The day he retires, he turns 59.
City chief administrative officer Randy Diehl still has a lot to offer his community, but after years of working long days at city hall, he’s ready to stop, take a breath and just walk the dog for a while.
“There are so many things I want to explore,” he said in a recent interview. “I honestly don’t know — I need to decompress for a while. . . . I’ve dedicated my time to my family, my job and me — I’ve come third.”
His office immediately indicates where his priorities are. It’s neatly kept; organized, no clutter, art on the wall, a couple of statues and ornaments in strategic placements.
Most flat surfaces hold framed photographs of his family: wife Ann and daughters Sarah and Katie, who are out of university and travelling and working around the world. Diehl has sometimes joined his daughters when they’ve been in countries like Costa Rica or Nicaragua.
Regardless of where his daughters draw him around the globe, he plans to keep his home in Kamloops — a city he has helped to shape in his 23 years at city hall — 12 as CAO.
Diehl is a man who is slow to ire, has strong personal rules about how people are to be treated and is highly protective of his staff.
Like a firm but supportive father, he will stand up for his employees in public and reprimand those who are deserving behind closed doors.
He has worked under three mayors: Mel Rothenburger, Terry Lake and Peter Milobar.
Each has had a different way of working, but Diehl has navigated them all. For someone who is in a job that can disappear at the whim of a newly elected City council, he has not just survived, but has stayed on to leave his own distinct mark on city hall.
He wasn’t a shoo-in for the chief administrator’s job when he was promoted from director of development services back in 2001.
And he certainly had a rocky road in moving to the helm over former co-workers in a corporate culture that was — as Diehl puts it — toxic.
“At the start, there were a lot of changes that needed to be made throughout the system,” he said.
The changes he made were physical and cultural.
Physically, he took on the ramshackle front office space that had ripped up counters, leaning office dividers and blank walls that greeted visitors to the main city hall building.
He created a professional space that included large photographs on the walls showing off various aspects of Kamloops and its people.
“We needed to feel proud about the work we did. We needed to feel proud about the city we lived in,” he said.
Culturally, he had to change attitudes.
“I’d call a meeting, half the people wouldn’t show up,” he said. “I had meetings where I was talking, and people got up and left.”
Even small things — like getting staff to clean up after themselves at the end of a meeting in the board room instead of them leaving cups and crumbs behind for someone else to deal with — began to make a difference.
“You lead by example,” he said.
And then there were the unions, which had in past faced negotiations with adversary and posturing, as is traditional in many management-union dealings.
Problem was, Diehl didn’t like to work that way.
His approach was “trust me, the buck stops here,” he said.
He doesn’t play games in contract negotiations — he goes in offering what he honestly feels is reasonable and affordable.
“I show my cards. I don’t hold anything back. They trust I’m giving the straight goods.”
While his approach was unconventional and required the unions to trust him, it eventually worked.
“One of the most defining moments for me was finalizing agreements with CUPE and the IFF (International FireFighters) for five years,” he said. “We were the first jurisdiction to do a five-year contract.”
Another high point was achieving gold from the National Quality Institute, which was a big deal for pushing City workers to map out goals and strive to reach them.
“We could declare we were good,” he said of the NQI rating that few cities in Canada have received.
And, of course, there was the Tournament Capital of Canada initiative, and the millions of dollars spent on sports facilities to go with the title.
“We’ve done so much in the last 15 years here to change the city from resource-sector-based only to amenities like the Rivers Trail and Tournament Capital Centre,” he said.
“The biggest challenge will be to manage them well.”
The one item left on the list on things he’d like to see come to fruition soon is a performing arts centre.
“It’s a good time to start planning for it,” he said.
It’s an initiative that has to come from the community and there must be buy-in on the investment of millions of dollars, he said.
“What will a performing arts centre bring to the community that we don’t currently have?”
The answer could be something similar to Stratford, Ont., which has seen its annual drama festival become a noted mainstay for the community.
“I think a performing arts centre will bring in spinoff effects,” he said, whether it’s something as tangible as a festival or something less easy to grasp, like improved quality of life.”
People live in Kamloops for the quality of life, not just for jobs, he said.
“You’ve got to attract people and keep them,” he said.
He recently started an in-house campaign for City staff called Making Kamloops Shine.
“I like working with staff a lot,” he said. Even hitting the road to talk to employees out working on pavement or pipes makes him happy.
“When they’re fired up about what they do, and they show you what they do — I love that a lot.”
For now, he wants to focus on his own quality of life.
“In my career, I’ve not had time for a lot of hobbies,” he said.
He skis and plays rep hockey (although a recent hit almost wrecked him) and takes a recently acquired shepherd-border collie cross named Olive for long walks.
He wasn’t planning on getting a dog, in fact, he wanted to be free to travel in his retirement. But daughter Sarah came home with her, and now, Olive is one of the family.
Diehl admits he’s looking forward to taking the dog for more frequent walks after his May 1 retirement.
After he’s had a chance to regroup, he just might pop back up in some way, but he’s not considering that now. He’s thinking about passing on a legacy and about a major shift in his life. He has no regrets.
“I really truly love the job. It’s a great place to work. And I don’t have to say that any more,” he said.