By Jaymie White Local Journalism Initiative Reporter PORT AUX BASQUES — Leon MacIsaac has been Town Manager of Port aux Basques since 2017, but has decided it is time to step away and enjoy his much-deserved retirement. MacIsaac and his wife had considered the matter of his retirement previously, until the job came up with the town. “My wife worked with Eastern Health, so she thought it would be a fairly good chance of getting positioned at local hospital here. She knew ladies who worked here at the time in the department. She worked with X ray and she was a scan specialist in St. John's, and even though she hadn't used that since she’s been out here, it was a good movement for her, a little less busy than the eastern side of the island, I would expect, which is what we were both looking for,” said MacIsaac. “We had planned retiring back here and it just worked out that I applied for a position where they were looking for somebody where we were both ready to move.” MacIsaac has received other job offers, but he has no plans to accept any of them. “Whatever the Webster's Dictionary is for retirement, that's what I plan on doing. I've had offers to work with other groups, but I told everybody the same thing. You just can't afford me in that. I just don't want to be working for anybody else,” said MacIsaac. “And they said, ‘well, you may change your mind’. No, I'm not. I came out to the west coast for hunting, fishing, and the outdoors, and that's what I fully plan to do.” Because of how busy he has been as town manager, MacIsaac hasn’t gotten to spend nearly as much time in the outdoors as he wanted. “I fished three days this past year, which is far from what I normally do. Fly fishing. Hunting. I've gotten away from a lot of hunting. I bought a rifle and I have yet to fire a shell this year, but having a chance to go hunting, wow,” said MacIsaac. “I've got a quad that I moved from my garage to my front lawn. It has been sitting there since the spring, and I just haven't had time, and I fully intend to fully manage that when I retire.” The last few years have been exceedingly busy. “In 2021, we had the major washout which took Trans Canada Highway. In 2022, of course, Hurricane Fiona; 2023 is cleaning up from Hurricane Fiona, and 2024 is going to be very busy. It's rebuilding a subdivision over there to offer more housing to people,” said MacIsaac. “Plus there's major projects that are always on the go. That hasn't changed. It’s just that Fiona took the forefront of everything, but the town has a lot of projects in the wind that are coming up, and they've got to proceed regardless.” Even though it’s supposed to be a 40-hour work week, the position does require being available after hours and on weekends in case of an emergency. "If your phone rings, you answer. I don't ever not answer my phone. If I don't answer it for someone, I do apologize, just that I can't always have it attached to me. I do have to lay it down and I may not hear ringing, but I always get back to whoever calls. And very rarely does my phone ring that is not within reach, that I can answer. Whether it's a call for an emergency or non-emergency, I still respond,” said MacIsaac. That’s not the most difficult part of the job. “Just understanding the town, and how it works and its infrastructure and demand of residents, demands of council, trying to figure out what everybody wants and trying to keep everybody fairly happy,” said MacIsaac. “It’s not possible for everyone. That's an impossible job in itself, but you have to understand how everything works. I'm sure everybody thinks they can do the Town Manager job or CAO (Chief Administrative Officer) job, but until you're actually sitting in the chair, it's a far different realm than they could ever imagine. You need a lot of different skill sets that not everybody has.” MacIsaac has complete faith in his successor, current Town Clerk Nadine Osmond. “She's very bright, quite capable, well organized. She has apprehensions to be able to answer the kind of questions I could, but I said, ‘don't worry about it’. I said, 'not everybody has that kind of background. Everybody has different backgrounds coming into different entities and I just so happened to have more so than others, but that's not saying that you won't fill that void where it's necessary as well,’” said MacIsaac. Mayor Brian Button took a few moments to reflect on the passing of the torch, so to speak, starting with MacIsaac's contributions. “We applaud him for the work that he's done for the community, and we wish him the very best on his retirement,” said Button. “So we'll lose another piece of our management team that will be going. We've got to fill that gap now the best that we can right now.” The Town did put feelers out to potential candidates for the position after MacIsaac retired, but was ultimately unsuccessful, and believed that an internal reorganization was the best possible solution, at least for the immediate future. “We've hired internally, on an interim basis, I suppose, because every job now like that we advertise it for quite a while. When it comes to applications, it's trying to find someone with some municipal experience and to be able to put into a role, because, as you know, and everybody in the community, where we've just went through a very trying situation with Fiona, which has destroyed a fair bit of our community, and we need someone with that municipal background as such, or have some experience, hopefully. We weren't successful in our interviewing process. We weren't successful in our call for candidates and stuff, and we did have a couple that had some of the things that we might have been looking for, but when you're trying to hire for these positions and thinking about all that has happened and stuff, you need more than one person, one application. You need a pool of people that you can choose from and interview, and we haven't been fortunate enough to do that. That's not to say that there wasn't probably a couple that might have been there,” said Button. “We advertised all over the place. We had applications from all over the planet that came in, and some had no qualification whatsoever, and then you had some that do have some qualification, but it's just not enough for us to go forward, and right now we're kind of at, that means where we'd like to have someone with some municipal experience and someone to come in here because they're not coming into it at this particular transition. We're not coming into sort of a normal municipal environment. We're still dealing with the aftermath of Fiona. We're still dealing with multiple issues that are with that, and so what we've done is on an interim basis right now, and we've promoted Nadine from Town Clerk to Town Manager.” Nadine Osmond will be taking on the responsibilities and duties of that new role beginning on Jan. 1. “She's already actively working in the role alongside of Leon, and she's been trying to mirror and work with Leon now and Leon has indicated he's not going very far and will be around if any advice is needed and things like that,” said Button. “So we're going to see how everything transitions and see how everything goes. Nadine is very familiar right now with everything that has been transpiring. We had Leon who suffered some health issues during Fiona, and Nadine had a greater role back then as well and she handled it quite well, and Nadine comes with a fair bit of municipal experience now. She knows her way around here. We've also, though, to put this in perspective, we have our work superintendent that's out there. We've hired a new position, a gentleman now that we have hired. He's being involved in a lot of our water issues and water leads from the water treatment plant to our water systems in our town and stuff, and he'll be the lead on site for those type things as well.” Even though Osmond doesn’t have engineering experience, there are others on staff who can be called upon in those situations. “She has the municipal experience and she has the knowledge of the infrastructure of the community, but she also has the engineering expertise that she has on staff in both Scott and Jackson. We have not one, now we have two that are on our outside staff for anything that Nadine doesn't have from that side of it,” said Button. “She has that on the ground, working as a resource out in the field, and as a town manager as well. Our town manager doesn't work in the field. They're not out in the field. We need the expertise of that in the field, and now we've doubled that. We had one in Scott and now we have Jackson as well. So we feel confident in that aspect on an interim basis, if things don’t work out for both parties, if it doesn't feel that it's working out from Nadine's side of things, or it doesn't feel that it's working out for us, we have the flexibility to be able to fill that role. We'll continue to see and evaluate it and to see if the options are there of hiring a town manager other than Nadine in those roles or whatever. But right now we got to continue to run the community and with the town manager going, we have all the faith in the world that Nadine can fulfill that role. and we'll see how it all goes, and we'll continue to actively look at the position and to see where we go down the road.” Osmond has been working as Town Clerk for the last two years, but she has worked on the front lines at the town office for seven years, and with nearly a decade of experience, is excited to move into her new role. “When I was first asked if I would be interested, I said no. But Leon and the council wanted to make sure that they had the right person, someone who had a bit of knowledge of the town, someone who had municipal government experience, because a regular office job is different than a municipal office job, and even though they had a couple of good candidates for part of the job when they did the interviews, that was what was lacking, that was the municipal experience. The municipal experience and the years of management experience, this is a big undertaking because you’ve got a lot of people to manage. I haven't managed this number of people before.” It’s a lot to learn, but Osmond is already working hard at that. “I have been learning,” said Osmond. “Usually I stick to more of the financial side of it as a town clerk role, but over the last few months now, I've been sitting in on a lot of meetings with Leon to get involved in more of the project management side.” MacIsaac has been invaluable in helping Osmond prepare for the job. “He keeps me involved, and he keeps me on all of the emails that he would just normally be involved in, and he keeps me updated on any meetings that are going ahead and any discussions that he's had that's been separate from me,” said Osmond. “If I've had to go elsewhere for another meeting or something like that, he keeps me updated, and I've been making notes. So we probably could have definitely have had a longer period of time to do the training, but I was a little bit late in saying if I would take the position or not.” Knowing that the position comes with travel and being a government liaison can be a daunting task, but Osmond is getting more comfortable every day. “There's still a lot of government people I haven't met yet. But in some of the other jobs that you know, there's been government liaisons. (MHA) Andrew Parsons (Burgeo - La Poile) is great to communicate with and I'm comfortable with that. I have to do a little bit of homework on everybody's portfolio,” said Osmond. “And get updated with that because there's been some changes in the last few months as well, and the travel, people think traveling for business is exciting, and it is exciting, but it's also tiring. I've learned that from a couple of trips already. But it's exciting when you get to meet new people and learn about different options for infrastructure and programming and new ventures.” Even though efforts are still underway for Hurricane Fiona, Osmond already has had considerable experience with the processes that are involved in such a large scale operation, and she feels better prepared to be able to handle the portfolio moving forward. More homes are scheduled to be removed in 2024, so she will remain at the forefront of recovery efforts. “I feel like I'm going to be okay because all of us here, council, Brian, Leon, myself, we've all been talking to a number of the government officials,” said Osmond. “I know a number of people and have spoken and met with a number of government officials on the jobs related to Fiona, so I'd be comfortable in that. My role has probably been a little bit different than, say, the town manager's has been in the last little while with arranging for the project details.” Even though she had some apprehension, there are also aspects of the job that Osmond is really looking forward to. “Not everybody would probably say this, but I kind of like the networking with all the people that are involved with the project, from the government side to the contractor side, and I guess that's just from years of working at administration and having to organize and project management,” said Osmond. “On the project management side, I think I'll be okay that way. It's just the other parts, but I'll have to rely on staff, the available resources, and I mean, there's been lots of cases in the last couple of years that we've called retired employees to ask their opinion on some of the road infrastructure or what's in the ground because they probably worked on it. I mean, that happens a lot, and you can't always be scared of taking a position. I mean, I had to get past that. That was big. I had to get past that. I think that the part I was afraid of was not being able to respond appropriately to the engineering side of things, but if I got a little bit of a system organized with Scott and Jackson and we've got all of the papers, plans, maps, you know, hopefully that'll work. I'm just hoping that in a couple of years time, we'll all be in a good place because it's been a real struggle here in the office with changing staff and with Fiona and the floods.” Once Osmond moves into the town manager role full time next year, Holly Walters will serve as Town Clerk for Channel-Port aux Basques. Walters is also currently employed with the town.
Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News