RDEK, KERHD bids fond adieu to CAO
By Ian Cobb
There will be a strange feeling in the Regional District of East Kootenay (RDEK) Cranbrook offices on Monday morning.
A new era is beginning as long-time chief administrative officer Lee-Ann Crane heads to an early retirement and Shawn Tomlin steps up to take the reins of a region kept united and running smoothly these past 18 years.
In 1998, Crane ascended to the top of the regional government administration, 19 years after she was hired. She has been one of the longest serving RDEK employees since its inception in 1965.
On Friday, May 6, at the conclusion of the RDEK and Kootenay East Regional Hospital District (KERHD) board of directors’ monthly meeting, elected officials from around the region and beyond shared their thoughts on Crane, never one to step into the stoplight.
“It’s hard to believe that this will be her last meeting,” admitted District of Elkford Mayor and KERHD board chair Dean McKerracher. “Her knowledge, expertise and sage advice will be really missed. So too will your enthusiasm and passion for the work. You’ve truly left a mark on this organization and should be proud of all you’ve accomplished throughout your career,” he said, before presenting Crane with the first of several retirement gifts.
“I want to remind directors that not only did she work for us, but for UBCM (Union of B.C. Municipalities) as well, and for all the province,” he said.
“You’ve always supported us in our decisions, providing us with just the right amount of guidance and professionalism that we needed to make the best decisions,” said Electoral Area F Director and RDEK board vice-chair Wendy Booth.
Ktunaxa Nation Council board chair Kathryn Teneese attended the retirement ceremony in recognition Crane’s “long-standing contribution, not only to the RDEK but more specifically to the region.
“On behalf of the Ktunaxa Nation I just wanted to add my words of congratulations and to say ‘enjoy your well-deserved retirement,’” she said, noting her appreciation for Crane’s work. “It was always the highest level of professionalism.”
“Words like ‘loyalty’ and ‘commitment’” describe Crane, said RDEK board chair and Electoral Area C Director Rob Gay, before unveiling a plaque being the names of the RDEK and KERHD directors who served while she was CAO, that will be erected on the outside wall of the RDEK’s Cranbrook office. “It’s our permanent memory of Lee-Ann,” Gay said.
Several board directors battled emotions as they wished Crane well in her retirement.
“You’ve helped me a lot in my career,” said Village of Canal Flats Mayor Ute Juras, choking back tears.
Electoral Area E Director Jane Walters, her voice trembling, said, “She’s always been there for us, whether it was flooding or just phone calls with weird questions, she always found the answers for me.”
“The word is trepidation,” said longest-serving board member Mike Sosnowski, Electoral Area A Director. “A lot of us are feeling it today. I know I do. And moving forward, I’m sure Shawn is going to do a great job but just the trepidation of not being able to call home, so thank you for all you’ve done.”
“As soon as I met her, I felt a little bit intimidated by her knowledge and in her ability to really grasp everything and I was thinking, ‘wow, this is what I aspire to,’” said a tearful City of Fernie Mayor Mary Giuliano. “I don’t know if a lot of you know but not only is she well known for what she does for our region but she’s also well-known in the province. I think what I really, really admire is the fact that you have a fantastic relationship with your staff and I see the love and respect they hold for you and that you hold for them and I think that is so important because you really are a leader. You’re not the boss; you’re a leader and you are really an amazing woman.
“One of the things I think is very important for a CAO is they keep a board or municipality on the straight and narrow. And right up until yesterday Lee-Ann was doing just that, making sure that we were headed down the right roads, putting things in the right order and getting it right,” said District of Sparwood Mayor Cal McDougall.
District of Invermere Mayor Gerry Taft shared a story involving former mayor Mark Shmigelsky. “He had a plan to try and poach her and bring her to Invermere. I don’t think it was a successful plan, it obviously never happened, but he spoke very highly of Lee-Ann. Great experience, great guidance,” he said.
“I look at you as a mentor; someone who gave me a lot of good advice and it’s going to help me out in my career in this position,” said Electoral Area B Director Stan Doehle.
“Your administration has been – the best word I can think of – remarkable,” said Electoral Area G Director Gerry Wilkie.
“I remember my first board meeting. Then board chair (John) Kettle said to me before we came up here, ‘you are going to meet a CAO who knows exactly what is going on,’ which is uncharacteristic for a lot of CAOs,” cracked Regional District of Central Kootenay Electoral Area C Director and KERHD vice-chair Larry Binks. “You’ve been here for the board, you’ve been here for your staff and you’re a leader, not a herder. And if you don’t have the right answers, you get them.”
City of Cranbrook Mayor Lee Pratt offered some advice as well as congratulations. “As one who retired not being politically-minded, watch out what you volunteer for!”
City of Cranbrook board director and councillor Tom Shypitka said in the short time he’s been on the board he’s learned a great deal from Crane. “Thank you for not rolling your eyes at me too much,” he joked. “The respect level is high.”
Former long-time RDEK board member and chair Greg Deck of Radium Hot Springs later shared with e-KNOW: “Lee-Ann is a rare combination of professionalism, enthusiasm, and common sense. I feel lucky to have been able to work closely with her, and I consider her a friend and a mentor. Shawn had a good teacher. I have high hopes for him.”
She listed words to summarize her career – which included being the first woman to hold a CAO position in the East Kootenay’s history. “Fun; challenging; exciting; unexpected; fulfilling; busy; building partnerships; reliance on volunteers; patience; and providing services… and of course there’s the vacations and the pay cheque.”
Crane said she never dreamed she’d work for the RDEK as long as she did. “Here we are 37 years later.
“There is one thing I learned in my career and that is it takes a series of smaller successes to accomplish great things and every decision that is made, every individual contribution that you make or your staff make, that everyone involved in our operation makes, no matter how small it is, it all makes a difference.”
Crane also shared advice on how to be a successful CAO. “And that is to surround yourself with the best people.”
In closing, she thanked the board members, past and present, and also thanked the East Kootenay public.
“That’s our purpose,” she said. “To our permanent and our seasonal residents, I want to thank them for giving me the opportunity to serve them.”
The region “has come such a long way since I started,” Crane said. “The difference is phenomenal.”
Lead image: KERHD board chair and District of Elkford Mayor Dean McKerracher with Lee-Ann Crane. Ian Cobb/e-KNOW images