COLEMAN: Chris Murray’s Unexpected Voluntary Departure as Toronto’s City Manager

City Manager Chris Murray addressed the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce during his annual breakfast address on October 25, 2016

Joey Coleman, ThePublicRecord.ca

City Manager Chris Murray addressed the Hamilton Chamber of Commerce during his annual breakfast address on October 25, 2016

Former City of Hamilton City Manager, and past Director of the Red Hill Valley Parkway project, Chris Murray surprised pretty much everyone today when he announced he’s leaving his post as Toronto’s City Manager on August 19, 2022 – after four years as the CAO of Canada’s largest municipality.

His unexpected announcement raises the question why?

Even more so because Murray’s internal statement closes “As I am not built for retirement, my next adventure is yet to be decided.

He is not retiring for health reasons, he is not leaving for another job, he’s only been City Manager for four years, and he is only giving 79 days’ notice. It can be expected for an ongoing CAO to give more notice of their retirement to facilitate the hiring of their successor before their departure.

The Toronto Star reports: “Murray explained the timing of his decision by saying he viewed the job of the city’s chief bureaucrat as a “term-by-term commitment.” Council is set to begin a new four-year term in December after municipal elections on Oct. 24.”

I do not know why Murray is retiring and I have no speculative reasons to explain it.

I find his statement that a CAO is a “term-by-term commitment” to be interesting. What does he mean by this?

Red Hill Related?

A few people have asked if I believe this is related to the Red Hill Valley Parkway Inquiry and potential revelations at the Inquiry.

I am not aware of any evidence that ties Murray directly to the cover-up.

None of the records produced by the City of Hamilton, made public by the Inquiry, connect Murray to the friction report scandal.

Murray testified in front of the Inquiry on May 6. During his testimony, he stated he was unaware of any concerns about the Parkway, unaware of concerns about Gary Moore, and that as City Manager, problems with the Red Hill Parkway were what a City Manager would deal with.

During his testimony, Murray was directly asked how his hand-written comment on a 2017 performance review of Gary Moore.

Then-new General Manager of Public Works Dan McKinnon wrote of Moore “Gary and I continue to have fundamental differences around leadership style, but having said that, I feel Gary and I agree on the fundamentals of many issues and I always appreciate our spirited conversations.”

As City Manager, Chris Murray reviewed McKinnon’s evaluation, writing to McKinnon, “I fully appreciate the use of the term ‘spirited.’ “When done the right way, it’s great. Otherwise, problematic.”

Asked by Inquiry Lead Counsel Robert Centa what he meant, Murray’s answer included, “Gary is very direct and, you know, not everyone is direct in their comments and their style, so he’s a challenger.” … “I know for some people, people who tend to ask a lot of questions and do so in a very straightforward, direct way, you know, it can create, you know, some problems, you know. So, just in terms of relationships, that’s what I mean by that.” [VIDEO LINK]

Asked, “In your experience with Mr. Moore, was he spirited the right way or in the problematic way?” Murray responded, “Well, the right way with me.”

This was the most direct portion of the testimony that day.

Justice Wilton-Siegel’s final report may include a discussion of the serious workplace culture problems which some documents appear to reveal. Ultimately, a City Manager is responsible for corporate culture, but.

What Could Be the Reason

I am not going to speculate, but I expect time will reveal whatever the reason may be.

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First published: June 9, 2022
Last edited: June 9, 2022
Author: Joey Coleman
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5 thoughts on “COLEMAN: Chris Murray’s Unexpected Voluntary Departure as Toronto’s City Manager

  1. The timing seems to be the election, as is what he means by “term by term”.

    He was hired during the election period prior to the 2018 municipal election and his resignation date is the final day for candidates to register for the 2022 election.

    I don’t have any inside info, but don’t know why this timing seems so strange.

    • City Manager terms are not tied to elections. Contracts tend to be five years.
      It does happen that newly elected councils sometimes, but relatively rare, will buy out the remainder of a city manager’s contract to hire a new city manager.

      • I know the term of their contract is not tied to elections, but council terms are (which is what I think Murray was referencing).

        Of note: Murray’s predecessor, Peter Wallace, stepped down in 2018 in the months leading up to the municipal election. His predecessor, Joe Pennachetti, stepped down in 2014 in the months leading up to the municipal election (but agreed to stay on a little longer).

        Pennachetti’s predecessor, Shirley Hoy, also notably stepped down without a next job in place (she took a year off before joining to lead Toronto Lands Corporation).

  2. Chris was hired and stepped right into the maelstrom that was Mayor of Ontario Doug Ford’s axe (to grind) of Toronto’s council numbers mid municipal election. Since then it’s been pandemic almost full bore. As a seasoned public leader who actually walks what they talk, I can imagine that the past few years have been more like keeping the city from drowning instead of teaching it to swim. Chris is amazing. I’ve worked for him, but more importantly I’ve worked WITH him (the key to his style – a subordinate is a valued contributor and it doesn’t matter who has the great ideas). So I say rather than turning over rocks to find reason’s why he’s choosing to leave, maybe think about the reasons he’s decided not to stay (queue the littlest hobo theme)

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