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Region’s top bureaucrat prepares for retirement

Mike Murray [Damon Maclean]

Waterloo Region’s top bureaucrat, Mike Murray is readying himself for life as a retiree, the municipality having named Bruce Lauckner as its new chief administrative officer.

Mike Murray [Damon Maclean]

Murray spent more than 27 years with the regional government, first joining in 1992 as manager of engineering, planning and water resource protection before becoming CAO in 2004.

The job he held for the past 16 years is diverse and “never dull,” despite a very bureaucratic  schedule filled with meetings, he says.

A typical day sees meetings that vary from one-on-one to large groups. Murray’s job as chief administrator is to be a bridge between regional council and the rest of the 3,500 employees.

“Our job as regional staff is to make sure we are providing the best support and advice to regional council… and to deliver it the best we can.”

What that entails many days is perhaps captured by the comment of one of his children who took part in a bring-your-kid-to-work day: “Dad, you guys sit around a lot, and you talk a lot.”

That may have been somewhat simplified, but it’s a description that suits Murray, who says he has always had an interest in working and talking to people from diverse backgrounds and walks of life. He grew up in East York, a very multicultural community, and attended East York Collegiate, which was home to some 50 different nationalities.

“I learned a lot about working with people and working with different cultures,” he said.

Early on in his engineering career, Murray would be meeting with the mayor of Inuvik, chief and band council as well as some of the community members, an experience he relished.

“It was challenging and fascinating, and also made me realize that as much as I enjoyed consulting, it was [about] the clients.”

Murray holds bachelor and master’s degrees in chemical and environmental engineering. Upon graduation, Murray began working as a consulting engineer for the first seven years of his career. From that Toronto experience, Murray next decided to take a leap and headed north to Inuvik, Nunavut, where he worked for a consulting engineering company. The job focused on water supply  and wastewater systems.

“It was fascinating. We were building some of the first water supply systems in [smaller] Indigenous communities in the western Arctic. This was the late 1980s, and up until that point they didn’t have treated water systems.”

After Nunavut’s novelty began to wear off, Murray then headed to Winnipeg and continued his work for the same consulting company for municipal and First Nations clients. It was in Manitoba where his two children were born, but he and his wife decided to return to Ontario to be closer to their extended families. After looking at a couple of different areas, they settled on Waterloo.

Murray then applied to the region in 1992 as a water resources engineer in the water services division. There, he was the first person to work on the region’s source water protection plan.

“We were breaking new ground in Canada on source water management.”

After nearly five years, he moved up into the position of commissioner of transportation and environmental services [public works]. In 2004, with the retirement of CAO Gerry Thompson retired, he become the senior-most administrator.

“I guess I was in the right place at the right time,” he said of taking on the role he would occupy for the next 16 years. “We came here, [Waterloo] with a five-year plan, and almost 30 years later, here we are.”

During his tenure, he’s seen more than a few changes in the region, pinpointing growth, increased diversity and an evolving economy as the three most significant.

Bruce Lackner

Bruce Lauckner was named last week as Murray’s replacement, though the exact date of the handover, expected in July, has yet to be determined

“Mike has been such an awesome CAO for the region,” said Lauckner, noting that filling his shoes will be difficult task, one for which he’ll rely on Murray for some guidance and wisdom.

With retirement on the horizon, Murray said he plans to remain active with pastimes such as cycling, white-water canoeing and cross-country skiing. A wilderness canoe trip this summer is first on the list when he walks out of the CAO’s office for the last time.

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