After 39 years of working for the town in various capacities, Mark McCaig is retiring as its Chief Administrative Officer, effective Nov. 15.
McCaig, who turns 55 on Oct. 20, has served as CAO since September, 2003.
“I thought about this for a long time, and talked about it with [town] council for a long time, and obviously we are going to work towards making sure that there’s not a lot of upheaval in the organization and there’s a smooth transition,” McCaig said of his departure.
“I’m happy to be a part of that,” he added. “Whatever they want me to do, I’ll do it.”
McCaig said fortunes are taking a positive turn for Rainy River District, and consequently here in Fort Frances, so it’s a good time to step down.
“We are seeing an increase in activity in Fort Frances and that is great. I couldn’t be happier,” he remarked.
“And that affected my decision, too.
“I wouldn’t want to leave if we’re having significant financial problems,” McCaig noted. “This past budget year was pretty good and our finances the last few years have been very good.
“I’ve spent a lot of years here and hopefully the town can find somebody who’s going to come in and improve upon things we are doing pretty good, or maybe change things and do them for the better,” he added.
McCaig began as a summer labourer with Fort Frances Public Utilities in 1976. In 1983, he was working for the utility full-time, first as a linesman and then as an engineering technologist.
In 1998, he became CEO and president of the Fort Frances Power Corp. (FFPC), in which he led the utility through its incorporation and then the defence of the 1905 historic power agreement in the then newly-deregulated market.
After getting hired as Fort Frances CAO in the fall of 2003, McCaig began a tenure which has been rewarding but also full of “enormous challenges,” such as dwindling assessments and assessment appeals from the mill.
“I guess one of the things I’d be proudest of was there was a real focus and concentration on trying to manage the town—the things we do, the things we’re supposed to do—more efficiently,” he said.
“I think we’ve been very prudent fiscally, and I think we started to manage our assets and look to the long-term in regards to setting money aside to fix some of our significantly-aged infrastructure.”
McCaig said he’s also proud of how the community, and region as a whole, has advocated for issues such as forestry and the local economy.
And he’s proud of the team that’s been established at the town, how they’ve had a forward eye to filling positions internally as best they could, and how the town has had a compassionate and considerate approach to reducing staff in recent years (not by layoffs but through attrition where possible).
“Through working effectively among the divisions, we’ve achieved some synergies,” McCaig remarked.
“We don’t have a silo-type mentality—I believe we work very well together as an organization and all the divisions work well together,” he noted.
“And that helps us in the long run save money and be more efficient.”
McCaig stressed the town is dedicated to finding “Fort Frances solutions.”
“We don’t believe that the white knight is going to come from southern Ontario and save us,” he explained. “We’ve always tried to nurture our talent from within the organization and I’m very proud of that.
“I’ve certainly benefitted from it and I’m a big proponent of the notion that there’s a lot of good people in Fort Frances and if we give them the opportunity, they’ll be able to show you that,” added McCaig.
“If we look inward, and we work with people and support them and we mentor them, we can get the best job done and we can also find people that really care about Fort Frances,” he reasoned.
“I think we have that at the town.”
McCaig also said he’s had an excellent relationship with all the mayors and councillors over the years, and misses the people who have passed away.
“It’s a real blessing to be able to leave an organization and not have any regrets, not have any second thoughts, and not have any bitterness,” he remarked.
“I hold the Town of Fort Frances in the highest regard.”
Mayor Roy Avis said council was aware that McCaig was considering retiring. But now that it’s official, he won’t be easy to replace.
“Mark was a valued employee and he had a real passion for his job,” the mayor noted. “He served the town in the best interest of the taxpayers.
“He continually kept council abreast of all the issues, and worked with us to try and find solutions,” Mayor Avis added.
“And that’s what a good CAO does.
“Council wishes him and his wife, Krista, all the best in his retirement but I know a CAO position is very, very hard to fill,” Mayor Avis admitted.
He noted a CAO “isn’t just someone you pick off the shelf,” and that McCaig has been integral to major issues the town currently has on its plate.
Mayor Avis said the public should “stay tuned,” and that the town will have a better direction as to what it will be doing to replace McCaig in the next week to 10 days.
“We’ll look after it as we move forward,” he noted. “We are going to make sure things are operating in the best manner they can.”
Former councillor Andrew Hallikas, who worked with McCaig from 2006-14, recalled there is a steep learning curve when one first becomes a councillor.
But McCaig always made sure those newly-elected underwent intensive training.
“That impressed me immediately—how concerned he was getting the new councillors up to speed,” Hallikas noted.
“And then as I started sitting in on actual meetings and got appointed to various committees, the second thing that struck me about Mark was how knowledgeable he was about every aspect of how the town ran.
“I was just amazed because as a rookie, I didn’t know that much yet,” Hallikas remarked. “The comments and advice Mark was giving struck me as so insightful and so prudent, so wise, based on his background.”
As the years went on, Hallikas said he was impressed by how dedicated McCaig was to doing the best possible things he could both for mayor and council—and for the residents of Fort Frances.
Hallikas added it was a privilege to work alongside McCaig because had a passion for the job and a strong work ethic.
“The complexities and nuances of that job [being a CAO] are unbelievable,” he noted. “But as I got to see more and more of how Mark worked, I was impressed.”
Hallikas said that during council discussions, McCaig’s astute comments often would cut to the heart of a matter and simplify complicated issues.
“To me, he was proof-positive that one person, the right person, can really make a difference,” he remarked. “And it’s my opinion Mark made a very positive difference in Fort Frances.
“They’re going to have a hard time replacing him,” Hallikas predicted.