After serving with the County of Wetaskiwin for 35 years Frank Coutney is getting set to retired from his position of chief administrative officer (CAO).
Coutney’s first role with the County of Wetaskiwin was as a financial controller. However, Wetaskiwin was not where he got his start in the municipal service industry, and his interests began to take root long before his first position.
“My dad was a school trustee for 18 years,” said Coutney. Both his older brothers served as town and county councillors.
“At home I’d listen to the politics … I grew up with it,” said Coutney. Growing up in Lac La Biche he was quite involved in his community.
Coutney was a part of the municipal internship program with the County of Barrhead. A few months into the program he was named executive assistant until 1983, at which time Coutney made the move to the County of Wetaskiwin.
There, his position of financial controller included both county and rural school matters, as rural schools were under the jurisdiction of municipalities until 1995.
In ‘85/’86 the title changed to assistant treasurer. “In 1990 I became the county administrator,” said Coutney.
Coutney says he saw the County of Wetaskiwin as an opportunity to move to a larger organization and transition into the area of finance, which he feels is a beneficial background to have when looking to become a CAO.
“Barrhead was a great place to start my career and learn. Coming to Wetaskiwin was a great opportunity,” said Coutney.
Over the years Coutney has seen his position grow and evolve in many ways, from the technology used to the culture of the county.
“When you look at municipal government there’s been a big transformation,” said Coutney; councils change, as does council direction. Ratepayer priorities also change over the years, affecting the decisions and direction of councils and administration.
Coutney says one of his priorities over the years has been to create a positive work culture and to get the right people in the right positions to improve the workplace environment and service.
“Today, if I was going to start over I’d do the same thing. It’s been a rewarding profession to be in because you see how you impact the community in a positive way,” said Coutney.
Coutney says sometimes he is asked what made him stay in Wetaskiwin for so long.
“When I look at the people in the community, I’ve built a lot of friendships. It was a good community to raise my two boys. It was really an open community. I had the opportunity to meet so many people,” said Coutney.
He added, what will stay with him long after he has retired from his position of CAO is how the culture of the organization was changed over the years, as well as the councils and staff. “I think the strengths of this organization has been council direction through strategic planning and the staff.”
“There’s been a lot of success,” said Coutney. Such successes include funds saved by the county when working with the Dried Meat Lake Landfill, relationships made with other government staff at all levels, and grants given to the county — earned through the proposal writing talents of county staff.
“Generally, as a county we followed the direction of council. Would I have changed anything? Because we’ve tried to be proactive, because we’ve tried to be financially responsible. We’ve accomplished a lot of goals. Is there other things you could have done, of course,” said Coutney.
“I think we’ve done a better than average job in providing services,” he added.
Coutney’s last official date with the county is March 31, 2018. However, he will be leaving the organization at the end of this year and using some accumulated holidays to get an early start on retirement.
“I was pretty committed to the organization. Now I want to spend time with family,” said Coutney.
Assistant CAO Rod Hawken will step into Coutney’s role as he retires, and with a new CAO and a new council, Coutney’s advice he would like to leave is: council needs to work together as a team in providing a vision and clear direction to council. “I think the county has the opportunity with Rod to grow and foster. I have a lot of confidence in Rod.”