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Alumni Spotlight: Bonnie Farries

Municipal Internship Alumni Spotlight 

Bonnie Farries

Opportunity Developer, Lethbridge College

Owner, Aerris - Managing Solutions

Previously: Chief Administrative Officer, Town of Coaldale 2011- 2014

Administrator Intern, Town of Taber 2004 - 2005

Educational Background:

Bachelor of Arts (Political Science), University of Lethbridge
Master of Arts (Political Science), University of Lethbridge
     Thesis: Judicial Disagreement Behaviour on the Supreme Court of Canada

Tell us about your experience as a Municipal Intern Town of Taber (2004 - 2005).

I stumbled upon the Internship by accident and applied out of total exhaustion.  I had just defended my thesis and the thought of thinking about something other than judicial disagreement seemed like a gift.  I had no idea I would discover my absolute passion.  As a political scientist, you’d think that I would have had excellent training in the art of municipal governance but this was not the case.

Life as a municipal intern with the Town of Taber was good most of time.  I got to experience every aspect of municipal governance with enough responsibility and access to learning opportunities to not be bored but without the stress of actually having to achieve anything. Of course, as an eager young professional, I was itching for greater responsibility so there were definite moments of impatience.

I was lucky enough to have a previous intern at my disposal.  Angie was an immediate confidante and friend.  She helped me transition into Taber life and I quickly felt attached to my municipality.  It was the people I got to interact with at the Town that made the experience even better not just because of what they taught me but because they kept it interesting.  And they were definitely interesting!

The most beneficial part of participating in the program was discovering the potential of the neglected last child – the municipal order of government!  The experience opened up a whole new world of opportunity where I could actually make a difference in the lives of people.  The Municipal Internship Program allowed me to learn in a very safe, comfortable environment while still earning a paycheck.  After years of being a student, the paycheck was really nice. Oh and going to all the conferences was an excellent perk and highlighted the power of networking.  I could go on and on about the benefits actually.

This memory has become my most memorable moment because at the time I didn’t realize its significance.  It was my first Local Government Administrators Association (LGAA) conference and all the interns, including past interns, were introduced and asked to rise.  At the time, there were literally six previous interns with a couple of interns from the 1980’s program still working as administrators.  It was a big deal to be an intern and in that moment. I felt very proud that we were the “future” of municipal government.

The significant part came when I was attending an LGAA conference many years later and the same opportunity came.  Only this time, there were dozens and dozens of us that stood up to be recognized.  What a moment!

An honourable mention is the bond with the other interns.  The collegiality enhanced the experience by allowing us to share our perspectives and to go on this journey together.  When one of our group unexpectedly died in a car accident not long after the internship, it affected me in a profound way.  I still think of Liz and remember that she was the first intern I met in the mall on the way to our orientation.

Being invited to participate in high-level planning sessions including budget deliberations, infrastructure-master planning and both strategic- and operational-planning retreats were the best learning experiences I had as an intern.  It was exposure to these processes that transformed my understanding of good governance and strong administration.  It was the starting point for being a Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).  And learning how to send out tax notices . . . very important!

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

Knowing that the work you do affects people’s quality of life more than any other level of government.  I drive through a community and can see and feel the impact I had.  It is the perfect mixture of politics, management, strategic planning and community building . . . basically everything I love.

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

It was the catalyst for my career in municipal government!  I am ridiculously grateful.

What has been the highlight of your career?

So far, being the CAO for the Town of Coaldale with all the good, bad and ugly that came with it.  I grew as a person and a professional in every way imaginable.  Plus, I loved being the boss!

Advice for Interns:

During Their Internship

Appreciate and respect the little menial tasks you do as an intern because the value of knowing those jobs is immeasurable when you’re a CAO.  Digging a grave as an intern was an experience that has oddly been useful as a CAO.  Or digging a water main in 35 degree heat while dressed like it was winter gave me a respect for public works.

After Their Internship

Appreciate the journey to becoming a CAO.  It might not happen overnight (and you might not want it to either) so be resourceful and find ways to learn the skills to be a good CAO.  Learn how to make tough decisions with integrity, learn how to fire with respect, learn how to adapt and always keep your objectives righteous.

Good governance matters and the role of the CAO is crucial to council getting it right!


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