ST. MARY’S – Frustrated with what he describes as the “rural mentality” of some members of council and staff, the chief administrative officer (CAO) of the Municipality of the District of St. Mary’s has quit after only six months on the job.
“I came into St. Mary’s full of hope that we could cause development and bring in positive things and I realized that they are not quite ready for the changes that were there yet,” David Hutten told The Journal last week.
“I’m a pretty straight shooter. There are some beautiful people out in St. Mary’s, but there’s enough of the old rural, chaotic mentality.”
In a statement posted to the municipality’s website and Facebook page, District Warden Greg Wier announced that Hutten, whose resignation took effect on Jan. 26, will be replaced as CAO by Deputy CAO and Economic Development Officer Marissa Jordan on a 12-month term. “Council looks forward to working closely with [Jordan], whose past municipal experience and work ethic has been exemplary,” he said.
The statement also specified that Hutten had been within his six-month probationary period when he quit, during which time “a restructuring of staff was initiated [in December] on a trial basis with the position of the CAO changing to a consulting CAO and administrative day-to-day activities being assigned under… Deputy CAO [Jordan]. This was to allow… CAO [Hutten] to focus on specific high-level projects and plans, with the oversight and supervision of staff workplans and operations at large.”
It was precisely at this “high-level projects” phase where Hutten says he hit a “brick wall,” facing push back from some members of both council and staff. “It was more or less the back pressure on some of the larger projects,” he said of the reason behind his resignation. “It seemed like the main focus was to stay focussed on the small things; small administration rather than looking at some of the big opportunities that are right in front of us.”
He noted that, while he received “very, very strong support” from some members of council, other elected officials were less enthusiastic about the high-level projects and plans. Regarding staff, he said: “Some … are very good and very qualified in their roles, and are definitely ready to take on these [new opportunities], but there are some people [there] who are definitely not ready for any kind of change.”
In recent weeks, Hutten – the former CAO of Hartland, N.B., who was hired last August after an extensive candidate search that attracted applications from as far away as Europe – has reported that St. Mary’s has been on the receiving end of what he has described as “incredible” outside development interest, a result he attributed to healthy municipal finances, efficient public services, rising property values and a welcoming attitude toward commercial enterprise, in general.
“I can say for the record that we’ve already talked to some interested [real estate] developers that are looking very seriously at St. Mary’s,” he said last fall. “We’ve been talking with them about specific areas and projects. What we’re trying to do right now is find out what is tangible for the very near future and how we can get that action going.”
Following his resignation, Hutten said, “I really do just try to do good things. I’ve never been in government to be a government official that does just the status quo. I want things to happen. I want positive growth. I know that eastern Canada has a lot of potential.”
At the same time, he said, “Some of these smaller communities … are edgy and some of them are not [and] do need change. They need to change their mentality.”
He added: “When you advertise for a position and you find somebody who has those ambitions, you don’t [want to] change the game on them when they get in the door. If you are not going to do the development things, then don’t attract somebody who’s really interested in that, because that’s why I applied.”
Hutten’s resignation came to light after Wier posted a one-line notice, on behalf of council, to the municipality’s website on Jan. 25: “At the Emergency Council Meeting yesterday, January 24, 2022, Council accepted the resignation of CAO, David Hutten. The Municipality wishes him all the best in his future endeavours.”
Wier followed with a more fulsome, one-page statement on Jan. 27, after The Journal and members of the community requested more information. When asked for comment on Hutten’s explanation for his resignation, Wier directed The Journal to that statement.
“Warden and Council would like to address the change in structure of the Municipal Office,” the statement says. “Unfortunately, during [his] trial period and still within the probationary period, Mr. Hutten submitted his resignation and council accepted. We thank him for his time in St. Mary’s … Both council and staff are excited to move forward with the many exciting possibilities in St. Mary’s future. We will continue to inform the public as important changes arise and appreciate all of the patience and support from the residents of St. Mary’s during this transition.”
For his part, Hutten – who has a master’s degree in political and continental philosophy from the University of Manitoba – has already made his career transition, now working as the managing director of Luupdin, a new executive search company he recently founded with a former colleague in Ontario. According to the firm’s website, “Our mission is clear: We help people find the right people.”