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Bighorn CAO set to retire

BIGHORN - After spending nearly four decades working in the public realm of municipal politics, Martin Buckley is calling it a career.
Martin Buckley
Martin Buckley, CAO for the MD of Bighorn, stands in the council chambers for the MD in Exshaw on Monday (July 16).

BIGHORN - After spending nearly four decades working in the public realm of municipal politics, Martin Buckley is calling it a career.

The chief administrative officer for the municipal district of Bighorn officially tendered his resignation letter on July 10, capping off a 36.5 year career in the municipal administration field – 17.5 of which were spent with the MD of Bighorn.

His last day will be December 31.

Reeve Dene Cooper, who has worked with him since he was first elected in 2004, said it will be difficult to fill Buckley’s shoes given his expertise and corporate memory.

“Martin has guided the ship, been the captain at the wheel, for a time when the MD moved out of those early phases of establishing ourselves and into those intermediate stages,” said Cooper, explaining Buckley helped the MD establish itself after it was incorporated in 1988.

“He has shown superior leadership and just excellent service to council and the residents of Bighorn.”

Reflecting on his storied career, Buckley said he was proud of his accomplishments and was confident that the MD of Bighorn was in good hands.

“I’m at peace with what I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished,” said Buckley, who lives in Canmore with his wife Kelly.

“I believe I’m leaving the MD in a good place and it’s not just me that’s got us here, it’s everybody that has worked for the MD.”

He said it was difficult to pin point a specific highlight of his career, but said the MD accomplished a lot for a rural municipality with only 1,300 residents, including delivering top-notice services, low tax rates and sound planning policies.

“There are very good people working with the MD both on council and on staff and they are very dedicated, they know who they work for and they know what they have to do,” said Buckley.

In his resignation letter he said the municipality is in excellent financial shape with little debt and strong reserves – a hallmark of a well-managed municipality.

“There’s money in the bank to cover off most, if not all, of the capital improvements in future years and we have very low debt and I think the residents and the rate payers of the MD should be very pleased with what their elected officials have done for them.”

Born and raised in Winnipeg, Buckley moved to Alberta with his family in 1965 and bounced around the province for a number of years including briefly living in Didsbury (an hour north of Calgary) where he attended high school.

After graduating, he was accepted to Lethbridge University where he graduated with two degrees, including an arts and science degree with a major in political science, followed by a bachelor of management degree a few years later.

With two degrees in hand, he left the world of academia at the age of 26 and landed a year-long internship with the municipality of Spruce Grove in July 1981.

Following his year-long internship he became an administrative assistant and personnel officer before eventually landing a position as the municipal secretary for Canmore in 1983.

For the next 13 years Buckley worked for the town before eventually becoming the manager of legislative and personnel services, which he held until 1996.

During his tenure he had a front row seat to numerous issues and events, including the contentious debate about whether or not Canmore should develop an airstrip in 1986 and the 1988 Winter Olympics. He was also with the town in 1991 when it expanded its boundaries and annexed land from the province.

“In ’83 when I came the population was 3,700 and when I left in ’96 it was pushing 9,000,” recalled Buckley.

After spending more than a decade working for the town of Canmore, he decided to move to the village of Nakusp, B.C., to become the community’s chief administrative officer.

Four years after making the move he returned to Canmore in 2000, before eventually becoming the CAO for the MD of Bighorn where he has been ever since.

“Coming to the MD was my first experience in rural administration,” said Buckley.

Among some of his most notable accomplishments over the years was connecting Exshaw, Dead Man’s Flats and the commercial district of Harvie Heights to the water system, as well as building a new firehall in Benchlands.

He said he was also proud of the MD’s response to the 2013 floods, which caused extensive damaged throughout the community.

“I’m not sure if the world understands how heavy an impact that was on us, but it certainly did its damage here,” said Martin, who slept on the floor of his office during the height of the crisis.

Recalling the devastating event, he said the MD was simply overwhelmed by the magnitude of the crisis, but credited first responders and the wider community for pulling together to help get the MD get back on its feet.

“It was a case where you almost wanted to run away and hide, but you had to stay there and you had to face things and try to put things back together and here we are five years later and we’re still putting things back together.”

Since then, the municipality and the province have poured millions of dollars into short-term and long-term flood mitigation work, a lot of which is still continuing to this day.

Besides preparing the community for the next flood, he said he was also proud of his administration for keeping tax rates low while providing top-notch services to area residents.

“They are getting good services for what they are paying for,” said Buckley, adding

the municipal tax rate for residential and non-residential properties will remain unchanged in 2018.

Looking at what lies ahead, he said one the biggest challenges facing communities such as Exshaw, Dead Man’s Flats, Lac Des Arc and Harvie Heights will be the lack of available space for future development as all four communities are nearing their build out capacity.

In the rural areas of the MD, he said the growing influx of people looking for recreational opportunities will have a significant impact on the area putting pressure on MD to provide more services and infrastructure.

After he wraps up his final day in December Buckley said he and his wife have plans to visit the Galapagos Islands in Ecuador. He also hopes to get more involved with the Canmore Rotary Club and has offered to his services for any future projects council wishes to out-source.

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