By Nicole Starker Campbell for The Pipestone Flyer
Peter Tarnawsky feels like he’s been sipping from a fire hose during his first weeks as the City of Wetaskiwin’s new city manager. He took over the role at the beginning of April and says it’s been a good experience so far.
Tarnawsky worked for Telus for 15 years before moving his career from the private to municipal sector. Over the past 15 years, he has worked for area municipalities including the City of Edmonton, City of St. Albert and Sturgeon County. His latest posts were interim Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) positions.
When he learned about the city manager opening, Tarnawsky saw an interesting opportunity to continue his career in a CAO capacity and made a visit to Wetaskiwin. “I hadn’t been here in five or seven years, and I was pleasantly surprised,” Tarnawsky says. “The community has everything. It truly is that complete community. Whether it’s retail or recreation or services, it’s all here.”
The new city manager says he wanted to make sure he understood the local situation before starting to affect significant change in his new role.
To gain this understanding, he met key city staff as well as some key stakeholders like the local RCMP, library, Chamber of Commerce and amateur football. He also spent time with city councillors.
“I’ve done a ride along with each member of council so they could show me around the community. They showed me what they’re proud of, they showed me some of their areas of concern or where they believe focus is required.”
Some of the major priorities for Tarnawsky are setting things up so that the mandates within the city organization are clear, putting like functions together and ensuring the organization is responding to council’s strategic plan and direction.
He says one of the significant changes so far is the introduction of a growth-focused division. The people in the planning, development, and engineering departments will join a recently approved economic development position to drive revenue and drive growth.
Tarnawsky says that the strengths he sees in the city lie in in the level of commitment and volunteerism in the community, especially for local initiatives like Soles for Souls and the homeless shelter this year.
He also sees affordability as an advantage for Wetaskiwin.
“It’s a place where the cost of operating a business is not too high, and where property taxes for residents are not too high so it’s a good balance,” says Tarnawsky. “Council has gone out of its way to make progress on that in the past three to five years.”
He currently lives in Edmonton and makes the daily commute to Wetaskiwin. The father of two says with both children almost at the stage where they’ll be moving out, it’s just not a good time to relocate.
“I’m buying lunch here pretty much every day and I just bought a new set of tires here, so the community is absolutely benefitting from my working here,” Tarnawsky says with a laugh.