Skip to content

Parker out as Athabasca County CAO after less than six months

Reeve says they’ll “take the time necessary to find the right person”
Less than six months into a 55-month contract, Athabasca County councillors voted 9-0 March 7 to terminate CAO Christopher Parker.

ATHABASCA – For the third time since the summer of 2021, Athabasca County is in the market for a permanent chief administrative officer after councillors voted 9-0 at a special meeting March 7 to terminate CAO Christopher Parker less than half a year into a 55-month contract.

In a March 8 follow-up interview, reeve Brian Hall said Christa Wilkinson, the director of planning and development, will fill the seat on an interim basis until they find a replacement, with that process starting at the March 14 council meeting.

“There seems to be a mood (on council) to make sure that we take the time necessary to find the right person as there’s no need to rush this,” said Hall.

Parker’s career in municipal government began as a councillor for the County of Kings in Nova Scotia from 2000 to 2011. According to previous reporting, Parker’s first CAO position was in High Prairie in 2011, before he accepted a job as the town manager of Norman Wells that same year. From 2013 until he started in Athabasca Sept. 19, 2022, he also served as the CAO for the towns of Beaverlodge and Peace River. Parker had asked to speak at the March 7 meeting, but his request was denied as it was received past deadline.

While Hall wouldn’t go into specifics on the sudden dismissal, he said in a release that council needed to “go a different direction” and that “a change in leadership was necessary.” Also during the March 8 interview, Hall didn’t provide any details on the severance package that Parker will receive as part of his contract.

Via a March 11 e-mail, Wilkinson confirmed that Parker’s contract had been slated to run from Sept. 19, 2022, to April 30, 2027, while his annual salary “will be reported in our financial statements as required” and that “severance will be paid in accordance to the contract between Mr. Parker and Athabasca County as outlined in the motion from council.”

Hall also refuted the idea that there’s any inherent instability in the CAO position, noting that Rod Risling, who had been hired to lead the county in April 2022 only to resign seven weeks later, received an “incredible opportunity” to become CAO of Osoyoos, B.C., a community he had been a part of for 17 years.

CAO carousel

Following the contentious departure of CAO Ryan Maier in June 2021, the position was filled on interim basis by then-agriculture and community services manager Dawn Phillips until the hiring of Risling in early 2022 — Phillips ultimately left the county in the late 2022 to become CAO of the Town of Smoky Lake.

Following Risling’s seven-week tenure, Frank Coutney, who has over 30 years of municipal government experience, including 28 years as the CAO for the County of Wetaskiwin, took over on an interim basis until Parker was installed as the permanent CAO. 

Incidentally, Maier became Athabasca County CAO in August 2014 after spending two years in the same role with the Town of Athabasca and has served as the permanent CAO of Thorhild County since Jan. 1, 2022 — Maier was initially appointed as Thorhild’s interim CAO starting Aug. 5, 2021, with a fixed-term contract ending Dec. 31, 2021.

Cole Brennan,