After serving the Invermere community as a chief administrative officer (CAO) for a number of years, Robert Earl’s dedication to ensuring the municipality and its daily operations ran smoothly has been rewarded.
Through an extensive research project at Brock University, Earl was selected to be featured as one of the top five CAOs in Canada in a book entitled Leaders in the Shadows, according to political science professor David Siegel.
“I’ve spent my career looking at researching and teaching about local government and public administration,” explained Siegel. “Then, I realized that the chief administrative officer, administrator or town manager has a very important role, in terms of executing council decisions, and making sure that the day to day operations of the administration work is done in an efficient way — and I knew that was an important role, but I felt that people didn’t always understand what was involved in that role. That was one of the reasons I wanted to (write) it.”
He remains optimistic young municipal administrators with aspirations to become CAOs may treat the book as a template for their career paths.
“I wanted (young people) to see what successful people in this career were like and therefore give them an idea of what they had to do to model themselves and follow in the footsteps of successful people,” said Siegel.
Earl, who served as CAO of Invermere from 1998 until 2004, has been featured in Leaders in the Shadows as an example for how to become a successful municipal leader.
“Robert was identified as a successful leader, meaning he was interested in making changes in the organizations that he was involved with,” said Siegel. “He seemed to be the sort of person who always questioned the status quo and always improved on the status quo. I was also told by people around him that he had a very good way of communicating and motivating people who were around him.
“All of the people I talked to spoke about how Robert was able to communicate and the way he could motivate people.”
Former mayor of Invermere, Mark Shmigelsky, who worked directly with Earl, echoed these sentiments.
“I think that 99.9 per cent of the people (who) are employed by local governments, their first interest is making sure they’re doing what’s best for the community,” said Shmigelsky. “We were very lucky to have Robert and his family in Invermere with us for as long as we did.”
But the memory of Earl’s resignation has not faded from Shmigelsky’s memory.
“I know that I was really sad when he showed up with a six-pack at my door,” said Shmigelsky. “I think it was Christmas time and the first question when I opened the door was, ‘Where are you going?’ There were only two communities at the time that could’ve taken him from Invermere and those were Whistler and Banff; and I think that’s a credit to Invermere… It says good things about the valley and good things about him and his family, as well.”
Earl went on to become the town manager for Banff, a role he still occupies today. His municipal career began in Port Edward in 1993.
The book describes Earl’s leadership role in improving the economic development and planning of all three municipalities for which he’s been the CAO — Port Edward, Invermere and Banff.
“I’d like to think this sort of thing will be incorporated into classes and that people who are aspiring to be CAOs will buy the book and read it on their own as well,” said Siegel, noting the book was published by the University of Toronto in February.
He opted to focus on the importance of municipal administrators to explore the challenges and opportunities of working as a public servant. Siegel plans to incorporate this book into some of his upcoming classes for students taking political science at Brock University.
“The city manager is one of the most important people in the municipality who determines the quality and kinds of services delivered to residents,” he added.