There’s more to Niagara-on-the-Lake than meets the eye, Marnie Cluckie says.
She should know: for the past three years, Cluckie has been NOTL’s chief administrative officer.
She will be leaving the position come Jan. 14 when she heads down the QEW to Hamilton to take over as the Steel City’s chief administrator and city manager.
“People think Niagara-on-the-Lakes is this little, sleepy town,” Cluckie said in an interview with The Lake Report, almost three years to the day she started her job in NOTL. “But it’s an engaged community with residents who are intelligent and thoughtful.”
When the new job opportunity arose in Hamilton, Cluckie decided to toss her hat in the ring.
A native of Hamilton, she had worked for the city in several different positions for a decade from 2005 to 2015, including as manager of strategic planning and capital delivery.
She has also held senior administrative positions with Halton (strategic transformation group director) and Niagara (director of construction, energy and facilities management) regions.
“It will be a homecoming of sorts for me,” she said of her decision to head back to The Hammer.
She is leaving behind a town and staff that has come a long way while she was at the helm, she said, working over the past three years on ways the municipality could better provide customer service and respond to the needs of residents.
“We actually listened to the feedback (from residents), which impacted changes,” Cluckie said.
Some of that was driven by necessity. Cluckie began her time with the town on Dec. 9, 2020, as the town — and the world — was in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
With town hall closed to the public and town staff working remotely, that meant finding new ways for the town to conduct its business.
“It was our biggest (challenge),” she said. “It was unprecedented. We could not meet with people.”
Most notably, updating to an online portal for building permit applications proved to be a hit, Cluckie said.
“It helped people see where their building permits were at. They could check on the progress.”
It was so successful that the town was asked to make a presentation about the software at the 2023 Association of Municipalities of Ontario conference in Ottawa this past August.
“It’s much more accessible,” Cluckie said.
Other accomplishments she is proud of include the completion of the town’s strategic plan for the current term of council, laying out the vision and goals for Niagara-on-the-Lake for the next four years and a new tourism strategy that Cluckie said “balances the needs of the tourism operators with the needs of residents.”
The past three years, pandemic aside, have not been without challenges.
“There’s been planning challenges,” she said, adding that staff and council have always had to look at potential developments while wanting to maintain the town’s heritage characteristics.
Dealing with the regulation and enforcement of rules around short-term rentals has also been a challenge. The town is currently looking to implement its municipal accommodation tax on rentals. That tax will go into effect in January.
While Cluckie said she is looking forward to the new challenge in Hamilton, she will miss Niagara-on-the-Lake.
“I’m excited about the next chapter but it’s also very sad,” she said. “There’s a bittersweetness to it.”
She also said she is “grateful to have had the opportunity to work with so many great people” in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
And while she’ll no longer be working out of town hall in Virgil come Jan. 16, she will continue to keep tabs on what is happening in NOTL.
“I will be watching,” she said.
In a news release announcing Cluckie’s appointment, Hamilton Mayor Andrea Horwath said she wanted the city’s next top bureaucrat to be someone who knows Hamilton and is passionate about its success.”
Cluckie, she said, meets that criteria.
“Marnie brings all of that and more to this role, and I’m looking forward to working with her,” Horwth said.
It will be up to council to select an interim chief administrator and then embark on the process of recruiting a permanent CAO.
That is expected to start in the coming weeks and is a process that can typically take several months.