SOUTH BERWICK, Maine – After more than a decade in his current job, managing director Perry Ellsworth said now is the time for him to retire and return home to his wife, who lives three hours away in Strong , to enjoy the pleasure of life while he still can.
Ellsworth, 71, bid farewell to colleagues at South Berwick on Wednesday, where he drove three hours twice a week to work as a general manager and live part-time.
“I love this city, but I never thought I would stay that long, and that’s only because it’s my second home,” said Ellsworth. “These people are my family, they are my family away from my family.”
Many in town recognize Ellsworth’s white hair, his thick, genteel mustache, and his dedicated service to the community. They left compliments under a bulletin board Ellsworth posted in an online community forum to announce his retirement. More than a dozen stopped to visit him on Tuesday, a day before he said goodbye.
Ellsworth outlived all the city managers before him in South Berwick. Earlier in his career he was the longest-serving city manager, a total of seven years, in Rangeley, he said.
The decision to retire has been a long time coming, Ellsworth said, and he’s ready to take on other aspects of his life, including restoring an old farmhouse, being closer to his little ones. children and fall asleep in the same bed as his wife more than two evenings a week.
Besides personal reasons, Ellsworth cited a “change in the air” in local politics. The management of the city should reflect these changes, he said.
“There are young people who get involved. They want to do things differently. And maybe I’m not as liberal as some, “he said.” I think it’s time for some new ideas, then a new thought process. “
Disagreements as opportunities
Being a city manager is hard work and not for the faint of heart, which may be part of the reason nearly 26 city manager positions remain open in Maine and the time needed to hire a new manager has nearly doubled, Ellsworth said.
The political commitment of the community of South Berwick has fluctuated during his tenure as CEO. It was very political when it happened, then involvement slowed down, and now involvement has increased again since the start of the COVID-19 virtual meetings, coupled with lingering questions from the community about the expansion of the medical marijuana and an attempt to bring recreational use to the city, he says.
“Some people understand the process. Some don’t understand the process, ”he said. “It’s a seven days a week job to be a CEO and to be engaged. ”
Despite the occasional frustrations and long nights, Ellsworth said he still believes in having participation and transparency throughout the government process. Even when day-to-day business has come to a standstill taking the time to hear concerns or stories from community members, it’s important to remember that this is an essential part of being a good city administrator, Ellsworth said. .
“It gave me a strong sense of worth. I love people, so it’s not difficult for me to talk to them, and it’s not difficult for me to be involved… in times when we have disagreements, these are just opportunities ”, did he declare.
Prior to his arrival, the window in the CEO’s office was frosted and visitors had to check with an assistant if they wanted to speak to the director. When Ellsworth arrived, the window turned transparent and the door stayed wide open, he said.
Ellsworth also attributed a successful career to the wonderful team of people working at Town Hall. A manager is only as good as the team that works with them, he said.
“Something to be proud of”
When he arrived in South Berwick, the town had been trying to build a library for 20 years, Ellsworth said. This was accomplished during his time, he said, when the city bought St. Michael’s Church and converted it into a library for the community.
Another major achievement includes providing affordable housing to seniors in the community near the downtown core, as well as a $ 4 million police station for $ 300,000 under budget, Ellsworth said.
“I have a lot to be proud of,” he said.
Besides the town projects, Ellsworth enjoyed volunteering to serve food to seniors in the community at the senior center every Wednesday. He will continue to dress up as Santa Claus next winter, as he has done for the past five years, for a Christmas breakfast with 200 children at the senior center.
“I’m going to be sad… I’m an emotional guy and I’ll have a hard time saying goodbye,” Ellsworth said.
It’s quite likely, he said, that he will “choke” on the three-hour journey back to Strong.
Jennifer Janelle, who has worked alongside Ellsworth for the past year as Deputy Managing Director and CFO, will take over from Ellsworth as Acting Managing Director until the position is adequately filled. permed.
Janelle’s background is in finance, which is a good skill set for a city manager, Ellsworth said. He also urges residents to be patient and friendly as the interim manager adjusts to the job.
Ellsworth has been involved in city management across the state, and he chaired the Maine Municipal Association as president as well as the Southern Maine Planning & Development Commission. Being a successful city manager means thinking about the “big picture” as well as your local community, Ellsworth said.
“A manager who wants to be a good manager has to be involved in more than what’s going on in their own little kingdom … it’s an opportunity to share what’s going on in your community, and how can you help another community, ”he said.
Ellsworth also acted as the York County Executive Director’s Ambassador through MMA and plans to continue as an Ambassador, meaning he would work to recruit and mentor future City Managers, who are increasingly becoming more diverse in terms of gender, age and race, he said.
He is also open to taking interim municipal management positions closer to his home in western Maine if the opportunity arises.
Economic development and cannabis
South Berwick’s future is tough, but bright, Ellsworth said.
The city is set for huge economic development opportunities in the near future, and he hopes the next city manager has a good plan for whatever it looks like. The industrial development area across from Marshwood High School is ripe for opportunity, Ellsworth added.
On marijuana – a topic that has occupied almost every city council meeting over the past three years – Ellsworth said he believes a resolution will come soon.
A moratorium on medical marijuana showcases, which has been extended twice and suspended new licensing, will expire in August and cannot be extended, Ellsworth said. The city will work with the planning council over the next month to propose changes to the ordinance, which will likely include zoning restrictions.
After:South Berwick overwhelmingly rejects 2 petitions on recreational marijuana
After voters overwhelmingly rejected two petitions that would have allowed recreational marijuana grow facilities and storefronts in all urban areas, Ellsworth said he believed the issue of recreational marijuana was ” dead “in South Berwick.
It will take time for a new manager to adjust, Ellsworth said. In the meantime, he hopes the new interim manager and the future manager will contact if they have any questions.