Coming full circle
Jim Puffalt’s arrival as Moose Jaw's city manager brought his career full circle to the city where it all began
Jim Puffalt grew up on a family farm near Broadview. He loved the outdoor life and enjoyed the business end of farming, but he was not sure that farming was the career for him. “I wanted to run a business,” he says. “I was looking at post-secondary business programs and chose Saskatchewan Polytechnic because they offered a two-year diploma instead of a four-year degree, and four years seemed like forever to me back then.” I also had family in Moose Jaw and my brother had attended.
Jim arrived on Moose Jaw campus and says his two years flew by. “I had a blast. I came from Broadview High School with a graduating class of 10, so coming to the city was a chance to meet a bunch of new people, try new things and make new friends.”
“Second year was an experience” Jim says. “I ran for student council and became the Student Association Sports Director. I worked hard to get good marks, while ensuring my duties on the SRC were being completed. It was a fun year.”
When he graduated, Jim entered a tough job market. A lingering economic slump meant jobs were hard to come by. Jim applied for various positions, including a posting for a town administrator in Elrose. To his surprise, he got an interview; to his even greater surprise, he got the job.
“The day I arrived, I spent two hours with the existing town administrator before he literally handed me the keys to the office and left,” Jim says. “There I was, just 20 years old and running the Elrose Town Office.”
His Sask Polytech education gave him the business and administrative knowledge he needed to apply in a practical setting. “Sask Polytech sets you up for success. They give you the background; it’s up to you to apply those skills to your career.”
“I was the one doing the books, taking Council minutes, sending out the water bills – in fact, typing and mailing the water bills,” he says. “It was trial and error. Luckily, I had a great mayor who taught me about customer service and how to look after people.”
During his career, looking after people has been Jim’s mantra. “In municipal administration, we impact people’s daily lives. Whether it’s providing water for homes and businesses, recreational facilities or clearing snow from roads, we take care of all the things that impact quality of life.”
After five years in Elrose, Jim moved on to become Town Administrator in Wilkie, which had a slightly larger population of about 1,000. “Since I started in the top municipal position, I had to move to larger communities to advance my career,” he says.
After Wilkie, Jim became City Administrator in Dauphin, Manitoba (pop. 8,000), followed by City Manager in Estevan (pop. 11,000) and then North Battleford (pop. 14,000), until becoming City Manager in Moose Jaw (pop. 35,000) in 2018.
Jim has been involved in many municipal projects over the years, from replacement of underground infrastructure in each of his municipal stops, to construction of Estevan’s Affinity Place Events Centre, implementation of North Battleford’s Downtown Master Plan and Community Safety Program, to current initiatives supporting the construction of Moose Jaw's Agri-Food Industrial Park, climate change, economic development, tourism and downtown enhancement in Moose Jaw.
“Over my career, I’ve moved from a one-person town office, where I did everything, to being City Manager of an organization of over 300 employees, where my position is much more of a leadership role,” Jim says. “I get the most satisfaction from building a culture of service where Council and staff work together to deliver municipal services to residents.”
Jim admits that municipal administration can be a pressure-cooker career, but he thinks his early farm upbringing gave him both the necessary work ethic and the ability to remain calm in the middle of a storm.
“In my job, every day is different. There are always deadlines, new priorities, things you have to deal with right away. I’ve been able to handle the pressure pretty well, because growing up on a farm and the teaching from my family, you learn how to deal with things as they come up and to do what needs to be done,” Jim says. “It also comes back to what I learned from my first mayor—municipal service is about customer service and looking after people.”
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Published May 2021