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Alumni Spotlight: Travis Peter

Municipal Internship Alumni Spotlight: 

Travis Peter, Manager, Smart City and Innovation, City of St. Albert

Administrator Intern at the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo 2003-2004 

Previous: Multiple positions with City of St. Albert, Management Consultant with Breakwell Group, Chief Administrative Officer for Town of Milk River, Financial Officer with TD Canada Trust

Educational Background: Masters in Public Administration from the University of Victoria, Certificate in Municipal Management and Leadership, National Advanced Certificate in Local Authority Administration (levels 1 and 2), Bachelor of Arts Degree from the University of Alberta, and various professional courses through Harvard University, IDEO International, the University of Alberta, and others. Certified Local Government Manager (CLGM)

Tell us about your experience as a Municipal Intern at the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (2003-2004)

The Municipal Internship Program was outstanding.  I worked in every area of the municipality – from attending senior executive and political meetings, to running payroll services, to working on the crew repairing local roads, and much more.  I also completed a myriad of fascinating projects both within and outside of the organization, many of which I look back on fondly now.  In fact, very few municipal employees I know have enjoyed the level of access and support that I received or that other interns now receive.

But the most beneficial aspect of the Internship Program is its potential as a career builder – it provides a tangible springboard for future opportunities.  In my case, I was fortunate to gather enough skills and knowledge to successfully transition into a Chief Administrative Officer position with a smaller municipality at the age of only 22.  The Internship gave me the opportunity to take that exciting step, and begin a career in an field I am passionate about.

There were many memorable moments during my internship, but I often reflect on two experiences that were particularly so.  

The first involved being recruited to join the firefighting crew on a major forest fire north of the community, and flying into the site to participate.  I was able to pilot the helicopter for a short stint, stay on site with the rotating crews, and operate required firefighting and safety equipment throughout the shift.  That was fascinating, hard work, and an experience that I will likely not have again.  

The other experience involved shadowing the Minister of Municipal Affairs (Guy Boutilier at the time) as he carried out the business of both a MLA for the community and a member of the provincial cabinet.  This was also fascinating and provided me a unique lens into how the provincial government views and interacts with municipal leaders.  I remember fondly how we were at a municipal event in Calgary, meeting with the executive team of Alberta Municipal Affairs, which I was therefore able to experience from both the administrative and political perspectives.

An intern has learning experiences every day, and I experienced this in a unique manner as I was fully immersed in the position and community during my time there.  I had hundreds of learnings, but I would suggest the most impactful were those experiences that involved working with a cross-section of internal and external stakeholders – such as political officials, administrative leaders and other personnel, community groups, industry associations, and many others.

These stakeholder interactions made it clear that leading a municipality is only effective when the municipality benefits from that leadership.  In one instance I joined our chief administrative officer and mayor for a significant discussion with oil executives on future rates of taxation and community supports such as firefighting services.  I was impressed and encouraged with the intelligence, thoughtful, and collaborative manner by which this and related discussions was were conducted.  This was confirmed in many other stakeholder meetings, and in each I saw how the participants interacted, what was important to each person / organization, and how the business of a municipality gets done.  I’m sure these shaped how I view and conduct my own cross-sector interactions today.  

What do you find the most rewarding about working in Municipal Government?

I believe that municipalities are the level of government best able to meet the day to day needs of citizens, and the economic engines of Canada’s future. Canada needs strong municipal administrators to realize this potential, and I see that potential every day in the work I do.  This is also something that motivates me – the mission to be an exceptional administrator that personally contributes to Canada’s future.  I also have a passion for public policy, seeing the outcome of my efforts, working with experts across multiple disciplines, and for making a difference for real people on real issues.  This is highly rewarding, and I recommend municipal government to anyone with a similar outlook.  This is one of the few industries I know of where one person can make such a broad and deep impact. 

How has the Municipal Internship Program helped prepare me for my career?

The Internship program provided me with a broad understanding of the business of a municipality, including every area of its leadership and operations.  It also provided me with a solid network of initial connections, insight into public policy and municipal issues, and the needs of many other stakeholders.  In many ways, the program provided me with a broad perspective on municipal operations, but left the specifics to me to learn or acquire over time.  Regardless, without the Internship program I doubt I would have enjoyed the success I have had in municipal government, or perhaps I would not even be working in this area at all.  The Internship program has been a wonderful career foundation and springboard. 

What has been the highlight of your career?

I have been blessed with an exceptional career thus far.  From diving into a leadership position (CAO) at an early age, I’ve never really looked back.  I’ve worked in large and small communities, seven different functional areas, launched multi-million dollar initiatives and a cross-sector innovation organization, participated in national panels on the future of cities, and even led international delegations including representatives across Canada.  Two interesting highlights involved dinners with the Premier of Alberta to discuss an important transportation project and star Robin Williams to celebrate the successful filming of his movie that I attracted to the community.  Municipal government has given me all this and more, and I have often said that I am fortunate indeed.

Advice for Interns:

During Their Internship

My advice for current interns, for which many other good practices will flow:  Listen actively, and connect directly.

If you listen, you will be amazed at what you learn.  Many of the finest and most dedicated people I have met in my career support a municipality, and have ‘worn many hats’ during their career as well. This knowledge is nothing short of invaluable, particularly as you begin your career.  Never assume you know it all, and defer to the expertise of others whenever possible.  Never stop asking questions and waiting for the answer, and never stop seeking knowledge.

If you connect, you will continually expand the network of professionals that you can listen to and learn from in the future. Local government is a large and diverse industry, but the connections between administrators make it a small group indeed. People know each other, people will watch how you carry yourself and how hard you work, and sometimes the person who works for you today is your superior tomorrow.  And when given an opportunity to participate in something or connect with a new group, don’t say no - you won’t regret it.

After Their Internship

For interns wrapping up their program, my advice would be to realize that for all the information you gained and all the contacts you made, now is when the real work begins.  You’ll soon discover – or at least I hope you will - that you had little idea of how much you did not learn and how far you have left to go.

The information you will require in your municipal career will increase every day, as will the size of the network of contacts you will need. It is not easy to transition from a generalist administrator into a more junior specialist position within a municipality, and its particularly difficult to transition into a leadership position (in fact, many would not recommend it following your internship).  Some people will also resent the privileged position you are coming from, but they will give you that chance if you can demonstrate some aptitude, commitment, and flexibility.  Showcase these when seeking out that first opportunity, and grow the relationships that will ensure you have lasting success.

I believe a saying my grandfather often used is appropriate – “it is your attitude, not your aptitude, that will determine your altitude in life”.


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