Local Government, Local Impact, Local People
Celebrating our local government managers who work to improve the quality of life in our communities every day
Managing Projects, Managing her Community, Lisa Nitsiza is Loving the Challenges
Lisa Nitsiza became the SAO of Whati in 2015 and has truly risen to the challenge. “Every day is different. I come in the office I have no idea what will happen – there could be staffing or project issues, deadlines, unexpected VIPs coming to town, a community member who wants to talk about something. You never really know.”
Lisa, her husband, and their children moved to Whati in 2010 to be closer to her husband’s family. Lisa worked with the Tlicho Government as an economic development officer, and was then approached about the possibility of taking on the Senior Administrative Officer role. It was a big leap but after talking it over with her family, she decided to take the leap. Due largely in part to completing the Advancing Local Government Administrators Program (ALGAP) provided though the Government of the Northwest Territories and the Local Government Administrators of the NWT, Lisa was promoted to SAO in 2015. The ALGAP program provides all the essentials – and then some – that a potential SAO needs to know. Covering everything from taxation to capital plan development to municipal law, the program aims to train local people to become administrators. Lisa also had to learn the Tlicho Community Government Act, the guiding document for Tlicho communities.
Mentoring and support is also important for the role. “I’ve had the support of Larry Baran (former SAO and now SAO of Behchoko), as well as my family and especially my husband, Frankie. The training meant a lot of travel – up to two weeks at a time or more away from your family – and a lot of time and reading and you really need to have your family’s support. I don’t have an administration background and one of my first courses was finance. We were talking about CPI gas tax, water and sewer – I could ask Larry, ‘Do we have that tax?’”
Lisa embraces the challenges and is proud of the work she has done in Whati. “You do need a maturity level and good organizational skills to work in administration. Not only are you dealing with government officials, you’re doing interviews with media and listening to concerns from community members. I’m proud of the work we have done fire-smarting around the community. The project first started in the summer of 2013 and has carried on every summer – it creates employment for five local community members and really helped us during the fire season. “
Meet the Manager
Lisa is originally from Behchoko and her husband is from Whati, where their family now lives. She completed a Bachelor of Education program at Red Deer College in Alberta, as well as a one-year management studies program at Aurora College in Yellowknife. In 2015, Lisa graduated from the Advancing Local Government Administrators Program (ALGAP) after starting the program in 2013 with the goal of becoming Whatì’s next SAO. The ALGAP program covers all different areas of local government administration including financial management, capital planning, public works services such as water and sewer, and others.
Lisa is married with small children who love the outdoor activities Whati has to offer such as boating, fishing and going for a cookout.
Fort Simpson SAO Champions Local Capacity Building
For Bill Bennett, developing local leaders of the future is a top priority. Bill has worked in senior administrative roles in community government for many years. Throughout his time as an SAO – first in Ulukhaktuk and now in Fort Simpson – he is prioritizing building skills in the local workforce and mentoring locals to take over the leadership reins.
Knowing capacity building in the community is essential to keep a municipal government strong, especially in smaller communities, Bill established a training program in Ulukhaktuk for a heavy equipment technician. He sought out funding for an apprenticeship program, recruited a local person to go through it, and today that person has the technician job in the community. He also developed recruitment and retention programs for volunteer firefighters and worked with the community and council to develop a strategic plan and fully-funded long-term capital plan. Not only did the plans work, they also helped the municipality to reduce overall costs, increase employment, and increase programming.
While balancing the management, administration and delivery of all the municipal programs and services in Ulukhaktuk, Bill also acted as a mentor to Judi Wall and helped develop the skills she would need to be successful as the community’s SAO. Last year, Bill moved to Fort Simpson to become the SAO in that community and Judi has taken the knowledge and skills she learned from this experience to continue to shape and support Ulukhaktuk.
“You get to have a direct impact at a community level. You get a sense of public service, a sense of pride and a great work and life balance working in municipal government. On a daily basis you are never bored and one day you can be awarding million dollar construction contracts, the next you are dealing with a human resource, issue, the next you are working with the community to establish policies and procedures to make things more effective and efficient. This work gives you a chance to invest directly in your community, where you can see the direct benefits and the changes when you make a decision.”
Meet the Manager
Bill Bennett currently serves as the Senior Administrative Officer for the village of Fort Simpson, having previously held the same position in the hamlet of Ulukhaktuk, where he received his Senior Administrative Officer Certification. Bill also has a diploma in Public Administration and prior to his work in community government, he held various positions with the Government of the Northwest Territories in departments including Human Resources, Executive and Municipal and Community Affairs. When the opportunity arose, Bill made a move over to local government when an administrator was needed in Pangnirtung, where over three years he moved the community from a deficit into a surplus situation, established operational policies and procedures, and trained a local woman to take over the position.
For the past four years, Bill has served on the Local Government Administration of the NWT (LGANT) Board of Directors. Bill’s family loves living in Fort Simpson. He is married with two children.
Local Input Key to Drive Community Growth
While a senior manager must be a strong leader, an effective manager and a creative problem solver, without the contribution and buy-in of the local community, it’s difficult to make much headway. But when a manager is engaged with the people and issues that can affect the community, positive changes and improvements naturally follow.
Manager of the K’atlodeeche First Nation, Peter Groenen, knew this from the beginning and has been working together with the band to ensure projects and initiatives are reflective of the community’s needs.
The band has a much broader government mandate than other community governments, which means it is involved in a range of projects related to community government operation and the community in general. These include healthcare, victims’ services, recreation, and more. The SAO also pursues opportunities for to develop the community, whether it is economic development on the reserve or community projects.
Since Peter’s time as SAO, he has had the opportunity of being involved in many projects. Here are some that he is most proud of:
- Development of a community Wellness Project operated out of the Anne Buggins Wellness Centre. The Wellness Project is centred around putting together a program delivery model that includes personal development workshops for people in the community and band members. Already Peter has worked with the band to develop a business plan to make the Wellness Centre self-sufficient in future. “It’s one program at a time and we are always on the lookout for more initiatives who could use the centre to make it a viable enterprise. It’s an opportunity for people to become healthier, contribute to their communities and improve their lives in general.”
- Renovations to the new band office that include the people of the Hay River Reserve in the design and construction of the new facility. The entire interior of the building was gutted and council chambers will be built in a rounded shape that is reflective of culture and is a place for community members to be proud of.
- Streamlining financial management practices for maximum efficiency. This involved some restructuring to consolidate the First Nation’s management with all of the other corporations managed by the band. With the assistance of a chartered accountant, Peter headlined a project that included a consultation process to talk to members and get the community’s input to set up a standalone Finance division. This division manages the finances of the band and all the community government corporations to build efficiencies and improve financial reporting. Since the band members have an ownership stake in these corporations and is responsible for them, bringing them all under one desk was an easy way to be more efficient.
“It’s a busy position and the community is working on so many things. We are always working to build the community and show that everyone’s concerns are heard, we take people’s comments seriously and then try to respond in a way that’s in the best interest of the whole community. Working with the Council to take steps to achieve the dreams of the community is very exciting. I’ve always tried to take jobs where I could make a difference and make people’s lives better. That is what a community government does.”
Meet the Manager
Peter Groenen has been the Senior Administrative Officer of the Hay River Reserve for more than two years. Prior to this, he was the SAO for the Hamlet of Enterprise. Peter spent some time in the private sector, working mostly with the Government of the Northwest Territories to run training programs for SAO’s and other community projects. Peter has worked in communities across the north since 1979 and before moving into community government, Peter worked mostly managing and training community employees to manage Co-ops in Whati, Arviat (Nunavut), Inuvik and Yellowknife. Peter is president of the Rotary Club of Hay River Sunrise.