'You get to the point where there's just too much for one person to do.'

Almost half of hamlets missing SAOs

By JOHN THOMPSON

The top job at nearly half of Nunavut's hamlets sits vacant.

Of the 25 senior administrative officer positions in the territory, 10 are unfilled.

As a result, people such as Ralph Alexander, assistant SAO in Resolute Bay, ends up doing two jobs and is in the strange position of being an assistant to himself.

Alexander started his job in Resolute 19 years ago. Then, his main duties were reading water meters and writing water bills, along with the odd bit of typing.

Since then, hamlets have taken on more duties. And, with the SAO job now vacant, so has Alexander.

He oversees about 25 employees, who work on everything from repairing water pipes to helping residents with income support, from running the community aerodrome radio station to providing nutrition advice to pregnant women.

And, starting this month, they have a new employee dedicated to explaining how the government's new Family Abuse Intervention Act works.

It can be overwhelming. Alexander suspects that's one reason why there's an increase in vacancies.

"You get to the point where there's just too much for one person to do," he said.

According to Government of Nunavut records, most SAO vacancies are in the Qikitani, or Baffin, region, where there are six vacancies. Kivalliq communities have three. The Kitikmeot has one.

Most these empty positions are filled by assistant SAOs such as Alexander, or temporary administrators who fill in while a search for permanent hires continues, said Darren Flynn, the GN's director of community development.

He points out that SAOs are in short supply across the country. A glance at municipalworld.com, a job site for hamlet jobs, finds vacancies not only in Gjoa Haven, but also in small towns in Alberta, Saskatchewan, British Columbia and Ontario.

Like many professional jobs in Nunavut, Flynn said it's common for SAOs to spend several years in a community before moving on – if not outside Nunavut, then to another community.

Flynn agrees it's become more difficult to recruit and retain SAOs in recent years. But he says, "I don't think you can pin it down to a single reason."

He said the territory saw a similar slump in 2002, when he says that one point the Baffin region suffered from nine vacancies.

"We're just running through the cycle again," Flynn said.

It's also the same capacity problem that nearly every organization in Nunavut faces. Not many people possess the management and financial skills needed to run a hamlet.

"There aren't enough people around," Alexander said, "and I don't see that changing any time soon – unless the economy goes down, and then we'll be going hungry."

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