Call for Action: Weathering the Storm – without a Chief Administrative Officer

Photo credit:  Suzanne Pothe

Call for Action: Weathering the Storm – without a Chief Administrative Officer

Every City in the world is going through rough times. Covid-19 is requiring cities to deliver services in a manner never seen before. There is no certainty, change is the only certainty.
City systems, structures, responses, safety, and services – all being challenged, changed and adjusted-daily.
Winnipeggers ability to adapt and come through this Covid-19 storm is being compared to how Winnipeggers have weathered many storms in the past – snow storms, floods, swarms of mosquitos and more. BUT to weather any storm – strong leadership is required.

On February 14, 2019 – the City’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) announced he would be retiring.
Mr Ruta was appointed ‘acting’ CAO. Mr. Ruta, who’s been with the City decades and has been the City’s Chief Financial Officer for almost as long, was voted by most of Council to take on the role of CAO till a new leader could be hired. To be clear, Mr Ruta’s focus over the years has been on financial matters, and this is most definitely an area that requires his institutional knowledge today. I know he is working closely with the Finance team to ‘steady the financial ship’ brought on by Covid -19.
But – there are so many other areas that need strong focus and leadership to keep the City operating –

  • A year and a half later, we are no closer to hiring a Chief Administrative Officer.

I asked the Mayor at the June Council meeting for an update on why the City hasn’t hired a CAO – and he indicated the hiring ‘was delayed because of the pandemic‘. The City has been without strong administrative leadership since February 2019 – for over a year before the pandemic hit in March 2020. The City did a national search for a Chief Planner during the pandemic – and managed to find / interview and hire an outstanding individual who started work earlier this month.

WHY is it important to hire a Chief Administrative Officer (CAO)?
The City of Winnipeg organization employs almost 10,000 people, and has an annual capital and operating budget of approximately $2 billion – yes $2 billion in tax dollars.
These few key points are just SOME of the responsibilities of a CAO:

  • Oversee the staff of 10,000 to ensure they deliver high-quality services in a responsive, responsible and cost-effective manner. That they ensure the most effective use of the $2 billion of capital and service delivery.
  • Provide leadership, direction and discipline within the organization to promote the effective and efficient delivery of City services; establishes procedures to optimize financial resources, exercise financial control and conduct ongoing reviews on the City’s financial position to ensure expectations are being achieved.2
  • Provide inspiring leadership through communication, accessibility and a shared vision – setting a positive tone for the City by suggesting new ways for the organization to embrace and participate in change in a positive and constructive manner;
  • Set a visible and positive leadership example in order to promote empowerment of employees through coaching, mentoring, two-way communications and delegation of decision-making responsibility; take necessary steps to anticipate impact of changes and to identify and remove barriers;
  • Provide leadership in the on-going identification and tracking of “best practices” (including benchmarking of other municipalities) and latest technology; make recommendations for application to support continuous improvement efforts.

To see a full list of what responsibilities a CAO has – please see the CAO job description provided by the City to the firm initially hired to find a CAO. It is my understanding the firm’s contract was terminated, and the City has not hired any firm to seek a new CAO.

So – what happens when you’re trying to ‘weather the storm’ when you don’t have strong administrative leadership ??

  • Are those 10,000 employees functioning and delivering services in a responsible and cost effective manner?
  • Are they ensuring the delivery of the $2B in capital and service delivery in the most cost effective manner possible?
  • Are they clear on the vision and priorities in such uncertain times?

I know many many are trying the best they can. We have some outstanding members of the public service who are trying their best to deliver City services, but without strong leadership and direction, many are floundering.

I’m an active Councillor, engaged with the residents of Waverley West, and have many projects on the go in the ward that require staff input – from traffic calming initiatives, to development requirements, to parks and recreation projects. I am seeing and experience on a daily basis:

  • massive struggles for efficiency in departments with little success,
  • silo communication channels which lead to lost time, and additional costs,
  • vast amounts of time wasted on minor issues
  • I see many staff trying to lead, but with little to no direction – on what the direction is.

I grew up on a farm, when it comes time to take the crops off you ensure your machines are in top working order – or huge financial costs are incurred. The City’s internal operations are like a machine and should be working in a far more cohesive manner than what is currently occurring. The bureaucracy, the Public Service – requires strong leadership to weather this storm. They want this, and from my experiences on moving projects forward, it is direly needed. Taxpayers need this strong leadership in place. We don’t have this leadership today – and we are all paying a price because of it.


  • I have called on the Mayor, and my Council colleagues to increase the urgency of hiring a new Chief Administrative Officer. Yes, we are in a pandemic, but City business still continues.
  • I encourage you to also reach out to the Mayor and Councillors and request urgency on hiring a new Chief Administrative Officer. Email or Call – SEE: Contact information for Mayor and Councillors
    Winnipeggers can weather just about any storm – but every storm has a price tag. We need strong leadership to keep that price tag LOW – and to ensure peak performance by all.