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Dawn Chaplin: Strong connections building a vibrant Torbay community

Dawn Chaplin has been CEO of the Town of Torbay for the past 13 years and in that time has seen the community become the second fastest growing municipality in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.

As one might expect, that presents “a lot of opportunities and a lot of challenges.” However, in a conversation with Municipal World CEO at the 2019 Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Quebec City, Chaplin said the most important designation is the difference between a town and a community.

The Importance of Community Over Town

“The big thing for me is developing partnerships and sustainability, and having a plan – a roadmap to where you need to go,” she said. “That’s the approach I’ve always taken. You can say you live in the Town of Torbay. But I want people to say they come from the community of the Town of Torbay and community and town are two very different things.”

Chaplin acknowledges in the video that she is something of a “Type A” personality. It is a trait she credits to her parents who always supported the belief she was capable of anything she put her mind toward accomplishing.

It’s a mentality she said has served her well – both personally and professionally. It is also something she strives to instill in not only her own son, but her staff as well. This, in particular, is reflected in how she wants municipal staff to approach their daily tasks.

“Don’t be afraid to make a mistake. If you are struggling with something, let’s have a conversation about it. If it goes off the rails, let’s see how we can put it back,” Chaplin said. “Yes, we have an elected council, but we really have 8,000 bosses. That’s the population of Torbay.”

Essential Lessons Learned as CAO

Along with those 13 years of CAO experience, Chaplin said, comes the understanding that it is essential to build a good relationship with council.

And so, she explained, she regularly sits down with the mayor, members of council, to keep the lines of communication open. “Not every day is a rose,” Chaplin joked, but she said she respects the process and no matter how her recommendations are received, once council decides on a direction, she stands behind the decision.

“Sometimes you have your own thought process, but others bring a different perspective. Maybe when making decisions or recommendations you might never have seen that, so you just have to be accepting of diverse opinions,” she said. “I’m not going to undermine council. I work side-by-side with them.”  MW

✯ Municipal World Insider and Executive Members: You might also be interested in Shari-Anne Doolaege’s article: A council guide to navigating council-staff relations. Note that you can now access the complete collection of past articles (and more) from your membership dashboard.

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