Starting a new job as CAO of a municipality can be challenging at the best of times. But doing so in the midst of a worldwide pandemic has brought its fair share of twists and turns for new Minden Hills head of staff Trisha McKibbin.
McKibbin started July 6. She’s continuing a more than 17-year municipal career, most recently as director of corporate services with the Town of St. Mary’s.
“Getting to meet and speak with residents, business owners and organizations is much more challenging during a pandemic,” McKibbin told The Highlander. She said she’s been reaching out by telephone and email to introduce herself and trying to set up Zoom meetings so she can put faces to names, of people from neighbouring municipalities and local service clubs. She said she’s made some initial contact but is looking forward to working and speaking with community members in person.
“While I do joke with people not to take it personally when I don’t recognize them on the street or in a store, it is true that it is much easier to remember someone’s face when you meet them in person than it is through a computer screen. I recognize that it will take longer to meet people and build relationships but that will come with time,” she said.
McKibbin has been renting for a couple of months but has purchased a house in Ingoldsby and took possession at the end of August.
She said the township isn’t completely new to her, as for a 10-year span, she spent some time each summer at a cottage on Twelve Mile Lake. However, she terms it a “general familiarity” with the area, so is enjoying getting to know Minden Hills these past number of weeks.
She’s been exploring on foot and enjoying her evening walks and runs on the trails and into different neighbourhoods. She ties to explore something different each weekend, including take-out from a local restaurant, visiting one of the parks or taking a scenic drive in an area of the township that she hasn’t been to.
“I have managed to get myself a little disoriented, okay lost, on a few back roads that I have explored, but I am looking forward to becoming more familiar with shortcuts and alternate routes with time,” she said.
McKibbin added she’s enjoying the scenic and outdoor opportunities in the community.
“It appears to be a very active community, with people walking or cycling, or visiting a park and in particular, I have enjoyed watching individuals and families float down the Gull River on some pretty spectacular inflatables. That will be on my to-do list next summer. I am also looking forward to breaking in my cross- country skis this winter on some of the local trails.
“The thing that really stands out to me is how warm and friendly everyone is. When I’m out and about or shopping in a store and you pass someone, they always greet you with a smile and quick comment about the weather or the day. That has made me feel very welcomed as I settle in as a newcomer.”
Former CAO Lorrie Blanchard is still with the township, but is now its director of finance.
McKibbin said staff and council had been warm and welcoming. And while like most municipalities, there are differences in how services are delivered and processes undertaken, she’s getting up to speed on the business of Minden Hills and looking forward to delving into things further.
“I recognize that it is going to take a bit of time to get a fulsome understanding of the municipality, so what my focus has been these first months is getting to know as many people as I can, ask questions so I can have a better understanding as to how and why things are done a particular way, and most importantly listen to the comments, thoughts and information that residents, council and staff are sharing with me.”