CAO Doug Brown reflects on career as he exits town hall

After 30 years of working for municipalities in northern Ontario, including 18 years with the Town of Fort Frances, being chief administrative officer for five years and operations and facilities manager for 13, Doug Brown is retiring from his position.

“It’s been a pretty fulfilling job being the chief administrative officer for the last five years,” Brown said. “It’s going to be a change in my life. After working 30 years for municipalities, I have earned it. I don’t like that I’m leaving during COVID, but at the end of the day, it’s time for me to take care of myself.”

Fort Frances was not Brown’s first experience with municipal administration. Prior to being hired by the town as the operations and facilities manager in 2003, Brown was working for the Town of Marathon where he began his career in 1991. He continued his role as facilities manager in Fort Frances until July 2016 before assuming his chief administrative officer position.

As the chief administrative officer, Brown is the connection between elected officials and town employees.

Brown said nowadays regulations are constantly changing, social media is stirring the pot on controversial topics and council represents constituents with views on both ends of the extreme. He said amidst all this, his job is to move the town forward through decision making and compromise.

“You have the managers below you and council that you have to report to,” Brown said. “Council has to set the budget, set policies, they have the administrative role and to make sure administration is doing their job.”

Fort Frances CAO Doug Brown is entering retirement at the end of the month. He plans to spend time with his family.

As chief administrative officer, Brown was also responsible for hiring all senior positions for the town, keeping a high morale among staff and making sure of employees are paid fairly.

During his time, Brown has hired chief building official planners, human resources manager, recreation and culture manager, the fire chief, the operations and facilities manager, the deputy clerk, the deputy treasurer, the treasurer and the information technology manager.

“I have an influence on who sits around at the senior management team,” Brown said. “When you manage people there are three main ingredients and these are competency, commitment and character. I feel that I’ve had an influence in ensuring that a senior management team is there.”

An achievement Brown takes pride in is introducing garbage bag tags in Fort Frances, after it was a successful undertaking in Marathon.

Brown said garbage bag tags were introduced to Fort Frances in 2004 when the town was in financial trouble. Fort Frances used to spend $450,000 of taxpayers’ money into the waste system, he added. Now it is self-sustaining.

“That was a learning period from one community to the next,” Brown said. “It was easier in Marathon because everyone was younger. When I came here, it was an older community, and they thought the property taxes paid for everything. It was a challenge.”

Brown’s interest in municipal politics also stemmed from his father being the long-time Mayor of Atikokan.

“When I was in grade 11 in 1978 my dad ran for the reeve and he won,” Brown said. “He then told me ‘when you work for a community, you’re working for the people to make it better for their place to live.’ That kind of stuck with me.”

Brown’s one advice to the future chief administrative officer is to stay positive, communicate and care about the labourers of the town by paying them fairly.

“I always say that the people underneath me are the ones that are providing service to the residents,” Brown said. If they feel that they’re being treated better we’ll get better product, people will be happy in their community, and won’t complain about their taxes.”

When Brown officially leaves his position on May 31, he will golf more and enjoy time with his wife and grandchildren.

“I need to take care of myself get myself in better shape,” Brown said. “I don’t plan on getting involved with the community political role at this point. I like Fort Frances and I do not plan on moving.”