CAO riding off into the sunset
Three times Paul Daminato’s life has made an abrupt turn in the space of a few hours, and the roads he took ultimately led him to a decade at the helm of a city during a particularly dynamic time.
And now, his journey will soon take a new direction again as Daminato, New Westminster’s chief administrator and top bureaucrat, retires Jan. 31 following 32 years in the city’s employ.
Daminato grew up in Guelph, Ont., where he got one of those ideal summer jobs for a 16-year-old—lifeguard at an outdoor pool. When he graduated from high school, he was thinking about becoming a PE teacher. He talked to an advisor at the University of Guelph’s kinesiology department and after delving into Daminato’s background the counsellor declared, “Sounds to me like you’re interested in a career in recreation.”
“What’s that?” replied Daminato, having no idea such a degree existed at the time. “It sounds really interesting.”
It turned out the University of Waterloo, to which he had also been accepted, had a recreation program. A five-minute phone call that afternoon and Daminato’s first life U-turn was done.
After university he worked with the City of Kitchener for three years before deciding to spread his wings and take a position with a non-profit society in Yellowknife working with disabled athletes.
That’s where he met his sweetheart, Cathy, who worked for the territorial government. Her position required her to travel to small hamlets all over the frozen tundra.
On the same day Daminato got another job offer she was accepted into a University of British Columbia graduate program.
They had a decision to make, but there were only two long distance lines into the town she was at. Finally they got to talk to each other.
As part of a Red Cross job he’d held previously, Daminato had visited many places across Canada including B.C. and loved it, so over the phone the couple made another life U-turn.
That pivotal decision eventually landed him in the employ of the City of New Westminster, managing Century House. By 1990, following several promotions, Daminato had ambitions of becoming a parks and recreation director. He wasn’t sure it was going to happen in New West and was about to take a job with Port Moody when parks and rec director Ken Winslade said, “Wait a minute.”
It just so happened, parks manager Guenther Edel announced his retirement that day and so virtually on the spot Daminato decided to stick around, even though his work experience had only been on the recreation side of the job.
So just as he was revved up and ready to travel a road he was barely out of the driveway when he took life U-turn number three and stayed, holding his new job for seven years.
That’s when Winslade became city administrator and Daminato replaced him, attaining his career goal. But just six years later, Winslade retired and Daminato got the top job.
“I’d never given [being a city administrator] much thought before but I thought it was a really interesting challenge,” recalls Daminato. “It’s just managing in a different way. It’s much broader based and more complicated, but in my mind the goal is still the same, to provide top service.”
Daminato said the most difficult part of the job, for which he got paid $201,000 in 2011, has been not being able to say yes to everybody.
“Transportation is an example of you just can’t snap your fingers and change things,” says Daminato.
He leaves City Hall proud of the legacy New Westminster has created with greenways, trails and parks, such as the new $25-million park on the city’s riverfront.
“Westminster Pier Park was an exciting project to be involved in,” says Daminato. “Anything we can do to get more access to the waterfront is a huge bonus in the community.
“The redevelopment of the Downtown and the [Anvil Centre], it’s nice to see it actually happen. All the ingredients have been there for years. I was fortunate to be here at a time when that is starting to take off.”
Daminato took up his position about the same time Mayor Wayne Wright took office.
“He’s a steady type of guy you want next to you when you have a problem,” said Wright when Daminato’s retirement was announced. “I have a lot of respect for him.”
This latest turn in Daminato’s life was a little more time in the making than the previous ones, and he’s given lots of thought to what he’ll make of it.
For the last four years, Daminato has competed as a triathlete, but finding time to work out for the 60-year-old was almost as challenging as building a civic centre.
“You pretty much have to plan a week ahead of time, plan your workouts outside of meetings,” says Daminato. “I just feel I’m at the stage where I want a different lifestyle and more control of my time to do some things that I’ve been wanting to do.”
Along with triathlon training, snowboarding, golfing and the odd bit of consulting work, Daminato intends to find more time to play the accordion. It’s something he’s done since he was eight when he was mesmerized by bands playing Italian family weddings. During his days in Kitchener, which has a strong German population, he played in three polka bands, helping him pay his way through university. In fact, he says, he tickled accordion keys at 10 consecutive Oktoberfests.
“I’ll have too much to do. I don’t know how I’m going to fit it all in.”
• Daminato’s replacement isn’t expected to be selected until late February or early March.