Peggy Van Mierlo-West Discusses Her First Year As CAO of MNBP

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By Joanne Rodgers,
Bruce Peninsula Press

In the midst of one of those 100-year events, Peggy Van Mierlo-West arrived to take up her new job as Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) for Northern Bruce Municipality (MNBP).

Adjusting to the new job in COVID times

Starting as CAO on 20 April, 2020, even with the challenges of dealing with COVID-19, she describes the year as busy but successful. She credits the Council, staff and the community for being so welcoming and for their willingness to share their knowledge to help her make contacts and understand the concerns and issues. She is grateful for her staff and their ability to quickly pivot to respond to the immediate needs of the municipality, residents and businesses due to COVID-19 and also maintaining the projects approved by Council. 

The one aspect of her job she has missed is the inability to hold public meetings; all such interactions are currently done via Zoom. Reflecting on her year, she realized that she has not shaken anyone’s hand on this new job.

Experiences on the Bruce

Van Mierlo-West fell in love with the peninsula during her Grade 13 school hike on the Bruce Trail from White Bluff to Tobermory. Over the intervening years she enjoyed regular family camping trips at Cyprus Lake and made many day trips. And of course keeping an eye out for any job opportunities that might interest her. One of the most marked changes she has seen over the past few years has been the rapid increase of summer traffic and the evolution from hikers drawn to the Bruce Trail as a hiking experience to that of visitors driven by social media and GPS coordinates.

Response to Tourism

Not surprisingly, as CAO the majority of her emails were from residents about the stresses from Tourism. The Municipality piloted various initiatives such as closing the road to Big Tub, no parking signs in some residential areas and security guards at McCurdy Parking Lot. Van Mierlo-West says “expect to see more of these types of things this year”. The Municipality and its partners are looking at various means of communications to convey appropriate tourist response, expectations and how to get the message out when the popular sites are full. 

Action Items in 2020

Preparing for her interview a year ago, Van Mierlo-West reviewed the Municipality’s reports and studied the items identified as issues to be addressed such as Short-term Accommodations and the Strategic Plan.

Coming on board, she focused on these items along with projects such as the process for the modernization study and ways to enhance communication and service experience.

Let’s Talk NBP: She is especially pleased with the Municipality’s website Let’s Talk NBP (https://letstalknbp.ca/) as an interactive forum to discuss concerns starting with the Strategic Plan. She plans to expand this discussion forum to other operational matters related to the Municipality’s activities.

Council Chamber Upgrade: Another of her action items is the Council Chamber Upgrade, including the plans for the Council Meetings to be live streamed. With increased demand for Audio/Visual equipment due to COVID-19, there has been a delay due to equipment supplies; but she expects this to be resolved in the next few months.

Municipal staffing levels: Van Mierlo-West was proud that there were local hires and promotions from within; and the focus was on building strong teams and succession planning.

Isthmus Bay road improvements: One of the major capital projects, construction on Isthmus Bay road was started. 

Permits and infractions: Staff was busy with issuing 104 building permits of which 52 percent was residential. Bylaw issued 1508 Parking infractions.

Restoration work at the Lion’s Head campground and harbour: Restoration work was completed at the Lion’s Head campground and harbour including in-ground electrical upgrades for the Lion’s Head Beach Park Campground and restoring seasonal campers’ setups, as close as possible to how they were previously. Van Mierlo-West states even with the late start due to COVID and repairs there was a 25% increase in individual night bookings from the previous year.

Lion’s Head Goose Management Plan: The Goose Management Plan, Van Mierlo-West says “saw some successes and some areas for improvement. The fence was quite effective in limiting geese on the grass of the Lion’s Head Beach Park Area during their moulting period and throughout the summer. In reviewing the cost/benefit of the goose deterring dog and the Avian Migrate spray, these will not be primary components of the strategy moving forward for next season. Staff time will be better allocated to scaring away geese in the water with the use of the harbour boat. Better cleaning of goose droppings will take place, with new equipment and daily cleaning of goose droppings on docks.” 

Improvements to Tobermory Harbour: Five main docks were rebuilt in 2020 at the Tobermory Harbour and will be installed fully (connected to servicing) in the spring of 2021.

Harbour staff of Tobermory and Lion’s Head received numerous compliments for their ongoing management and customer service especially with the extra work generated by COVID protocols from the users of the facilities.

Working groups of the Sustainable Tourism Advisory Group: Van Mierlo-West and her staff are enthusiastic to work with the Sustainable Tourism Advisory Group which was convened in 2020. It’s three working groups will look at Coordinated Communications, Infrastructure and Parking, and Capacity Limits/ Management Plans for the tourism hot spots throughout the Municipality.

Tobermory Streetscaping and gardens: Streetscaping project in Tobermory for the retaining wall was completed in 2020, with some upgrades required for the landscaping in the area. Staff have already connected with local residents groups to ensure they will be supported in restoring the gardens in the area. 

Affordable housing taskforce committee: Staff are looking at the feasibility of affordable/attainable housing initiatives, including the logistics for a housing taskforce committee. 

Action Items for 2021

Van Mierlo-West and her staff have another ambitious year planned. Some of the items on the list are the review of process for facilities rentals and permits and improved work order software; continued enhancements to the websites for better communications and user experience and accessibility; implementation of the Short Term Accommodation Policy and the Organizational Review; and completion of the Strategic Plan.

Management style

While Van Mierlo-West draws from her previous experience as CAO in other similar municipalities, she recognizes each municipality is unique and attempts to understand the issues and communicate her actions always taking into account what the community would be happy with.

Personal Plans

In her spare time, she enjoys hiking, paddling and becoming more familiar with the area. She looks forward to purchasing a residence in North Bruce and moving her family here permanently. And in a post-COVID world, she plans to give out lots of hugs!