Wood Buffalo Housing's Henry Hunter hired as new CAO of the RMWB

Hunter is the sixth CAO of the RMWB since 2013. This turnover has become a common trend among Alberta’s municipalities

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An engineer who is no stranger to the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) has been hired as the new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).

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Henry Hunter, president and CEO of Wood Buffalo Housing, was announced as the new CAO on Thursday. Hunter was also the municipality’s executive director of public infrastructure and planning at the RMWB between February 2012 and June 2014.

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“This region has been my home for over a decade, and I have a vested interest in helping to realize its full potential,” said Hunter in a statement. “We have a lot of work ahead, and I’m excited to get started.”

Hiring a new CAO was the responsibility of Mayor Sandy Bowman and councillors Ken Ball, Kendrick Cardinal, Jane Stroud and Funky Banjoko.

“As someone who has lived here for many years, Henry understands the challenges and opportunities in the region,” said Bowman in a statement. “His experience in high profile positions across a variety of sectors and knowledge of the community will be very valuable at this important time.”

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Hunter has held management positions with the City of Winnipeg, Earth Tech Canada and Qatar Petroleum. After leaving the RMWB, he was hired as Keyano College’s vice president of Capital Projects and Facilities Operations.

His seven years with Wood Buffalo Housing were transformative. High vacancies at the organizations forced Hunter to adapt to changing population models and how the organization was run. Hunter also signed agreements and joined plans to improve housing in the rural and Indigenous communities of the region.

“I look forward to taking on this new role with the municipality and I’d like to thank council for their confidence in my ability to lead the organization,” Hunter said in a statement. “I’d also like to thank my Wood Buffalo Housing Board and senior management in supporting me through this transition.”

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jubilee
The Jubilee Centre in downtown Fort McMurray on March 6, 2022. Vincent McDermott/Fort McMurray Today/Postmedia Network jpg, FM

Sixth CAO of the RMWB in 10 years

Hunter’s resignation from the RMWB came amidst a shakeup of how senior administrative staff are paid and recruited at the municipality.

Documents obtained through Freedom of Information legislation by the Canadian Taxpayers’ Federation found the RMWB offered 14 managers—including Hunter—housing stipends worth a combined $447,494.84 between Jan. 1, 2011 through September 2013.

The RMWB defended these bonuses as necessary. At the time, Fort McMurray was growing rapidly but the RMWB had trouble filling senior positions. The municipality argued the generous salaries and benefits were needed to lure qualified staff.

Council was shocked at the generosity of these benefits and salaries, especially after learning of the massive salaries and travel expenses given to senior staff and visiting consultants. The incidents led to an audit of the RMWB’s management structure by the accounting firm KPMG.

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Hunter is the RMWB’s sixth CAO in the past 10 years. This turnover is common across Alberta. The University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy says the average CAO’s tenure in Alberta has been roughly two years since 2003.

Glen Laubenstein was CAO from 2010 to 2014. He was succeeded by Marcel Ulliac, who retired in 2016. Annette Antoniak held the position until she suddenly resigned in 2020. It was later revealed most councillors at the time voted to fire her. Jamie Doyle was promoted to the top job until he left for a job in Nova Scotia.

The most recent CAO, Paul Thorkelsson, was fired by councillors in July after less than 11 months on the job. Jody Butz, regional fire chief and the municipality’s emergency management director, was interim CAO until Hunter’s hiring.

-with files from Aimée Harper and Marty Klinkenberg

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