It took a while for the City of Sault Ste. Marie’s new Chief Administrative Officer Tom Vair to make his way out of council chambers to waiting media at the conclusion Monday Night’s city council meeting.
Staff and councillors lined up to congratulate Vair, the former deputy CAO, Community Development and Enterprise Services. He replaces Malcolm White who is retiring from his CAO position, effective Jan. 31.
Council approved the hire with a unanimous vote. Vair begins his new post Feb. 1.
“I’m honoured to be provided this opportunity in this role,” said an obviously elated Vair. “I’ve worked at the City for the past seven years, so I know the team, the councillors and The Mayor. I’m really excited because I think Sault Ste. Marie is poised for great things and look forward to being a part of it.”
Born and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Vair is a former executive director of the Sault Ste. Marie Innovation Centre, a post he held for eleven years, until 2016. He holds a Master of Business Administration from McMaster University and a Bachelor of Administrative and Commercial Studies with a concentration in Financial and Economic Studies from Western University.
“Since joining the City, Tom has overseen many of the areas that our community needs to succeed in order to be growth-oriented and forward-looking,” said Sault Mayor Matthew Shoemaker.
“From leading the FutureSSM efforts at the administrative level, to overseeing the planning and recreation departments, Tom has helped guide the efforts to attract more residents, build more houses and develop
a community that offers the quality of life residents want and deserve. I look forward to working with Tom to achieve future success while always ensuring growth is managed in a fiscally responsible way. I’m pleased that Tom will be leading the administrative side of our organization.”
Vair was the choice of the CAO Selection Committee, comprised of Mayor Shoemaker (Chair) and City Councillors Marchi Bruni and Angela Caputo. The headhunting firm of Feldman Daxon Partners assisted in the search process.
White officially announced his plans to retire last May. He has served as CAO since the spring of 2019 and has been employed by the city since 1988.
Asked about the challenges facing Sault Ste, Marie, Vair pointed to mental health and addictions as a major issue. “I think certainly when we engage with the public mental health and addictions issues are always top of mind with people, so that’s something we hope to collaborate with our stakeholders in the health and human services to address,” he said.
The City’s aging population is another issued Vair said it’s imperative the City attract people to fill the voids retiring workers are leaving behind. “We need to attract a lot of people to the community to take up jobs that are here and support the growth that we’ve got in the community,” Vair said. “And from our official plan we know we’re expected to grow, so housing is another issue for the community that we need to support with the creation of new housing.
He added, “We have our housing strategy that was just brought to council recently, looking at densification in the downtown and key nodes in the community is important. I think we’ve done a lot to invest in quality of life in the last little while and in promoting the community and hopefully that can continue help increase prosperity in the community.”
Vair was asked what unique qualities he feels he brings to the CAO position. “I think one of the key things is communication and being able to work with staff at all levels in the organization,” he said. “To have open dialogue, be innovative, open to new ideas on how we can do things and implement those ideas going forward. Certainly hope to continue on with the great work Malcolm has done here, fantastic work as CAO, and continue that legacy that he’s built within the culture of the City of Sault Ste. Marie.”
A major driver behind the Downtown Plaza project, Vair is happy to see the plaza gaining popularity with residents. “It is nice to see. Between the Sault MRKT and the skating rink and the activities there, it’s great to see the public embrace that,” said Vair. “I think there was a lot of work staff did leading up to that to look at best practices and what other communities are doing. A lot of careful research and thought went into it. It’s great to see it being embraced by the community and opportunities for growth going forward.”
Vair thanked White for his “guidance, mentorship and support” over the years. He told council he hopes to cram as much knowledge from White as he can over the next four weeks, and quipped White has promised to answer his phone.
Post council meeting, Vair was asked what he hopes to borrow from White when he assumes the CAO post. “The way that Malcolm approaches work in terms of his demeanour with staff,” said Vair. “The way he treated everyone in the community, being open at City Hall to meet with people and talk about opportunities for the community is something I definitely hope to continue.”