“The biggest challenge is coming up with a balanced solution,” said Helen Collier, regarding her job as chief administrator for the City of Clarence-Rockland.
March 8 marks the 45th anniversary of International Woman’s Day, a worldwide recognition of the important role of women in society, government, business, sports, arts, culture, science, law, and other fields. The theme this year is An Equal World Is An Enabled World.
Collier’s career in management and administration spans 35 years. There was one two-year break when she and a friend went into business for themselves, running a bakery, which included everything from kneading the dough to serving customers at the counter.
“I was doing it all,” she said, with a chuckle, adding that one of the bakery’s specialties was healthy and tasty baked goods and pastries for people with diabetes.
The two-person operation was a success and Collier and her partner received nationwide recognition for their innovative products. Even now, with the bakery behind her, Collier still “kneads” to exercise her dessert-making skills.
“I bake up a storm,” she said, laughing. “I bake something for all my staff.”
Do the right thing
Just as the right balance of ingredients means the difference between a well-risen cake and something that looks more like a pancake coming out of the oven, Collier noted that balance is necessary to get things done, which will benefit the City of Clarence-Rockland without straining the budget or forcing unwelcome high taxes on property owners.
“You will never please everybody,” she said. “But you try to do the right thing, and doing the right thing is not always the popular solution.”
As an example, she cited the problem, a few years ago, with an aging section of sewer line beneath Laurier Street in the downtown section of Rockland. A leak in the pipe prompted the city to shut down that part of the street to traffic, to deal with the situation before local businesses and neighbouring households ended up with sewage leaking into their basement spaces.
“I had some very angry business owners to deal with,” said Collier. “But we had sewage leaking and it had to be done. The right thing to do was to replace the pipe.”
The “right thing” in that situation would also be a very expensive thing, and Collier knew that she had to convince the members sitting on council at the time that “the right thing” was the only thing to do.
“I gave them a strong business case,” she said, “to help them make their final decision.”
Steering the municipal ship
If Clarence-Rockland were a ship, the residents would be the owners, with council acting as the captain and the city staff as the crew. Collier would be the helmsman, steering the municipal ship of state to safe harbour, and that demands balancing all the immediate needs and demands of the owners, the crew, and the captain, while keeping a weather eye on the horizon for any surprises.
“I think it’s really important to have that balanced point of view,” she said. “It’s really important to me. I am very much about getting things done.”
Collier noted that the world has seen “significant changes” as more women move into the workforce and pursue careers in every field available. She would like to see more women get involved in the municipality, either in a seat at the council table or on one of council’s advisory committees, or even just being in the public gallery during council sessions and taking part in the public question period.
“They have got to speak up,” she said. “We need that balanced approach, and both men and women provide balance.”