Shropshire ready to hit reset button

·7 min read

After more than a decade committed to his community, Chatham-Kent’s reigning Chief Administrative Officer is set to retire.

Don Shropshire has been working with the Municipality of Chatham-Kent since 2009. Although set to retire, he said he still remembers his first day on the job.

“My first day was July 13, 2009,” he said. “At that time, I was hired by the municipality as the General Manager for Community Development. I had a chance to serve in that position for about two and a half years. Then I applied and was selected as the chief administrative officer. I got word on January 16, 2012, and my appointment by-law council came across on February 1, 2012.”

As CAO, Shropshire was responsible to the Municipal Council for the effective and efficient operation of Municipal services.

When reflecting on his time with the municipality, Shropshire said he is pleased with many things. However, he highlighted overcoming a recession and helping grow the population of Chatham-Kent as some of the most memorable achievements.

Shropshire said he and staff had their work cut out for themselves as he came in just after the 2008 recession. He recalls Chatham-Kent having one of, if not the highest unemployment rate in the province, at around 14 percent. He said people were leaving the community because they were looking for work someplace else.

“When I look back over that time period, and where we are today, things have flipped 180 degrees from the economic perspective,” he said. “We are now in a position where we’re not looking for jobs; we’re looking for people to fill the jobs. To me, that’s a huge achievement for the entire community.”

Shropshire said it inspires him that Chatham-Kent has a community that keeps coming together to make a difference and overcome challenges. Despite now set for retirement, he said the issues happening with Wheatley and Erie Shore Drive remain near and dear to his heart. He added that he is thrilled with the much-needed help received from the Ontario government.

When it comes to the current size of council, Shropshire said he is not concerned about reducing the size of council.

“I think we’ve got a really big territory, and having 18 members of the council, I don’t think that creates a whole lot of extra work, and I don’t think it creates a whole lot of extra expense,” he said.

Shropshire said he wouldn’t change much with the current structure of how things are done in the municipality. However, he admitted that members of council often have demanding jobs with many different decisions and by-laws, such as the Tree Cutting by-law. He said he has noticed that more councillors are starting to take a step back to say they recognize they were elected by a certain constituent group and therefore must represent their wants and needs. However, they also have a responsibility as a council member to look at how to grow the community as a whole.

“I still think that’s something that our current board structure could benefit from taking another look at,” he said. “I won’t pretend to have the solutions today. But I wouldn’t mind if council took a serious look at that sometime in the future.”

Shropshire said he couldn’t take all the credit for the things accomplished at Chatham-Kent. He highlighted the high level of dedication from council members and other staff members as factors for Chatham-Kent’s overall success and growth throughout the years.

Before coming to the municipality of Chatham-Kent, Shropshire spent more than 24 years with the Red Cross. It was there that he had a boss that inspired him to be the leader he is today.

“When I think about mentorship, he provided some real inspiration. From a career perspective, I look at John (Mulvihill); he was a guy who really cared about people. He was prepared to roll up his sleeves and do the heavy lifting work, and he didn’t depend on others to do things that he wouldn’t do for himself. He brought a sense of dedication and compassion. When I think about the type of leader I want to be, John provides a lot of inspiration,” said Shropshire.

While at the Red Cross, Shropshire served in various leadership positions at the national level. This included injury prevention (water safety and first aid), health and senior services, home care and veteran’s services. Most recently, he served as the National Director of Disaster Management, where he provided leadership of the Red Cross’ Disaster Management Services.

The retiring CAO said he decided to work for the municipality since he always had a passion for making his community better.

“We all have something to give, and I think it is important to find ways to help other people and give back to your community. We all have to give back. I don’t think that’s different in municipal or local governments,” he said.

Shropshire also highlighted his swimming coach for instilling values into him he still holds today.

“I had a swim coach who was very important to me. In terms of setting up values and the type of thing you want to do for your community, a lot of the work I did from volunteer organizations, like the YMCA, and the Red Cross, helped shape a lot of the values I think are still pretty important to me today,” he said.

Volunteering is still important to Shropshire and is something he plans to focus on later in retirement. He has been an active member of the Rotary for more than 10 years and volunteered with Habitat for Humanity for nearly 10 years.

“I’m certainly looking to my retirement as a way to get more involved and have more hours in the day that provides support for causes that are important to me,” he said.

But Shropshire said there wouldn’t be much volunteering for a few months. He said once he retires, he wants to relax and hit the reset button for a few months.

“I will still get up at 5 in the morning. I will probably take some extra time for a coffee. The last two and a half years have been a heavy operation load with the flooding, COVID, Wheatley, etc. I’m going to push the reset button and have a little bit more relaxation with family and friends. Then I’ll see where I can volunteer or find ways to get recruited to causes I believe in,” said Shropshire.

When reflecting on all the positive things he accomplished during his time with the municipality, Shropshire said he is indebted to his wife, Robin.

Shropshire said his wife, Robin, used to work for the municipality as a staff person for library services. When they decided to change the nature of the relationship, the two agreed that the only way it would work was for one of the two to be looking for different work.

“I never felt comfortable having a personal relationship with one of the employees. I’m indebted to Robin as she chose to work for another organization. She’s now the chief executive officer for the Essex County Library System.”

Shropshire, who was set to retire in December, said he would be sticking around part-time for a few weeks to help and support the recently appointed interim CAO Tony Haddad during the transition.

“I’m expecting that I’ll still be around to support certain files. The mayor and I and council members have talked about what I can help with,” Shropshire said. “Primarily, I’m thinking of Wheatley. We’ve had some major challenges there, and having Tony come in and do all of that immediately off the top will be hard.”

“It’s been a great run, and I feel really fortunate and blessed to have been doing this job. I’m looking forward to seeing who the next CAO will be,” said Shropshire.

Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News

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