Madawaska residents want a new town manager who can revitalize the community

1 month ago

MADAWASKA, Maine – About 60 Madawaska residents gathered in the town’s high school cafeteria Tuesday to weigh in on what they would like to see in a new town manager. Many said they want someone capable of revitalizing the community. 

The meeting, hosted by the town selectboard and Don Gerrish, a consultant from the Maine-based Eaton Peabody law firm, was held to get public input before hiring someone for the position. 

Madawaska’s former town manager, Gary Picard, resigned in early February, citing plans to enter another work-phase of his life. The town in early March appointed Dan Foster to serve as Interim Town Manager. Foster, who is now retired, has decades of experience working as Fort Fairfield’s town manager.

Gerrish said the feedback will be used to create an advertising campaign that accurately reflects what the residents want, and they hope to have the ad placed no later than March 26. The ad will be on the town website and distributed by the Maine Municipal Association, but it will also run nationally via the International City/County Management Association.

“Anybody that’s looking for a job in the United States will be looking at that site to see whether there’s any openings for managers,” Gerrish said.

MADAWASKA, Maine — March 19, 2024 — Don Gerrish, a consultant with Maine-based Eaton Peabody law firm, spoke with Madawaska residents on March 19 to see what traits they are seeking in a new town manager. Gerrish will help the town until they are able to hire a new manager. (Chris Bouchard | St. John Valley Times)

And while residents who spoke during the meeting wanted to see different traits in a new town manager, nearly everyone hoped that the new manager could bring about change and revitalize the town.

A few residents said they would like a town manager who could help lower the mill rate and bring more businesses into the community. Others hoped to see someone who could do something about the outmigration of younger residents. 

One man said his son had to move downstate because the area did not have adequate resources for him to care for his autistic child, the man’s grandson. He said the town’s economy was far more vibrant when he first moved there in 1962.

“Madawaska was the center of the valley,” he said. “We’re not that way anymore.”

About half a dozen attendees had just recently moved to town. One new resident cited Grand Plan Madawaska, a 10-year plan unveiled in 2017 to revitalize the community. He said that he hopes the new manager is able to drive the community forward.

Newly-hired Madawaska Parks and Recreation Director Brenda Downs, who moved to Madawaska a few months ago, said she is looking for a new town manager with great communication skills and project management experience. She said social services are also important, and that she would like to see a new town manager who can help bolster those services and make the community a better place.

Another new resident suggested making aesthetic improvements to Main Street, as this could attract more residents and businesses.

“If you want your taxes down, that’s not going to happen if Main Street doesn’t look cool,” he said. “So get Main Street looking cool, simple as that.” 

He also suggested setting aside money for residents who can’t afford Canadian passports, further opening up the Madawaska and Canadian city of Edmundston across the border.

One resident said the town has not had a community development official for about four years, and that they should consider hiring one, adding that hiring a grant writer could also help improve the community.

Some residents said they would like to see honesty, accountability and transparency in a new town manager.

The meeting lasted roughly an hour. Gerrish said the town manager search should ideally result in a new hire at the end of May, but if it is unsuccessful he will continue to help the town until a new manager is found. 

“Sometimes we don’t find somebody the first time around,” he said. “That happens today.”