While starting a new job during a pandemic isn’t ideal, the Town’s new CAO is making it work.
Marnie Cluckie says she has decided to work at the town hall office, “while taking all the necessary precautions,” but adds, “it is very quiet, with a lot of people working from home,” for safety reasons.
“It’s a very unusual way to start a new job,” she says, with so few staff at the office, but after just a few short days, she has met in person with senior management team members, all wearing masks and physical distancing.
She’s used different methods to introduce herself safely to the rest of the staff, including a virtual town hall-style meeting with “a good chunk of people,” and others through Zoom or Microsoft Teams, the group-chat software used for virtual Town meetings.
“It’s lucky we have such good technology,” she says.
She has also in her first few days on the job attended emergency control meetings, she says, with COVID a priority for the municipality.
She was ready to hit the ground running, having come from a municipal sector job where she was involved in COVID response.
“It wasn’t so difficult a transition as you might expect.”
She had been working as director of strategic transformations for the Halton Region, with a group formed to improve service delivery for residents, including looking at modes of communication.
That initiative was suspended by the pandemic, and she became focused on COVID response, ensuring community members and staff were “safe and secure.”
Once behind her Niagara-on-the-Lake desk, she jumped right in with senior management team members, who she says were “great in bringing me up to speed on where they are with various initiatives,” including the strategic plan, which was approved a year ago to take council and staff through to 2022, focusing on long-term planning and innovation, defining priorities and providing council with direction.
She is also briefed on the Deloitte review of the Town’s service delivery, and its recommendations for improvement. When the findings of the review was presented to council in July, councillors agreed some short-term changes could be implemented, but most of the recommendations were put off until staff and councillors could have input from the new CAO.
While emergency response still has to take priority, says Cluckie, staff have to work on other items and accomplishments, including the budget, to ensure there is an “alignment of resources” to support the strategic plan and other projects, even in the face of COVID.
She has a long list of initiatives to tackle quickly, she says, “but first I need to learn. I’m so fortunate to work with a great team here to help me.”
In addition to the strategic plan and service review, she’s looking at the budget and at timelines “to see what can we realistically achieve, and how we prioritize to use our resources in the best way possible.”
She’s also reading up on the transportation study and fire master plan, understanding that many recommendations have been put on hold to wait for the new CAO to be part of the decision-making process, such as the one before councillors Monday to consolidate two fire stations. Her signature was on that report.
Cluckie says she wants to be sure she’s ready when recommendations come forward and decisions have to be made.
“That’s one of the reasons I wanted to start at this time of year, rather than early in the new year,” she says. She admits she’ll be taking home some reading material over the holiday, to be prepared for discussions that will come forward in the new year, but adds she will be sure to also make time to enjoy holiday festivities with her family.
She has met with Lord Mayor Betty Disero, will be meeting with all of the councillors over the next few days to understand their priorities, and is eager to get out in the community to meet with various groups and understand what they are looking for, when that can be done safely.
“I see my role as helping to remove barriers, and helping to support the needs of the community,” she says.
Before taking her job with Halton Region, Cluckie worked for the Niagara Region for three years, and during that time learned about Niagara-on-the-Lake. She says when she and her family are looking for a local vacation, “this is where we like to visit.”
It’s a beautiful town, it has a great identity with a distinctive personality, and “a unique local flavour that I don’t think you can find anywhere else in Canada,” she says.
“It’s a dream job for me, because it’s such a wonderful community in so many ways.”
She is currently living in Norfolk, with her husband, who is in sales with the agricultural industry, her 16-year-old son, who is interested in a career in journalism, and her 12-year-old daughter, “the gymnast.”
Cluckie says she would like to be a part of the community where she works, and plans to relocate to NOTL.
With all the disruption of COVID this past year for her kids, she doesn’t want to uproot them right away. The family plan is to look for a home in NOTL in the summer of 2021, and until then, she will be commuting.