The Kent Federation Agriculture community members got a chance to hear from the municipality’s incoming Chief Administrative Officer last week.
A few dozen people attended the KFA Regional Meeting for Kent County for a meal and discussions on agricultural issues. Michael Duben was the guest speaker, where he discussed his plans for when his term commences next month.
Despite being invited to the meeting to share his vision for Chatham-Kent, Duben told the federation’s members that it wasn’t part of his role.
“I don’t really have a vision for the community,” said Duben. “My job is to make sure my staff and I deliver as effectively as we can, as efficiently as we can, and hopefully at the same time make everybody proud.”
Duben emphasized Chatham-Kent council is responsible for shaping the future of the community.
“At the end of the day, I think it is the staff’s job to give their professional opinion,” Duben said.
During the meeting, longtime Kent Federation of Agriculture member Bill Parks asked Duben to help address the sense of a rural-urban divide in Chatham-Kent.
“We talk about a community, but we have a hard time acting like a community,” Parks said.
Parks added there is a feeling among some in rural Chatham-Kent that decisions tend to be “Chatham-centric”. He said this tends to “suck the life out of the community.”
“I just wanted to make sure you hadn’t missed that point,” Parks added. “I ask you if you will work with us. We’d appreciate any help you can give us.”
Duben said from a staff perspective; it’s always their objective to build a community.
“I’ll make sure the staff is focussed on creating a better community. Chatham needs everywhere else and not everywhere else needs Chatham,” he said. “Don’t forget, these 2,000 employees, many of them come from this community, so they want it to be a community just as much as you do.”
Duben said he hopes to help Chatham-Kent strengthen its community and work to stop the rural-urban divide within the county. However, he noted he ultimately takes his direction from council.
The incoming CAO later said he’s not surprised to hear this issue exists in a municipality “where there are clear lines between urban and rural.”
He said the best way to address division is to communicate to try to find common ground.
“I think a good compromise is when both sides are slightly unhappy,” he said. “That’s when you know you’ve had a good compromise. Nobody’s ever going to be completely happy.”
When asked about plans regarding the ongoing discussions on the proposed woodlot cutting bylaw, he admitted he has more to learn but highlighted he wants to make sure each party feels heard.
Duben added one of the questions he would ask is whether it’s tree cutting or clear-cutting as he believes there’s a huge difference between the two. Ultimately, he said communication is key.
“It’s just listening, talking, sorting it through and trying to find out both sides. Making sure everybody’s dealing with fact, and recognizing that not everybody’s always going to get their way but they a least deserve a say, an opportunity to speak up and be heard,” said Duben.
The incoming CAO comes by way of Oxford County, where he currently serves as CAO. Duben has seven years of CAO experience working for the District Municipality of Muskoka, a senior corporate law partner in Windsor, and various roles within the City of Windsor.
He said his experience with provincial issues had well-prepped him for his upcoming responsibilities in Chatham-Kent.
“Most municipalities in Ontario are dealing with the same issues, and for me, a lot of what I think I’m going to face here is not new,” says Duben. “I’ve faced it elsewhere, and that’s also an opportunity because it means I will be able to hit the ground running, hopefully.”
Duben is set to begin his new role with the municipality on Sept. 8. In the meantime, Tony Haddad will remain in an interim position.
Bird Bouchard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Ridgetown Independent News