2018-04-04

A life in the public sector

by Karen Janigan

It was a career of trade-offs; Jim Wentzell always wanted to be in the private sector running his own business, but he spent 45 years in the public sector. What he didn't like about the public sector was that he was always buttonholed for what was going on in the town he worked for.

On the upside?

"I had the opportunity to have some voice in policy and to have input into what was going on," he said in an interview. "I'm grateful to have had that opportunity, not many people have."

The Town of Bridgewater came knocking on his door when he was a new accountant graduate in 1972. In March he retired from his job as Chief Administrative Officer from the Town of Mahone Bay.

Deputy clerk Maureen Hughes is acting CAO.

During his five years with Bridgewater, he helped to the town set up a computerized accounting system and did the same for the Town of Lunenburg where he worked for 20 years, going from deputy town clerk to director of finance.

He is most proud in Lunenburg of working with planner Geoff MacDonald to transform what was a muddy road into the Fisheries Museum in the elegant Bluenose Drive that tourists meander along today as they take in the waterfront sights.

He did get his wish to work one year in the private sector, during which he helped Mahone Bay's town clerk with his budgeting, something that continued on a freelance basis when he joined the South Shore Regional School Board as an accountant in 1998. While there, he worked with the Department of Education on instituting the financial SAP system that is still in use there.

He joined the Town of Mahone Bay as CAO in 2004 because of his regard for then-mayor Joe Feeney and the simple way things were done in the town that made the staff versatile and made it a great place to work.

"When I first went the town had a sizable debt and was not able to do capital projects. During the 10 years I was able to help Mahone Bay have capital works without an effect on the town tax rate through loans and grants and an infrastructure charge."

The two projects he's most proud of are the $2.5 million spent to upgrade of the water treatment facility – "it's probably one of the best in the province," Wentzell said. "And I'm proud of the wind farm project, it took about 10 years to get that going."

Mahone Bay is a partner of Alternate Resource Energy Project and the Ellerhouse wind farm, which boasts seven wind turbines with Antigonish and Berwick, with Riverport's involvement.

Mayor David Devenne had high praise for Wentzell. "During that time, he established himself as the go-to person on financial and policy decisions. As well he worked tirelessly to further the plans for our wind farm .... Other CAOs sought his advice and guidance as they developed their own expertise,' he said.

Wentzell has taken up swimming and walking at the Lunenburg County Lifestyle Centre and is looking forward to what retirement will bring.

"I found a brand-new life I didn't know existed before," he said. "My hobby was my work so this is a big change for me."

He has an interest in affordable housing and knows he has skills to offer but says: "I'm not going to hurry into something and let myself enjoy my retirement for a month or two before deciding on anything."

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