– CAO Bob Ni­co­lay missed Medicine Hat and is ex­cited for the fu­ture

Medicine Hat News - - FRONT PAGE - COLLIN GAL­LANT cgal­lant@medicine­hat­news.com Twit­ter: Collin-Gal­lant

Bob Ni­co­lay says he’s happy to be home and ready to tackle the chal­lenges ahead for the City of Medicine Hat.

Ni­co­lay, who served as top ad­min­is­tra­tor here in the late 1990s, was an­nounced as the re­place­ment for out­go­ing chief ad­min­is­tra­tive of­fi­cer Merete Heggelund in Septem­ber.

He was in­tro­duced to coun­cil at its Oct. 1 meet­ing, which was his first day on the job. In the time since, he’s been re­fa­mil­iar­iz­ing him­self with the or­ga­ni­za­tion at city hall and the city it­self.

“It’s a blend of com­ing home, be­ing closer to my grand­chil­dren in Cal­gary, but there’s an in­tel­lec­tual chal­lenge,” Ni­co­lay told the News in an in­ter­view this week. “Run­ning a mu­nic­i­pal­ity that deals with the full myr­iad lo­cal govern­ment chal­lenges, which is for­mi­da­ble in and of them­selves, also have a puz­zle re­lated to an oil gas com­pany, a power com­pany and a land and prop­er­ties com­pany — That com­bi­na­tion of chal­lenges is stim­u­lat­ing.”

Ni­co­lay left the city in the late 1990s to take a se­nior po­si­tion with City of Cal­gary en­ergy com­pany En­max, then worked for the Cana­dian Olympic Com­mit­tee and sev­eral oil and re­new­able en­ergy com­pa­nies. In early 2017 he re­turned to pub­lic ser­vice as the top ad­min­is­tra­tor with the City of Grande Prairie, where he be­came fa­mil­iar with Heggelund.

When he ap­plied as her re­place­ment, coun­cil’s hir­ing com­mit­tee noted his com­bined mu­nic­i­pal ex­pe­ri­ence and pri­vate sec­tor oil­patch work, as a key as­set.

Mayor Ted Clugston has of­ten said it’s the most unique job in the most unique city in Canada.

“Oil and gas, power and mu­nic­i­pal is some­thing that doesn’t ex­ist on most re­sumes,” he said this week.

And while Ni­co­lay is tak­ing over his old of­fice, he says he’s ap­proach­ing it with open eyes and ears.

When he left in 1999, the oil and gas op­er­a­tions were “enor­mously lu­cra­tive and had been for decades,” said Ni­co­lay.

Now, the city is fac­ing flag­ging petroleum prof­its, ma­jor change in the elec­tric­ity pro­duc­tion busi­ness, and chal­lenges in the mu­nic­i­pal bud­get af­ter years of plen­ti­ful nat­u­ral gas profit.

The city’s next four-year bud­get is due in Jan­uary — though Ni­co­lay says the group­ing of se­nior ad­min­is­tra­tors have the process well in hand, and he’s pre­pared to spend time get­ting “an ap­pre­ci­a­tion of the sit­u­a­tion.”

“I’m not ex­actly a new­comer; I never did lose touch with Medicine Hat ... but I don’t want to overly rely on that,” he said. “It’s a dif­fer­ent com­mu­nity than when I left, and I want to be sen­si­tive to what Hat­ters of to­day feel are im­por­tant.

“I don’t want to al­ready know the an­swers.”

He will say, that while as­pects of the com­mit­tee are con­stant — it’s en­gaged cit­i­zenry chief on the list — times have changed since he first joined the city in 1982.

In the early 1980s, Ni­co­lay left the pri­vate-sec­tor oil­patch in down­town Cal­gary as the down­turn be­gan to set in for a po­si­tion in en­ergy fi­nanc­ing in Medicine Hat in 1982.

“The Na­tional En­ergy pro­gram was de­liv­er­ing chal­lenges to the City of Medicine Hat, which was now deal­ing with oil and gas rev­enue tax­a­tion, ex­cise tax and fi­nanc­ing,” he said.

“The city had never had to file a tax re­turn, never had to.”

He’s spent some time meet­ing with a few fa­mil­iar faces at city hall, talk­ing about those old times, and spent a day over the long week­end vis­it­ing a num­ber of city parks.

“The idea of a home­town never re­ally had rel­e­vance un­til I set­tled into Medicine Hat,” he told the News of his first pe­riod in the city.

“It was 17 years liv­ing in the same place and wasn’t some­thing I’d ever done be­fore ... there’s an in­trin­sic beauty here.”

NEWS PHOTO COLLIN GAL­LANT

Robert Ni­co­lay has re­joined the City of Medicine Hat as its top ad­min­is­tra­tor. He pre­vi­ously served as chief com­mis­sioner up to 1998 af­ter a 17-year ca­reer with the city, and ar­rives back af­ter a pri­vate-sec­tor ca­reer and most re­cently the city man­ager in Grande Prairie.

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