2015-06-12 / Community

For new manager, it’s like coming home

By Duke Harrington Staff Writer

New Arundel Town Manager Keith Trefethen of Wells is shown in his office at town hall Monday, at the start of his second week on the job. (Duke Harrington photo) New Arundel Town Manager Keith Trefethen of Wells is shown in his office at town hall Monday, at the start of his second week on the job. (Duke Harrington photo) ARUNDEL — For the past two years, Keith Trefethen has logged a 50-minute drive each way from his home in Wells to his job as town administrator of Farmington, New Hampshire.

But as of June 1, Trefethen has a much shorter commute. That’s when he started work as town manager of Arundel. Perhaps, more importantly, it’s a job Trefethen, 60, hopes to retire from.

“I would certainly prefer that,” he said. “That would be my preference.”

Of course, cutting back on the drive-time did factor into Trefethen’s decision to apply for the job, replacing Todd Shea, who left in February to become general manager of the Kennebunk Light and Power District.

“That was one of the most significant draws, getting me close to home again,” Trefethen said Friday. “The Kennebunks, including Wells and Arundel, it’s where I’ve lived almost my whole adult life.”

A native of Kittery, Trefethen graduated from the University of Maine at Presque Isle with a major in recreation administration and a minor in business. The road to Arundel began in the athletic arena, starting with his first job in Fort Fairfield. Locals may recall his subsequent tenure, from 1980 to 1983, as parks and recreation director in Kennebunk.

“I’m sure some people will remember,” he said. “I’ve lived in the area for a long time. I built a house just across the Kennebunk line in Wells and I’ve lived there for close to 30 years now.”

After leaving Kennebunk, Trefethen held a similar post in Ogunquit for more than a decade.

It was then that he began to segue from running a recreation department to managing an entire town, landing his first job as a town administrator in Nottingham, New Hampshire.

The administrator form of government is about halfway between the town manger form Arundel has and the way many smaller towns in Maine and New Hampshire operate, where selectmen rule the roost.

“In that form of government, the administrator’s authority is only provided to them by selectmen and whatever they give for marching orders,” Trefethen said. “It doesn’t give you much statutory authority.”

After five years, Trefethen moved up to a full town manager’s position, taking the top post in the Kennebec County town of Clinton. He worked there for five years, then logged eight more as town manager of Berwick.

For the past two years, Trefethen has been back in an administrator’s role, in Farmington, which meant the long daily drive to New Hampshire.

Trefethen was offered the Arundel job on April 27, but needed to work out a four-week notice in New Hampshire. His first day on the job in Arundel was June 1.

Dan Dubois, chairman of the Arundel Board of Selectmen, said Tuesday that Trefethen was offered a one-year contract to start, at an annual salary “comparable” to the $77,000 paid to Shea.

According to Dubois, Trefethen’s desire to stick around a while, to maybe even end his career in Arundel, helped move him to the top of the list of qualified candidates.

“We want stability,” he said. “We don’t think he’s somebody who’s going to be here just padding his resume.”

In addition to being able to stay closer to his own stomping grounds, Trefethen also cites “stability,” saying it was another reason he wanted to work in Arundel.

“When I began to interview and speak with people, it became apparent to me that there was longevity with a lot of the staff,” he said. “That certainly makes transitioning in for an administrator a little bit easier, if you have folks who have shown pride and interest in staying here in Arundel. That was really a good motivator and attractor for me.”

According to Selectman Thomas Danylik, who led the search process, Arundel received 33 resumes from people seeking to replace Shea. “Several were from Maine, some from other New England states, and others from across the country,” he wrote last month in response to a Post inquiry on the status of the search process.

Danylik said that with the help of Easton Peabody Consulting Group, a search committee “carefully reviewed the applications of 11 of the most qualified individuals and elected to interview five,” although one dropped out of the running before face-toface talks began.

“We had four very strong candidates, and there were two that were very, very, very strong,” Dubois said. “We just felt that of the two, this was the guy who was the right one.

“He had the experience we felt was needed to move the town into its next phase,” Dubois said. “He has been in this role, as either a town manager or an administrator for over 20 years.”

As to the next phase, Dubois said he expects Trefethen will help to shore up the bottom line, to ease some of the burden on residents.

“We need to try and corral our business base, to help without taxes,” he said. “The planning board is working with the zones to try and make the town a little more friendlier for businesses and we just felt he had the background in a leadership role to help out with that. We felt he pretty much fit the bill.”

For his part, Trefethen says he enters town hall with no agenda in mind, and no expectation of enacting wholesale changes.

“It’s still early for me,” he said, noting that he was in his first week, with a second week slated to include his first selectmen’s meeting, first local election, and first Arundel town meeting.

“I’m sure at some point the board and I will have a discussion on what their thoughts are and what goals they have in mind in terms of long-term planning,” he said. “I expect my ability to really be effective at this particular town meeting will be limited. I’ll mainly be a bystander and interested party watching what is going on, as opposed to being an active participant in the process.”

That’s due in part to the fact that this year’s $3.1 million municipal budget is the work of many hands, built by Shea and shepherded to the warrant by interim Town Manager Jack Turcotte.

An Arundel resident, Turcotte has been serving as interim town manager since Shea’s departure. He also works as the start-up administrator of the Andover School Department, which is in the process of separating from Bethel-based RSU 44. As such, he did not apply for a permanent role on Arundel. However, he was expected to be on hand at Wednesday’s annual town meeting to answer any questions, Trefethen said.

It’s the day after town meeting when his new job will begin in earnest, Trefethen said.

“I would just encourage the folks, if they have an opportunity, to come in and say hello,” he said. “My door is always open. I don’t mind sitting down and discussing issues. In fact, I’m looking forward to it.”

A self-described “family guy” who enjoys outdoor activities like hunting, fishing and golf, as well as snowmobiling and riding his motorcycle, Trefethen has been married for 31 years. His wife Julia Hannigan-Trefethen currently works as director of human resources for Comfort Keepers, a provider of services to the elderly. They have four grown children, the youngest a student at the University of New England.

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