Long-Serving Niverville CAO Plans for Retirement


1 Long Serving Niverville Cao Plans For Retirement Pic1
CAO Jim Buys, Mayor Myron Dyck, and CAO-in-training Eric King Brenda Sawatzky

Few people have participated firsthand in all of Niverville’s incredible change and growth over the past 33 years as Jim Buys. Buys was hired on as Niverville’s first chief administrative officer (CAO) over three decades ago, and in 2018 he’s decided to complete his leg of the race and pass the baton.

“It’s been just a privilege for me for 33 years now to serve the citizens of Niverville,” Buys says. “When I think back over all the opportunities I’ve had to assist council in the realization of their dreams and goals, to work with citizens to make things happen for them so that their quality of life and their ownership of this community becomes a reality, it’s been great.”

On June 1, Eric King will pick up where Buys leaves off. King currently holds the town positions of finance and economic development. While this new position will add a whole new dynamic to his already busy workload, King is confident that roles will shift and evolve within the town office to allow him to focus his attention where it’s most needed. 

“It’ll be a learning curve,” says King. “From my point of view, you don’t replace who Jim is. I don’t expect to fill Jim’s shoes on day one, but I expect to grow into Jim’s shoes [with time]. It’s all a balancing act. I have great people around me.”

Mayor Myron Dyck has been aware for some time that the town would need an exit plan for Buys. He admits that Buys will be sorely missed.

“I don’t know how you can, in a few sentences, describe an individual who has given over 30 years of their life to a community,” says Dyck. “He’s invested himself, given of his spirit and time, efforts and emotions. Thank you sounds very hollow. I have a great deal of respect for someone who comes with the passion and dedication that Jim does. It’s been thoroughly an honour to have known him for the time that I have.”

Dyck says that council began planning for this moment during Buys’ lengthy illness in 2015. During this time, council was forced to look closely at the town’s administrative functioning, since a bulk of the workload fell on one man’s shoulders, leaving the town office somewhat incapacitated during his absence. King was hired during this time to take on the financial aspects of Buys’ portfolio, as well as to slowly train in the entirety of the position.

Executive assistant Audrey Neufeld has since become the human resources officer, having learned the ropes after 15 years of working alongside Buys. After Buys returned, town staff were in a position to offer him reduced hours while he made the slow journey to recovery. 

Upon retirement, Buys will continue to offer counsel to King where needed for another 18 months. 

To fully appreciate the scope of a CAO’s job description, one has to be aware of the diversity that’s required for the position. The CAO serves both council and the community. They are financial administrator, overseer of all staff departments, operations coordinator for all local infrastructure, economic consultant, purveyor of municipal law, researcher, and effective communicator. 

According to Buys, his was not an eight-to-five job. Because timing on many opportunities is imperative, a CAO needs to be available to research, consult, and move on an opportunity on a moment’s notice, even if it’s after everyone else has gone home. The CAO doesn’t have the power to make many decisions, but he is required to communicate and enforce the decisions of council whether he agrees with them or not.

“Jim has taken a lot of bullets for decisions council has made and yet he still comes back and wants to be here,” says Dyck. “Quality CAOs are hard to come by. When you have [one], you are capable of having a quality community.”

When Buys took the job in 1985, the Niverville town office only had one other half-time employee, and Gil Wiebe was mayor of the day. 

“I remember the first day that I walked in here and opened the vault and there were stacks of problems that had to be worked through,” Buys says. “I came here for the first three or four months and I would just work through [the stacks of paperwork].” 

He remembers putting in long hours, billeting to a house in town so that he could be near the office. Niverville was a smaller community then, and Buys recalls soon knowing everyone by name. He even had most of their four-digit phone numbers memorized.

Over the course of five mayors and three decades, the community grew beyond anyone’s expectations. In reality, the entire fabric of the community morphed and Buys was there to witness it all. 

Some of the integral moments, in his mind, have been: the development of Fifth Avenue Estates, leading the way in residential growth; the annexations of the business park and land west of the railway tracks; the transition in healthcare, going from one doctor running a practice out of an office in the municipal building to the Open Health clinic serving the entire region; the steady growth of the Heritage Centre and working alongside the people who had the vision for it; and the environmental impact of a decommissioned lagoon-turned-wetlands project, one of the first of its kind in the world.

More recently, Buys has been glad to be part of the entire town’s transition to a community water system, and to assist in the early stages of a new school and community resource centre.

With the good times also came heartbreak. Buys will never forget his good friend and colleague Jim (JR) Schapansky, and the many years he dedicated to town service before his untimely death to cancer.

But Buys’ ultimate highlight is one that moves him to emotion just by thinking of it. This event, Buys says, he is saving to share at his upcoming farewell dinner, planned for June 3. 

“That event did something for Niverville that just changed the community,” says Buys. “The very essence of who Niverville is. It was an incredible experience.”

Buys expects his retirement will include a lot more time with his wife, who’s been a patient partner over his years of dedication to the town. Also, his kids and grandkids will be seeing a lot more of him. But he’s not a man who’s likely to slow down much. His bucket list includes things like furthering his education, volunteering, and doing whatever he can to continue to improve the lives of others. 

“Niverville is so blessed,” says Buys. “You guys have [councillors and town staff] who are experienced, committed, intelligent, articulate, and visionary. There are communities right across Canada that would give their eye teeth for the council that we have. And I’m looking at this and thinking, ‘What a privilege for Eric to have that type of council to work with moving forward.’ What a privilege for me to be able to close the door having worked with this type of council.”

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