City manager George Murray is set to retire.
Murray has held the top non-political position at Abbotsford’s city hall for five years.
His retirement was announced to staff Wednesday morning and comes less than a year after he suffered a serious heart attack. Murray, who will turn 60 this year, said the decision to step aside was a joint one made with his wife and two adult daughters over the holidays. He said the idea first surfaced immediately after getting out of surgery in April.
“I’ve had to reconcile my personal life with my work life and came to a decision that it would be time to spend more time with my family than my work,” he said.
He said he “loves” his job and the City of Abbotsford, but that the long work weeks and stresses of the job took their toll.
“It had to be done,” he said.
Murray said he plans to travel extensively once leaving the job. But he won’t be departing right away, and will stay on until a replacement is found. He will also be involved in the recruiting of the new city manager, which will begin immediately.
Mayor Henry Braun called Murray a “great city manager,” and credited him with helping to turn around Abbotsford’s financial situations. Braun noted that when Murray was hired, the city’s net assets were in the red. They now exceed $140 million.
“I said he was going to save this city millions of dollars and that has been true in spades,” Braun said.
Prior to working at the City of Abbotsford, Murray – a certified general accountant – was the chief administrative officer for the Fraser Valley Regional District. He also previously held high-ranking positions at the Abbotsford School District, City of Chilliwack, City of Merritt, and Resort Municipality of Whistler.
He was hired by the City of Abbotsford in December of 2012, just days after the resignation of outgoing city manager Frank Pizzuto. Murray had previously been shortlisted for the position in 2008.
Murray began work in February of 2013. Just a few months later, he found himself in the midst of one of a major story after city staff dumped manure on a site used as a homeless camp on Gladys Avenue. Murray ultimately took the blame for the incident, which garnered provincewide media attention and drew significant criticism.
The rest of Murray’s tenure has been less fraught with controversy, although major changes have still taken place.
In 2014, the city announced it would be paying millions of dollars to end its ill-fated deal with the Abbotsford Heat. Since then Abbotsford Centre’s financial position has significantly improved, although the facility remains without a major tenant.
An election later in 2014, saw Braun move from a councillor’s seat to the mayor’s chair, and four new councillors win election as part of the AbbotsfordFirst slate. But while other municipalities have seen clashes between the city manager and council following election upheaval, Abbotsford saw no such turmoil.
The last three years at city hall have been largely dominated by the creation of a new Official Community Plan and subsequent development of new master plans across multiple departments, along with neighbourhood plans for the city centre, McKee Peak area, historic downtown and U-District.
Braun said Murray has become a friend and demonstrated his range of talents while leading city staff..
“George has a great business acumen coupled with a comprehensive knowledge and understanding of local government,” he said. “It is rare to find both skill sets in one person.”
Watch Friday’s Abbotsford News for more.