Since 2012 the town of Cardston has been participating in the Alberta government’s Municipal Internship Program. The internship program’s purpose is to prepare more professionals for work in the municipal world, and to provide municipalities with access to professionals who will benefit their community. Cardston’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Jeff Shaw shared his thoughts on the program in an interview with the Temple City Star as his most recent internship comes to a close.
“J.D. Haitsma is our third intern in my time with the town, and each internship has been a benefit to the community” he says. “We started because I knew of some other municipalities that had positive experiences with the internship program and thought it would be good for our town and benefit our community.” Shaw explained that the benefits to the town have been two-fold, as each intern has provided a “new set of eyes on how we do our business… and second that the program provides a competent post-secondary-educated person with an interest in learning about municipal government who can take on projects I may not have had the same time for.”
Municipalities who want to host an intern qualify for the administrator stream of the program if they have a population between 700 and 75,000, have an ability to provide training in a wide range of municipal functions, and are willing to share their knowledge and expertise as they complete the Intern Workplan. Both municipal hosts and interns apply for the program and only a limited number are selected. There are two other streams available with differences in qualification, including the finance officer stream and land use planner stream. If a municipality does not have a population of 700 they can formally or informally co-host an intern with a neighbouring municipality.
Shaw has both formally and informally shared interns before within the Cardston area. The last internship was formally shared with the Cardston County office who came up with a curriculum alongside the town of Cardston. An earlier intern was informally shared as Shaw would call colleagues in other municipalities and make arrangements for the intern to spend time learning from other administrators and networking within other municipalities- like the villages who would not have qualified on their own. This year the networking and sharing of interns did not happen due to the pandemic.
In previous years, interns have been offered a 12 month program with a possibility to extend up to 2 years, however the program will soon change to an 18 month commitment with no option to extend. According to Shaw “the grant pays for about 2/3rds of the interns regular salary, but while the reduced cost is appreciated, it is not free labour.” The Town of Cardston takes about two years in between interns so administration has time to prepare curriculum, and take a break from the responsibilities that come with hosting. Still, Shaw says he would recommend the program to interested municipalities as long as they “go in with their eyes wide open.”
J.D. Haitsma, who began the internship in April 2020, reflects on his experience, saying, “Cardston is a good sized community to intern at, everyone has some awareness on everything thats happening in the office so I was able to take part in a lot of different matters- and I attribute that to the size of the community and to Jeff making sure it happened.” Haitsma would recommend this program to other graduates as he says the projects were “very informative and helped me to gain a broad understanding of municipal government.” He specifically was benefited by working through the Municipal Accountability Program and working with a consultant on the Regional Emergency Management bylaws and partnership agreements. He shares, “it was a good project to manage working with all the CAO’s and the consultant, liaising between groups and learning about emergency management from a local perspective.”
The pandemic changed the experience drastically, as “there has been no conferences or networking to meet other employers or colleagues, which put him at a distinct disadvantage” according to Shaw. Still, Haitsma enjoyed “being involved with council in the council meetings as it was eye opening to see how decisions are made for a community and the way council discusses and tries to do their best to make good decisions and take care of the town”.
During his final meeting of council as an intern, Mayor Kronen said farewell and commended Haitsma, saying “thank you for an extraordinary internship here, you have extraordinary abilities in administration- thank you for your gift of time to us all”. She went on to mention his work writing bylaws, creating regional emergency services, and the Municipal Accountability Program as highlights of his proven ability to benefit the community.
Shaw adds “it has been a great program even though unconventional, and it has been a successful experience for us as a community.”
Elizabeth Thompson, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Temple City Star