While COVID-19 was the over-arching challenge for essentially every organization in 2020, Thompson-Nicola Regional District Board (TNRD) chair Ken Gillis says a different issue had a greater potential to sink the TNRD.
“We lost our CAO at the very beginning of the year. It posed a real challenge for us,” he says.
Sukh Gill left the TNRD at the end of February. The reason for his departure wasn’t disclosed by the TNRD, though it did state he received around $350,000 as part of an agreement at the end of his employment.
From there, Randy Diehl, a former Kamloops CAO, was appointed as the interim CAO for the regional district.
“We fell on our feet for that one,” Gillis tells Castanet. “He took over as if he’d been there from the beginning.”
Diehl got the TNRD through “the roughest water,” Gillis says, and stayed on until July, when Scott Hildebrand was hired. Having spent the previous two years as the CAO in Merritt, Hildebrand was familiar with the TNRD.
“We were just lucky to get him,” Gillis says of Diehl. “It had the potential to leave us completely rudderless until a replacement was found.”
Gillis says a couple of factors made the TNRD’s CAO situation more significant than COVID-19. One is that COIVD-19 was global, while the CAO search was local; many different systems were developed to deal with the pandemic, and different levels of government and organizations were collaborating and working cooperatively. The CAO situation was something the TNRD faced alone.
Additionally, while everything turned out OK, it had the potential to be a significant problem.
“That was the gravest danger we faced,” Gillis says.
Now that the CAO situation is settled and COVID-19 has a vaccine, Gillis says the TNRD is in good shape heading into 2021.
“I think financially we’re in great shape,” he says. “Staff-wise, we’re stronger than we were going into 2020.”
“The regional district is in an enviable position.”
COVID-19 was still a challenge for the TNRD, and Gillis is pleased with how they’ve weathered it. In particular, he highlights the library system, and the innovative ways they’ve come up with lending books during a time of physical distancing. He also notes that essential services haven’t really been impacted, and the planning department has continued to receive building permits throughout the pandemic.
“We didn’t stand in the way and we didn’t allow the COVID pandemic to stand in the way,” he says.
Going forward, Gillis says COVID-19 taught everyone to prepare for the truly unexpected.
“It’s fair to say that a flood or a fire is an unexpected event, but we’ve had those, dealt with them,” he says. “On the one hand, they’re unexpected, but they happen year after year after year.”
“The COVID pandemic was a first, I think, for all of us.”
He notes the closest parallel was the Spanish flu (a strain of H1N1), which happened over 100 years ago when society was very different, in particular in terms of communication and medical science.
“The responses to that epidemic are probably almost irrelevant in light of today’s medical world and communication world,” he says.
However, his advice is likely something that was said back then as well.
“What have we learned? I think we’ve learned we must, above all, stick together as a community,” he says. “Each of us is his brother's keeper.”