has found its new top administrator, and it turns out she was right in front of them all along.

Town council voted unanimously on Tuesday to hire Debbie Oyarzun as its new chief administrative officer. As the town’s interim CAO, Oyarzun was seated across the room from council at the time.

Oyarzun became the town’s temporary CAO last July when council voted 4-2 to end its contract with Edie Doepker.

Council had received about 50 applications for the CAO job, said Mayor Lloyd Bertschi, which it narrowed down to four finalists.

“We didn’t have to go as far as we thought,” he said, as Oyarzun was by far the best of the bunch.

Oyarzun has served as the town’s interim CAO for the last seven months and was the deputy CAO before then. She said she was glad to get the chance to see the results of her work with council.

“To me, it was a good result,” she said.

Meet the (old) new boss

An Edmonton (but soon to be Sturgeon County) resident, Oyarzun has a background in science and business and has spent some 19 years working with municipalities through the provincial and federal governments.

“I don’t fit that typical mould of an administrator,” Oyarzun said. She feels this gives her a flexibility that may have helped her land this job.

“I try to be as open and transparent and possible, and for this particular council, that worked,” she said.

There wasn’t a lot of trust and respect on council before Oyarzun came along, Bertschi said, and she’s done much to build both.

“She’s done a really good job of pulling this council closer together,” he said.

Some councillors had suggested giving her the job outright, he noted, but Oyarzun refused, saying that a formal competition was needed.

Oyarzun has done a vast amount of work for the town, having at one point held the posts of CAO, deputy CAO, community services director and community police officer co-ordinator, all at the same time, Bertschi said.

Ironically, Oyarzun had come to Morinville in order to get out of the hectic place that was the provincial government, Bertschi said.

“I think she found out in a hurry how hectic the municipal government level is.”

Oyarzun said good governance will be one of her main goals in the coming months, and noted that council had hired a consulting firm for governance training at its last meeting.

“We’re in that awkward stage now where we’re not a small town anymore [but]we’re not a great big city yet,” she said.

She hopes to help council re-examine its staffing, better document its procedures and improve its communication skills.

“We’ve got to pull ourselves out of that smaller-town approach to doing things,” she said.

Morinville has a history of going through CAOs quickly — Oyarzun is the town’s fourth CAO in five years.

Oyarzun said she has a good, trusting relationship with council, which is critical for anyone in her position.

“So long as I can continue to foster that relationship of trust and respect, I think there is great opportunity for longevity here,” she said.

Bertschi said he hopes council was done with hiring new CAOs for the near future. The town still has to hire a deputy CAO to replace Oyarzun.

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Kevin Ma

Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.