New manager returns to his roots

14 years ago

New manager returns to his roots

By Scott Mitchell Johnson
Staff Writer
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Contributed photo

TOWN PAYS TRIBUTE — Mrs. Vera Steinbeck, 97, of Ashland, was recently presented with the Boston Post Cane by Ashland Town Manager, Jim Gardner. The special occasion will be one of Gardner’s final official acts as town manager in Ashland as his last day is Dec. 8. He begins his new duties as Easton’s top municipal leader later in the month.

EASTON – Jim Gardner’s ties to Easton just got a lot stronger. The current town manager of Ashland has been hired as the new Easton town manager.
“I lived in Easton when I was a kid before moving to Presque Isle,” said Gardner, 55. “My Mom was born and raised there, and my grandfather, Ken Hayden, was an organic farmer in town who was very well respected. I have big ties to Easton.”
Gardner’s last official date in Ashland is Dec. 8.
“There’s a direction that the Town Council wants to go in which differs from my management philosophy,” he said. “I could just see things coming down the road that probably wouldn’t play favorable under my management. Most of my council was an awesome council, and I’m leaving here with very good handshakes.”
Prior to leading Ashland, Gardner was the town manager in Washburn for 11 years. He is also a state certified code enforcement officer and a certified grant writer.
“Jim’s vast experience in management in Aroostook County will serve the citizens and businesses of Easton well and we look forward to working with him to move Easton forward,” said Michael Corey, chair of the Easton Board of Selectmen.
A lot has been accomplished in Gardner’s five-and-a-half years in Ashland.
“Lowering the mill rate was a big thing … huge,” he said. “We were able to bring the mill rate from 25.75 down to 17.25, and we did that by working with the industries in town. We’re actually at 18.25 now because we had to add a mill for the new school.
“Another highlight was being able to put Matthew [Bell] back on board with the pellet plant,” said Gardner.
After a March 31, 2009 fire gutted Northeast Pellets, Gardner said the town pledged to seek state and federal aid to help rebuild the pellet manufacturing facility. In April, the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development program gave $99,999 to the town of Ashland, which used the money to assist in acquiring equipment to help reopen the business.
Installing a financial system that was “user-friendly to the whole community” was also important to Gardner.
“It was a system that I devised while working as the town manager in Washburn because I wanted to be transparent,” he said. “It’s a good financial way to show everybody the cost of each department. If you want to be transparent, bring out the Crayola and make it easier for everybody to understand.”
However, his greatest accomplishment was “being able to instill the trust of the people.”
“It’s no secret; Ashland fired the last two managers before me and they fought a lot,” he said, “but the one thing I can honestly say is that in five-and-a-half years, the only thing we ever put out of here was positive media. We’ve never gone on the negative side. That being said, it’s time to move on.”
Though Gardner and his wife, Averill, will continue to own a home in Ashland, they will be moving to Easton.
“I think it’s very important that if you’re going to manage a community, you live in the community so you can feel the same taxes and everything that everybody else does,” he said. “We have a camp in Ashland that we’re going to continue to own. We’ll retire in Ashland.”
Gardner said he has no plans to come in and shake things up.
“I want to go out and meet everybody and all the businesses and get involved with the senior citizens,” he said. “My first goal is to make contact as a manager.
“I’m not going to go in and make a lot of changes because Easton doesn’t need a lot of changes. They’re a farming community with a strong industrial base, which we’ll obviously stick with. However, I can look at other things in the grant world. We can look at how we can improve our Odd Fellows building, look at our Parks and Rec department, and things like that.”
Gardner, who coached middle school baseball for four years and varsity basketball for one year, said he will miss the young people of Ashland the most.
“I’ve coached some of those kids since they were in the sixth grade,” he said. “They’re a great group of kids. If any coaching opportunities present themselves in Easton, I’d definitely consider it. I’m a sports fanatic and it’s always a lot of fun.”
Gardner said his first day in Easton could be as early as Dec. 20 or as late as the first of January.
“I plan to stay in Ashland to help the new manager into the position,” he said, noting that Easton will be his last town management position. “After that I’m going to retire. I started life in Easton and will wrap up my career in Easton. It will definitely come full circle.
“I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do in Easton,” said Gardner, who replaces John Hangen who retired in October.