“I’m so happy!” are the first words out of Cathie O’Toole’s mouth when I call to ask about her resignation as Halifax’s chief financial officer.
But O’Toole says she’s been thinking of leaving for months, and applied for the chief financial officer position at Halifax Water in January. She was offered the job and accepted it last week.
“The stuff [now] going on at City Hall wasn’t a deciding factor for me,” she explains. “But it certainly validated some of the reasons that I’m choosing to go---in terms of the stress and the responsibility it was a hard couple of weeks. It’s going to be good for my work/life balance, and my family.”
The Halifax Water position has a lower profile, she admits, but “it’s not a step down in terms of responsibility or salary or scope and complexity. It is somewhat more of a dead-end job, because there’s really nowhere to go, I don’t think, from that position. But it’s close enough to HRM that I can keep an eye on what’s going on in HRM and, you know, there might be opportunities for me to come back to HRM in the future.
“But I needed a change after 10 years [at City Hall],” she continues. “And there’s some exciting stuff going on on the Water Commission side because they’re the first regulated water and storm water utility---there’s some ground-breaking opportunities there around municipal financing and figuring out how cost of servicing works and rate setting. I mean, I’m a numbers geek at heart, and I’m excited by that kind of stuff.”
Halifax Water has to deal with a set of new environmental regulations related to the sewage system, which will likely cost the organizations many billions of dollars. Deciding how to divvy up those costs among ratepayers, through development charges and financing from the city promises to be politically contentious, to put it mildly.
“I’ll be dealing with the utility review board instead of council,” say O’Toole with a laugh.
As for the concert financing scandal, O’Toole says she only scratched the surface of the issues involved.
“I’m going to be interested in seeing the municipal auditor general’s report myself, because all I was focused on was our issue at hand, in terms of the $359,550, getting that piece of it dealt with and tracking down our end of the transaction. I really don’t know that much what happened with the provincial side of it or the TCL side of it.”
O’Toole says that immediately after she opened up the scandal, there were some ill feelings directed her way at City Hall. “But that was only because---this was before the full story came out---people have worked with Wayne Anstey for a long, long, long time and were friends with him. Also, I think there’s a fear that if you focus too much on rules and policy you stifle innovation, and I hope I don’t come off as the queen of the rules and try to stifle creativity and innovation. I’m all for creativity and innovation staying within the rules.”
O’Toole’s last day at CIty Hall is April 9.
For The Coast's complete coverage of the Common concert financing scandal, click here.