The Capital region’s longest-serving chief administrative officer will retire this summer.
On April 1, Gary Nason celebrates 19 years as CAO of Central Saanich. In mid-July, he’ll retire after 30 years in local government.
“Mr. Nason has set a very high standard in the role of admin for the district,” said Mayor Alastair Bryson. “Clearly these are going to be some very large shoes to fill.”
Nason started municipal work as a deputy clerk in Port Alberni, before moving on five years later to Nanaimo where he was city clerk, then director of administration. He came to Central Saanich as CAO to finish out his career.
“I have been very lucky over my time in Central Saanich to have had very supportive council and tremendously dedicated and loyal staff to work with,” he said. “I sincerely believe that a CAO is only as good as the staff who work for you.”
The revitalization of the Brentwood Bay core, the East Saanich Road renewal, and the tennis court overhaul at Centennial Park are among his list of physical achievements in Central Saanich.
“We’re well positioned to the future. We’ve done a lot of good forward thinking and planning,” he said of works in roads, water management, parks and even facilities. “All of this stuff is looking many years down the road, planning for the community.”
Among the facilities is the fire hall slated for construction on Keating X Road.
“That one I’d like to see construction started on before I leave,” he said. Nason also hopes to see the major public consultation started on the other big facilities project on the horizon, a joint municipal-police building on Mount Newton X Road.
Add to that the district getting on board with the Greater Victoria Public Library in the late 1990s, and with Panorama Recreation Centre.
“I think we’ve built some good relations with the First Nations at the staff level,” Nason said.
There are also good examples of how things have changed in municipal work since his start three decades ago. Topics like transparent government, citizen engagement and public consultation have exploded in local politics.
New concerns have been added to the municipal plate too, he noted, such as dealing with affordable housing, climate change and regional transportation.
“All local governments are invested in a lot more stuff,” he said.
And it’s done with less funding.
“We used to get millions of dollars in unconditional grants,” Nason said. Now towns and districts deal in routine grant applications to find cash for projects on top of pressures to keep property taxes low. “That’s certainly a challenge I see with local governments.”
The biggest and swiftest change, perhaps has been in the IT world.
“Advances in technology have been incredible,” Nason said. It was all about typewriters and telephones when he started in Port Alberni.
Since then, Nason has worked with 10 different mayors.
“I’ve survived 14 elections,” he said. That means 14 different councils and well over 2,000 council meetings. The latest was a seven-hour Nanaimo meeting that ran until 2:30 the next morning.
With his Monday evenings free, Nason will have more time to spend on personal pursuits when he retires in July.
“I’d like to pursue some long term interests,” he said. “I’d like to take a little bit of down time.”
Golf and skiing will likely make an appearance post-career, as will model shipbuilding and raising tropical fish.
What will keep him seriously busy though, is around the time he hangs it up at Central Saanich, Nason will take over the role as president-elect of Brentwood Bay Rotary. He’s also a disaster management volunteer for the Canadian Red Cross, and retirement will make way for some deployment opportunities.
“I don’t intend to hang my shingle out as a consultant,” Nason said. “But if a local government thinks I can help them out … I’d entertain that.”