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Town of Outlook Spotlight: Shanda Rolleston, Office Clerk

Rolleston says Outlook is the kind of community in which she's proud to raise her family.
Office clerk Shanda Rolleston says Outlook stands out with its eye-catching location and family amenities. Photo: Derek Ruttle/The Outlook

OUTLOOK - You meet and talk to a whole lot of people in Shanda Rolleston's line of work.

As an office clerk with the Town of Outlook, it's typically Shanda who people come face to face with when they come in to talk to someone about hooking up a water line or setting up other services that are needed for their home.

As a result, those cold meetings in the beginning can start to form relationships over time. Rolleston, an Elrose native who started with the Town in 2013, says that seeing someone's home progress through this application or that service needed can be cool to witness.

"I'm a clerk, so I sit out at the front and greet people who come into the office," she said, sitting down with this reporter. "I look after the processing of payments, so that's bill payments, online banking, and I also do a lot of work with the building permits, developing permits, work with the development officer and help guide people through that process, as it can be a little overwhelming for some people. That's really fun, actually. New builds or modifications that people are doing to their home or business, that's really fun and it's actually starting to pick up now because springtime is just around the corner."

Helping people who walk in to the office is but one facet of her job, as Shanda can be found completing other tasks and carrying out other work that needs to be addressed, including keeping tabs on the town's social media and website, replying to emails, and answering the phone to address any questions from the public.

"I started out as just a very part-time clerk, just working a few days a week," she explained. "I was hired as permanent, but as a part-time position at the time. There's been a lot of staff changes, council changes, administration changes, and over time there was just more added to my plant."

Shanda and her growing family wanted a small town feel in order to give her kids the kind of upbringing that she had growing up.

"We moved to Outlook in 2012, as we were looking to get out of the city and we'd just started our family, so we wanted to find a community relatively close to where we grew up," she said. "My husband took a job transfer here and then just a few months after we moved, I started at the Town and the rest is history. We wanted to have a small town upbringing for our kids."

For Rolleston, a typical day in the office can carry its own set-in formula, but of course, there are always the unexpected things that can suddenly pop up out of nowhere; the kind of things that can certainly happen in a town of roughly 2,400 people, no matter the timing.

"Well, there are some things that are very typical," she explained. "There's always receipting to do; payments where people come in and pay bills and we're recording them from the bank as they send us statements every morning. That's pretty regular. And then there's a lot that's not so typical. Things that just pop up out of nowhere or things that are cyclical. I'd say that from my role, about 60% of it is pretty regular and the rest could really be anything. The town office is kind of a hub in the community, so we also get a lot of people not knowing where else to call, and we try to help as many as we can. 'Do you have a chiropractor in town? Would you happen to know the hours of this place or that place?' Then of course, with public works, we never hope that there's a water main break or a boil water advisory, but those things can just come up out of nowhere and then we have to notify the public as best as we can."

As someone who has greeted people when they come in to the office for over a decade, Shanda has seen the changes that came as a sign of the times, including the Covid pandemic of 2020/2021.

"Yes," she said. "Covid changed that a little bit, as well as just modernizing the office. We've really seen an increase in electronic bill payments, and we now offer pre-authorized debit, and we can now take credit card info over the phone. When I first started years ago, we had nothing like that set up. We still get foot traffic, but as time goes, more and more people are switching, and I think it's a generational thing, as well."

It's those sudden jolts to the normal everyday tasks that can bring challenges for office staff like Shanda, including keeping the public alerted and aware of what's happening in their neighborhoods. She knows that there's no such thing as a good time for a temporary shut-off of services, but she says the Town works hard to ensure a swift return to normalcy.

"When things happen unexpectedly and there's a disruption in service," she pointed out as challenges. "We pride ourselves on trying to have a great level of service for the community, so when workers have to shut off a block or a couple of blocks of water on very little notice, that's challenging because we want people to know immediately so that they can prepare. Those things can be really tough and I feel bad about them, like when it was going to be turned off and someone was trying to host Thanksgiving early. We pride ourselves on offering a great level of service, but you do feel bad when it's something out of our control."

Rolleston is glad to have met so many people over the decade that she's called Outlook home, which is something that her job has certainly helped. Working alongside others in the town system has also added some longtime friends, as everyone gets along to help ensure a good quality of life every day for residents.

"I have met so many people," she said. "When I moved to this community, I didn't know anyone and I could probably name two people that I know who lived here just from growing up. Over time, I came to know so many faces and names coming in to the office, and I also work with phenomenal people. We work really closely with public works and recreation, and we just have a great camaradery."

People may know the staff who work for the Town, but sometimes Rolleston thinks that residents might not know what goes on just beneath the surface on a daily basis.

"I think that's kind of the same in every job," she said. "You think that you kind of know what they do, but there's always something that you don't know. For example, I don't think that a lot of people know that we sell cemetery plots and columbarium niches. There's a lot of other things, like handling the cash flow from the pool and the Rec Plex; it's busy. There are a lot of facilities that are run by the Town, and when you stop and think about each of those, there's a lot that goes into them. There's always stuff like maybe some of the development side that people might not be too familiar with."

Working in a very busy office with its own seasonal times of the year, Rolleston says that with the rink being so active, the Town is seeing a lot of revenue coming in, and when the warm weather arrives, things will switch over to the swimming pool. As well, tax season keeps staff busy, with March set to begin a flurry of activity.

It's tasks like these that opened Shanda's eyes when she first started work at the town office.

"I think when I first started, I understood that people would pay their bills at the town office and that there were meetings, but I had no previous municipal experience," she said. "It was definitely eye-opening, and just like any job, there's so much to it other than just the surface of things. I like being in the know, I like knowing what's coming down the line, and I like knowing what's happening in town. Meeting brand new people coming in to set up new water accounts, and sometimes we're the first face that they see. But when I started, I had no idea of what was beneath that surface."

For Rolleston, it's Outlook's setting and properties that help them stand out among similarly-sized communities. Raising a young family in a town that offers what Outlook does also adds to the quality of life for residents.

"It's so beautiful," she said. "When we were looking at places, I couldn't get over the possibility of us living next to water and the bridges. Driving around, you see that people care about their properties. It's a great size, too. It has more to offer than the smaller communities that my husband and I grew up in, but it still has that small town feel that we really love. You know your neighbors, you know your kid's friends and families. As far as location goes, you just can't beat it."

Even a decade and change in, Shanda enjoys going to work each day and potentially meeting the newest people who've decided to live in the irrigation capital of the province.

"People are so friendly," she said. "I enjoy getting to know everyone that comes in and I appreciate the visits when I'm helping them."