County CAO sets site on September retirement

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BrianGreggby Sylene Argent

“Do the right things for the right reasons,” has always been the credo of current Essex County Chief Administrative Officer Brian Gregg. And, those are the words of advice he will leave behind to his future successor.

After around 30 years of service to the region in various capacities, Gregg will retire in September.

“I love what I do,” Greg said, but he began to think about all those other things he wanted to pursue and how long he could remain as active as he currently is as someone who enjoys playing hockey and golf regularly, and also enjoys biking. He thought this year would be the right time to retire, which will be a bittersweet experience.

“One of the things I have always prided myself on when I looked at a map of the county was that I saw no boundaries. I looked at what was in the best interest of the region,” he said.

Gregg has been an employee with the County for around half his life, and he considers coworkers to be like family.
Equipped with a degree in business accounting from the University of Windsor, before embarking on a career with the County, he first began working for Clarkson Gordon, a charter accounting firm. After three years of service, he moved on to work for a social housing authority in Windsor for a four-year period.

He began his career with Essex County in 1987 as an accounting supervisor. Gregg saw an opportunity to take the next step to advance his career and found the field of government interesting.

Gregg took on several positions with the County before he landed in the captain’s chair, including as Deputy Treasurer and Treasurer. Gregg served 18 years as the County’s CAO, and one year as its Acting CAO.

“When I first became CAO, it was a challenge for me. Accounting is black and white, the CAO needed to get used to various shades of grey,” Gregg explained as accounting has mathematical and technical answers.

In his nearly two-decade tenure as CAO, Gregg has a long list of projects for which he is proud. The number one challenge he recalls in that time was the 1999 amalgamation, which merged several former communities into larger municipalities throughout Essex County.

The municipal restructuring had the County go from 21 communities to seven municipalities, and further reduced the number of individuals on County Council to 14 from 42.

“The whole process was really divisive,” Gregg recalled. “There was a need for leadership, there was a need for collaboration. It was a difficult time for local politicians and administrators to see their municipalities come to an end because of emotional ties to local municipalities.”

The amalgamation was followed by a boundary adjustment with the City of Windsor in 2003, which also had some of those same elements that came with amalgamation, such as divisiveness and compromise, he said.

A project Gregg reflects fondly upon is the selection of the current regional landfill site, which is within the Municipality of Essex. This would be a difficult process as it was known a new site was needed, but it came down to where it should be located. There was also a lot of opposition to the short-listed sites suggested at the time.

Gregg said he credits Carl Davison, the former Reeve of the pre-amalgamation township of Colchester North, who he said stood up and said the current location was the best option. “He took a lot of political heat. He is one of the most standup guys I have ever met. He didn’t let emotion get in the way of the decision,” Gregg commented.

One project still on the go, for which Gregg is proud, includes Essex County’s participation in the Western Ontario Wardens’ Caucus, accounting for the 15 counties in Southwestern Ontario, which is working on the SouthWestern Integration Fiber Technology (SWIFT) project. This program is designed to bring high speed broadband across all regions of Southwestern Ontario.

Gregg thinks this will help promote things like economic growth. The idea is to have several smaller carriers involved.
County physician recruitment for the area is an on-going project about which Gregg continues to be passionate. With the area’s population growing and aging, there is a need to ensure there is adequate access to primary care, which will take pressure off of emergency rooms, he said.

Recently, the County implemented a program that linked paramedics to frequent callers needing emergency services. To date, the program has been successful and has reduced the number of those types of calls. It has bettered the care for patients and has made the service more effective, he said.

Gregg is a believer in community development. If a good foundation is built, the rest will follow, including economic development, investment, and tourism. He looks forward to seeing CWTAS continue to be implemented around the County.

Gregg is particularly proud that over time, the County was able to get debt free. This took place around three years ago. This situation has allowed the County to move funding for asset management (looking after capital infrastructure) into reserves. This allows the County to be in a pay-as-you-go situation, he said.

15-years ago, he explained, County staff looked at infrastructure and took note there was around $400million dollars’ worth of work needing to be done. As the County worked off its debt, funds were put aside in reserves to pay for infrastructure work moving forward instead of utilizing the long-term debt option.

“It was all about building a proper foundation, which allows us flexibility and to plan better and be more responsible to the needs of ratepayers,” Gregg commented.

He added that his successes are linked to the hard work and dedication his coworkers provide the County through various programs and services.

“I wouldn’t have success without the creative, innovative people we have here,” he said.

Gregg explained Essex County Warden Tom Bain is leading the recruitment team looking for his replacement. The process is currently underway.