Paul Schulz, a long-serving City of Airdrie employee and the municipality’s chief administrative officer (CAO) since 2010 has announced his retirement this summer, following 36 years of employment.
Schulz said he joined the City in 1986 fresh out of university, after graduating from the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Commerce designation.
He worked as a municipal intern during his first year with the local government body and then moved onto roles within the planning and development department of the City, which he held for approximately 10 years.
“I actually fell in love with planning and development, and they liked me enough that they kept me on,” he said of his internship and subsequent tenure with the planning and development department.
During that time, he completed his master’s degree in business at the Nova Southeastern University in Florida and eventually moved into the role of senior director of the City of Airdrie, which is a position he held until he later transitioned to CAO in February 2010.
He said as CAO, he is the single employee hired by City council under Alberta’s Municipal Government Act to administer on behalf of the City’s seven councillors and mayor, who are elected every four years.
“They have to hire a CAO – every Town, City, Village, County in Alberta operates that way, so they hire a professional manager, essentially,” he said, adding Airdrie’s City council is akin to his board of directors.
“They set the direction for the community, the things they like to see done and the services they’d like provided them, the things they’d like built. It’s my job to get those things done,” he added. “But it kind of works both ways – it's also my job to advise them.”
According to Schulz, he advises the council on administrative matters including budgeting. He added all of the City employees report to him and aid him in his efforts to carry out council’s vision.
“Whether it’s roads or parks or recreation centres … staffing, planning, organizing – all the stuff falls under my responsibility,” he said.
He said the highlight of his tenure with the City has been running the municipal body in a like manner to operating a business or other similar organization. Throughout his time with the City, Schulz said he has made it his goal to develop a rich and diverse culture where people love to come to work each day.
“Especially when you have an organization where they service the community, I find it is so important people are really vested in their jobs and love coming to work,” he said.
“My absolute favourite thing is building that culture where it’s a people place and then that gets reflected in what we do – that’s what I’m most proud of.”
He added when he started the role as CAO, the population of Airdrie was about half what it is now, and it has been a highlight of his career to watch the city grow and to have an impact on the evolution of what was once deemed a “bedroom community.”
“Having an influence on what my community looks like … is another highlight,” he said. “I call them my community because I also live here and I’m going to continue to live here.
“It’s been a privilege to see new communities, new interchanges, and be involved with programs that happen, involved with making Airdrie a real player in the region – I think those are really exciting things.”
Adversely, Schulz said the toughest challenge he has faced during his career has been finding balance between achieving council’s desires while balancing the yearly operating budget.
“The services that people want in this community or the amenities they want obviously cost money,” he said. “We cannot run a deficit, so we have to balance the budget and raise revenue through taxes and user fees, and some grant dollars.
“The real challenge as you grow is meeting the needs and expectations of the people and the businesses that live here and what they want and expect. The challenge to me would be that real balance – making it affordable for people, but people getting what they want in this community.”
He added he is looking forward to retirement and enjoying more time for himself and his family, including a focus on health and fitness, camping, and travelling.
“[It’s about] having time to do the many things that you don’t necessarily get to when you’re occupied with a job like this,” he said. “I guess I will always be a busy person, but I think I'll get to choose what I’m busy on.”
Schulz’s tentative last day is July 31, allotting time for the City to find a suitable replacement for the CAO position.
He added he feels privileged to have had the opportunity to help lead the municipality over the last decade.
“Servicing the community I get to live in – I think it’s quite rare,” he said. “And a community I must be proud enough that I’m going to continue to live in and be with and my daughters and my wife – it's home.”