Thomas Kelly says he’s up to the task.
In the middle of a global pandemic and the ongoing emergency of the Wheatley gas leaks, you’d think someone would be a glutton for punishment to fill the municipal Chief Administrative Officer shoes that will soon be vacated by the retiring Don Shropshire.
Kelly, whom the municipality announced recently as Shropshire’s replacement, said it’s nothing new to him.
As general manager of infrastructure and engineering services, he has been in the trenches dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic pressures, the Wheatley emergency situation, shoreline erosion and more. But he added there are too many positives to let some short-term problems stand in the way of taking the position and helping to shape the future of Chatham-Kent.
“There are lots of challenges, but we have so many good things happening,” he said. “And I like a challenge. There are many of them.”
Kelly knew what he was getting into. He applied for the job in late September, about a month after the gas explosion that rocked downtown Wheatley.
Wheatley has been a big challenge, Kelly said.
“We feel for the residents out there. Sixty-five homes are evacuated; 125 residents, and 30 of them are children,” he said. “We’re doing everything we can.”
Kelly credited municipal personnel for going above and beyond during the recent spate of municipal emergencies.
“A lot of our employees across the board have really stepped up. We’ve really appreciated the effort,” he said. “Our regular operations don’t stop. We’ve been trying to find ways to do both.”
In terms of seeing the good things taking place, Kelly said sometimes we need to step back and see the positives.
“I really applied for this job because I wanted to continue to help move the municipality forward. For all the emergencies and all the challenges, we have a lot of good things happening,” he said. “We’re enjoying higher development than we’ve had in some time. Lots of folks outside of Chatham-Kent are saying we have a lot of good things happening.”
Kelly is a C-K native, born and raised here. He sees that as an asset.
“I know a lot of the people and a lot of the organizations. I’m really expecting the transition to go quite well,” he said.
Kelly’s knowledge of the issues and his love of the community are what gave him the edge, according to Mayor Darrin Canniff.
Kelly’s “fantastic vision” of the future and his ideas to move that vision forward are what put him above other candidates, Canniff explained.
“Thomas will keep moving the needle forward to make Chatham-Kent an even better place to live, work and play,” he said.
Kelly holds a Masters Degree and is an engineer.
“His credentials stand for themselves,” said Canniff. “I’m really confident he’ll do a really great job for us.”
Kelly said the CAO’s job was something he was striving for ever since he joined the municipality back in 2012.
When I first came to the municipality, it was always the next logical step for me,” he said. “I’ve been in this role as a general manager for nine and a half years. One of the things our group does is it works with all kinds of departments and all kinds of residents. I felt I had lots of experience that could benefit the municipality in this new role.”
For the first six of Kelly’s years as head of infrastructure and engineering, it was relatively smooth sailing. But in the past three years, he said there have been seven municipal states of emergency – involving flooding, shoreline erosion and now in Wheatley with the hydrogen sulphide leak.
“For all of these emergencies, my group was heavily involved,” he said of his department helping along Erie Shore Drive, in Wheatley, along other parts of Lake Erie, and more.
Shropshire and Kelly will be working side by side until the end of the year, working through the transition. Kelley said it’s very beneficial.
“I’m coming into that role (CAO) knowing a good part of the portfolio, but having the current CAO there will help figure out what else we have to do,” he said.
Shropshire joined the municipality three years prior to Kelly coming, as general manager of community development in 2009. By 2012, he took over as CAO.