ST. MARY’S – The only chief administrative officer St. Mary’s has ever known has an ample collection of fond memories – and few worries – as he prepares to explore the world of life after work.
After six years serving as the District’s manager-in-chief, Marvin MacDonald is retiring, effective July 1.
“I’m getting up there,” the 67-year-old laughs. “It’s time to spend more time with my family, at the cottage, fishing and relaxing.”
And why not – no one in this splendidly rural region – where he was born, raised and schooled – doubts he deserves it; though most believe his shoes will be hard to fill. The municipality is also working to fill the new position for economic development officer and getting ready for a revamped land-use bylaw and municipal planning strategy.
“Although I have only worked with Marvin a short while, I have found him an invaluable resource,” says first-term St. Mary’s councillor and Deputy Warden James Fuller. “His long career in government service has given him a breadth and depth of knowledge that has served the council well. If he didn't have an answer off the top of his head, he knew where to find it. As a resident of the municipality, I also appreciated his dedication to maintaining a high level of service while at the same time being a good steward of the taxpayer’s wallet.”
Beulah Malloy, a second-term councillor, couldn’t agree more. She’s known MacDonald all her life.
“We grew up as neighbours,” she says. “When I became councillor, I was fortunate that he was the CAO because he was really good at helping me in my journey as a councillor. He was always able to assist. Through funding and stuff, infrastructure and anything else that we needed, he knew where to go.”
The St. Mary’s CAO job wasn’t MacDonald’s first rodeo on the municipal government circuit.
Raised in Indian Harbour Lake, he attended primary and secondary schools in St. Mary’s. Following post-secondary studies, he started his career as a Nova Scotia highway engineer, before moving on to the Department of Natural Resources (now Lands and Forestry) as a development officer. He then spent 20 years at the Department of Municipal Affairs, where he served as director of development services and, finally, as its executive director.
If MacDonald was acquainted with the duties of a CAO, the same could not be said for St. Mary’s, when he arrived to assume the post in 2015.
“When they advertised the position, it was the first time they had looked for a CAO,” he says. “It had always been a clerk-treasurer job here. But many Nova Scotia municipalities were moving away from that set-up at the time.”
It was just easier to get things done with a CAO at the helm of the administration, he says.
“A CAO has the authority to make the operational decisions and that spreads out the workload,” he explains. “Council makes the policy decisions and directives and the staff execute them under the direction of a CAO. It’s just faster and more efficient.”
Efficiency is certainly a fair description of MacDonald’s time in office. Over the past six years, he has overseen successive balanced budgets, accumulating surpluses and a wide variety of much-need public works.
“We’ve paved some of the streets in Sherbrooke; the Hospital Road and Gorge Street are two examples,” he says. “We did a $1.9 million waterline replacement two or three years ago. We installed a back-up power generator at the municipal office. We installed six dry hydrants in municipalities throughout the municipality, which is an important fire protection activity… We’ve done good work over six years; I’m quite pleased with what we’ve achieved.”
That work is far from over, but MacDonald is confident in staff and council.
Regarding his replacement, he says, “Council will post the position and hold interviews. That will be happening very soon now, within a couple of weeks.”
The same goes for the new economic development officer. “We’re trying to fill that position now. The successful applicant will work for the new CAO on business development and attraction, which are very important as functions for small, rural municipalities.”
Meanwhile, everyone will be involved in implementing the district’s new land-use bylaw and municipal development strategy, currently being refined by Halifax urban planning studio, Fathom.
In his official retirement letter to council, MacDonald said: “During my tenure as CAO, I have been fortunate to serve with great councillors and staff. I am grateful for the guidance and assistance and support I received from everyone. I have made new friendships that will last a lifetime. I am also aware of the many challenges facing Nova Scotia municipalities and communities, and I believe that the municipality of the district of St. Mary’s is positioned to successfully take upon these challenges.”
Says Malloy: “Marvin is just a good person. Anytime I needed him, he was there for me.”
That, at least, isn’t likely to change.
Says MacDonald: “I’m still just a phone call away.”