Published on September 27, 2013
Summerside CAO Robert Ashley, (second left), discusses his ideas for the city with Councillor Tina Mundy,(from the left), Summerside developer, Peter Brown and Greater Summerside Chamber of Commerce general manager, Jane Sharpe. Ashley was formally introduced as the new chief administrative officer at city hall on Friday. Mike Carson/Journal Pioneer
Published on September 27, 2013
Robert Ashley has been hired as Summerside's new CAO.
SUMMERSIDE – Summerside’s new chief administrative officer intends to get to know the city, the culture, the people and to encourage more public engagement on what concerns them.
Robert Ashley has taken on the position of CAO and brings with him a transition plan that will enable him to learn about Summerside before taking on a leadership role.
“The CAO’s permanent chair has been vacant for quite a while, although with acting competency in there,” he said. “I believe that there’s a need to transition between whatever the old guard was to the new guard.”
He said his transition plan will “not be coming in to upset apple carts, to rush to put my signature on anything but rather to listen and learn about what the culture of the organization – who are the people that get things done – who are the innovators – who are the hard workers.”
Ashley said he needs to learn about the nuances of government in the city.
“By that I mean what types of committees and structures and processes that are used to come to decisions and to be able to step back and analyze those types of things,” he said. “I need to absorb that. So, I don’t have any rush to put my stamp on anything. I think that would be a big mistake and I need to learn more than I need to lead right now.”
Over the past few years there have been issues, whether perceived or real, between the office of the CAO and the general public.
Ashley said he is aware of this and has a plan to deal with it.
“I would do that by listening,” he said. “I have two ears and one mouth so. I should do double the amount of listening to speaking. If I can get out into the community and listen to what some of the concerns are… if I can appear as open and transparent and willing to discuss any matter at the citizen’s level, I’m hoping that will help things along”
Ashley said in light of this, actions speak louder than words and that he wants the public involved.
“One of the things I’ll be looking at is what kind of mechanism or structures do we have for public engagement?” he said. “How strong are they? How robust are they? Or, how weak are they? And what might be done to improve engagement.”
Ashley said he is looking forward to setting up a home in Summerside and described the city asa place that works well for him both professionally and personally.
“What attracted me to Summerside was the leadership in a number of different areas,” he said. “Number one, the energy sector and also in the municipal area, just generally speaking with the membership with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. I think it’s important for municipalities to try to play a role in developing federal policy and Summerside has done that. They’ve made a contribution. That was very attractive.”
“The community itself is beautiful,” Ashley said. “Homes are well kept there’s nice landscaping and there are heritage properties, the waterfront park is beautiful. From a personal point of view there’s everything I need.”
Ashley said Summerside is a great arts community, something that interests him.
“I would say what attracted me was a very holistic type of magnetism that the city holds both professionally and personally.”
Ashley is an experienced municipal leader with a focus on creative approaches to strategy. He has held two previous CAO positions; the most recent position was for Kings County, N. S. that has a population of 60,000 and a budget of $45 million. Prior to Kings County, he was the CAO for the Town of Berwick, N. S.
Ashley graduated first in his class from Dalhousie University with his Masters of Public Administration in 2005. He also completed the Executive Leadership Program
from Queen’s University in 2012. During his studies, Ashley was the recipient of numerous awards including the Governor General of Canada Silver Award and the Guy Henson Gold Medal.
During his tenure in Kings County, N. S., he took a creative approach to modernizing and streamlining an outdated committee governance structure. He also improved transparency and accountability in the management team's reporting to council. By way of an internship program, he introduced an extensive policy review process. He developed the municipality’s social media presence and strategy, created functions for both a communications/media specialist and an economic development specialist. Ashley held a number of leadership roles while with Kings County including chairman of, provincial CAO/IT Best Practices Committee, chairman of InterMuni Tech Team (I-MITT), and lead municipal expert on Premier’s Economic Development Study Group (airport move feasibility), and was the lead CAO of six municipal partners in the Valley Community Fibre Network.
Ashley held many leadership roles with the Town of Berwick and was involved in significant projects. He completed the production of Berwick’s Integrated Community
Sustainability Plan; was involved in labour negotiations with CUPE and IBEW; was secretary-treasurer for the Berwick Electric Commission working on numerous electric
utility and green projects. His leadership roles included chairman of the Valley Waste Work Group, Chairman of the- Joint Provincial-Municipal E-Gov. Committee, Lead CAO in a fire services task force study and Lead CAO in emergency management exercises.