WATERVILLE — John Koons remembers Mike Roy as a Colby College hockey player back in the 1970s, a steady, dedicated presence on the ice.

“He was a very solid skater and stayed on his feet,” Koons recalled. “I would call him a centric skater, and it was hard to throw him off. He didn’t overextend.”

Koons, who was the mastermind behind the development of the popular and successful Quarry Road Recreation Area in Waterville, likens Roy’s 14 years of managing the city of Waterville to his performance on the ice.

“I think in his management of the city, it has been much the same way, starting with a few principles and trying to accommodate various parties,” he said.

Mike Roy, Waterville’s first city manager, poses Thursday at his City Hall office. Roy announced he will retire at the end of 2020. His accessibility and integrity as a city manager are hallmarks that those who have worked with him point out repeatedly. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Koons said one needs only to look at what has happened in Waterville over the last several years to assess Roy’s skill and competence in helping to transform what once was a thriving city that had gone downhill, with declining revenue, into what it is becoming today, with revitalization efforts and millions of dollars being invested to help turn it around. Koons said Roy, through difficult times, provided a sense of optimism in Waterville and the future.

Koons approached Roy several years ago to introduce the idea of turning the dormant Quarry Road property into a recreation area. At the time, Roy told him the city had no money to develop it, but was supportive of Koons’ efforts and positive about the idea of acquiring land to make it happen. It is now a world-class cross-country ski area and the only site in New England that has man-made snow for cross-country skiing and lighting.

“Mike was one of the kingpins that allowed it to happen,” Koons said. “The other people were (then-Colby President) Bro Adams and Bill Alfond, and I went out and did work and we raised the money. Mike was generally supportive of the project. Without him, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Roy, 67, has announced he plans to retire Dec. 31, 2020. The City Council on Tuesday voted to extend his contract another year. He will be 68 when he retires.

Roy says he wants to continue to help ensure downtown revitalization efforts continue and the city’s $7.37 million BUILD grant, targeted for downtown improvements, is implemented. The work includes changing the traffic pattern to two-way and improving sidewalks and intersections.

He also wants to continue efforts in four other areas and ensure they are in place when his successor comes aboard: development of the Head of Falls area off Front Street, further plans to redesign Castonguay Square and The Concourse, and improvements to the Alfond Municipal Pool on North Street. Taking care of city buildings, facilities and roads also will be his focus.

Beyond that, he wants to ensure the city’s assets are cared for and hopes his successor does the same. Roy played a major role in the renovation of City Hall, the renovation and expansion of Waterville Public Library and the Waterville Opera House, the addition of two buildings at the Public Works Department and construction of a new police station.

“When I leave, City Hall, Head of Falls, the Opera House, library, police station, public works, airport facilities will all be in good shape,” he said. “And all I did was help shepherd those improvements. The mayors, city councilors, elected officials throughout the years have been very committed to improving what the city already owns.”

The City Council on Tuesday voted 5-2 to extend Roy’s contract for a year, with Councilors Mike Morris, D-Ward 1, and Jay Coelho, D-Ward 5,  the only councilors of seven who voted against extending the contract, though they did not explain why at the time.

Contacted Friday, Coelho said that when he saw four or five councilors raise their hands to approve the extension, he voted against it because he thought Roy already had enough support and did not need his vote.

“I thought it would be awful if one or two of us didn’t say ‘no,'” Coelho said. “Mike does a decent job. If seven people had said ‘yes,’ residents would have felt like not everybody listens to them.”

Coelho said he informed Roy before the meeting that he was not going to vote for him. Four or five residents of his ward said they did not want Roy’s contract to be extended, according to Coelho.

Asked how he would assess Roy’s performance in the few months he has been a councilor, Coelho said, “I feel like he’s had some misses, but he’s human.”

He said people tend to “only come to you when there’s something they don’t like,” and not vice versa.

“If you’re going to blame Mike Roy for the bad that happens in the city, you must also realize and open your eyes to the fact that he’s done good,” Coelho said. “Nobody’s perfect. I like Mike. Mike’s great.”

Morris said he thought it would be a good time to get a new city manager in place and acclimated to all the projects happening in the city. He said none of the projects in progress will be completed when Roy leaves office.

He added that Roy has done a lot for the city, and his decision to vote against extending his contract was not against Roy on a “personal level or professional-related issues.”

“I love Mike. I love working with Mike. I have no issues with him,” Morris said.

Waterville Mayor Nick Isgro, who is in his fifth year as mayor, said he enjoys working with Roy.

“Mike and I have had a really wonderful working relationship over the years,” Isgro said, “and what I have always enjoyed is that while Mike and I disagree on a lot of things, political or otherwise, since day one, he and I have always allowed ourselves to be flexible working in an environment where we can express those disagreements.”

He said when he and Roy disagree, they are able to go behind closed doors, discuss the issue and find common ground so when they emerge, they can move forward in the interest of residents.

“I’ve had a very pleasant experience in working with Mike,” he said.

CITY’S FIRST MANAGER

Roy was hired as Waterville city administrator in 2004 when he was town manager of Oakland. Before working in Oakland, he was Vassalboro’s town manager from 1984 to 1994. Before that, he was deputy town manager of Fairfield for seven years.

Then-Oakland Town Manager Mike Roy on Sept. 25, 2000, at his office. Morning Sentinel file photo by David Leaming

When he came to Waterville, there was no such thing as a city manager position. The mayor served as personnel director in charge of all departments and budgets. Then-Mayor Paul LePage, who later became governor, recruited Roy with the promise that the charter commission was to establish a city manager form of government, giving the manager the duties the mayor had at the time. LePage was then general manager of Marden’s Surplus & Salvage stores and did not have the time to devote to managing the city. He thought the mayor’s position should be more a symbolic head of the city.

Voters approved the charter changes in 2005 and they went into effect in 2006, making Roy city manager.

Efforts to reach LePage on Friday on his cellphone were unsuccessful, as its message said his mailbox was full.

“The biggest thing that happened during my time here was the charter was changed to provide for a lot more continuity and stability so the councilor terms did not expire the same year,” Roy said. “They were staggered. What you had was an appointed manager who provided continuity and stability.”

When he arrived in Waterville, the city had no capital improvement plan and no road improvement plan. There wasn’t even an item in the city’s budget for paving, according to Roy.

“We came to all agree we need to have this as an every-year expense, road maintenance, and a focus on taking care of what the city owns,” he said.

One of the first projects Roy became involved with was the installation of water, sewer and electric utilities underground at Head of Falls that was near completion. Roy quickly worked to get the city’s snow dump at Head of Falls moved to a different location by trading a piece of land with the railroad so the dump could be moved farther north and not be so visible on the riverfront.

“It was 20 to 30 feet tall, all black and dirty, with paper and other stuff blowing around,” Roy recalled. “I just didn’t think that was right for a property that is such a valuable piece of the city.”

His efforts to help improve the riverfront continued as he envisioned the potential for the site. State Department of Transportation funds were used to repair the historic Two Cent Bridge. The city got another grant to help build a plaza at the entrance to the bridge that included an information kiosk, benches and landscaping.

The city’s comprehensive plan developed in 1999-2000 included the idea of building a boardwalk along the river, a vision Roy talked about with LePage and others; but lack of money was always a problem, and the city never had been able to build it, according to Roy.

But he persisted and, with Lisa Hallee, raised $1.5 million, starting with a gift from the Waterville Rotary Club that launched the RiverWalk at Head of Falls project. The RiverWalk, completed last year, includes not only a boardwalk along the river, but also a gazebo, an amphitheater, art installations and a children’s play area.

“I think we’ve made tremendous headway with a property that has been so important to this city’s history, and I had a personal connection: My father worked at the Wyandotte Mill,” Roy said. “When, as a teenager, I got my driver’s license, I’d drop him off and I had the car. He worked on the weaving machines, the looms.”

Now the city is seeking developers to continue with improvements on the waterfront. Roy says a multi-use project that would include housing, retail and office space could be part of plans.

“I’m just so happy with the way things worked out,” he said. “We have a development group interested in doing something at Head of Falls.”

DOWNTOWN REVITALIZATION

Colby College has invested millions of dollars in the downtown as part of revitalization efforts, and others are following suit. Roy has been involved since the beginning when, four years ago, Colby President David A. Greene led meetings to discuss what the downtown needed to thrive and succeed.

Colby has built a $25 million mixed-use residential building on Main Street housing some 200 students and staff and faculty members involved in civic engagement and community-related curriculum. The college also bought a historic building downtown and renovated it to house offices and other businesses. Colby plans to build a hotel downtown starting this year and has partnered with Waterville Creates! to transform The Center into a center for art and film.

Paul Ureneck, who oversees construction for Elm City LLC, a Colby affiliate, said Friday that Roy has been accessible and helpful throughout the process. Ureneck has been working on downtown revitalization for three years.

“In other cities I’ve worked with around the state, it’s not often that you can just walk down the hall and knock on the city manager’s door and if he’s there, (he) will say, ‘Come on in,’ and he’ll talk to you,” Ureneck said. “I’m serious about this. You can try to get a meeting with a city manager in a lot of towns around the state, and it may take two or three weeks. In other towns, city managers like to keep you at arms’ length and refer you to department heads. I have never found that to be the situation with Mike. He has an open-door policy, and he’s just very accessible.”

Roy has realized all along the importance of the downtown revitalization work, according to Ureneck, who said if he has needed something from a department head, whether it be Recreation Director Matt Skehan, Public Works Director Mark Turner or City Engineer Nick Champagne, Roy “has been right on it.”

“These past three years have been somewhat tumultuous in terms of political discord, etc., and I think that through this time, Mike has managed to maintain his integrity and has kept the ship on a steady course through some stormy waters,” Ureneck said. “I think the city is better for it.”

Inland Hospital President John Dalton took part in the meetings Greene held prior to launching downtown revitalization efforts and has served many years on the Central Maine Growth Council with Roy.

Roy was helpful and supportive of efforts to create a foreign trade zone around the airport and beyond, which was established and is a tremendous asset, not only to the area, but for the entire state, according to Dalton.

“That took a bit of, really, foresight on Mike’s part as a city manager, to take the risk,” Dalton said.

Dalton, a former member of the Waterville Opera House board of directors, said Roy also was helpful throughout the renovation of that historic facility, located right above Roy’s office.

“That was not an easy project, costing more than anticipated, and the Opera House is a jewel of central Maine,” Dalton said.

As to relations between the city and Inland, Dalton said the hospital and Roy interact all the time. He always finds Roy to be excellent to work with and “his door has always been open.”

Roy, he said, has been instrumental in furthering many major projects in the city, including Quarry Road, RiverWalk and downtown revitalization —  a project that has not occurred without resistance from some people.

“This is an amazing, amazing time for Waterville,” Dalton said. “That has not been easy to steer his way through. As much as people want change, they don’t want change, and the change is big.”

Thomas College President Laurie Lachance got to know Roy when she was head of the Leadership Maine Program in the Maine Development Foundation.

Roy, Oakland town manager at the time, received the foundation’s most prestigious award, the Governor Kenneth Curtis Leadership Award, for making significant contributions to the community, region and state, as well as exhibiting exemplary leadership skills and a love and passion for Maine, according to Lachance.

Roy later served on the Development Foundation Board when Lachance was president and Waterville was one of its premiere communities in the state for Maine Downtown Centers, Lachance said.

“It was an enormous help to have a city manager on the board that had Maine Street Maine recognition,” she said. “I worked closely with Mike on that, and when I was president of Maine Development Foundation, Waterville hosted the Maine Downtown Centers’ annual festivities in downtown Waterville.”

Lachance became Thomas College president seven years ago. Since then, she has worked with Roy on a number of projects, including moving the city’s polling place to the college. Lachance also was part of conversations involving revitalization.

“When we developed the Harold Alfond Institute for Business Innovation, we talked with lots of leaders, and Mike was part of that,” she said. “I’ve worked with him on a wide array of issues re: How do we grow this area? He’s always just been a great partner — tried and true. He knows the business. He knows the challenges. He’s grounded in the reality of choices that have to be made. He’s just very level-headed. You know what you’re getting.”

Lachance, the former state economist, said that when dealing with Roy, you know you’ll be treated “kindly and fairly and consistently.”

“He’s a wonderful human being,” she said. “He’s just a really good person, and for the money, that’s the kind of leader I want to follow — someone who’s a good person, and he’s all of that.”

‘MOST SUPPORTIVE BOSS’

Waterville Recreation Director Matt Skehan, who started working for the city about two years after Roy became city manager, said Roy was instrumental in ensuring all sorts of projects were realized, including Quarry Road, Purnell Wrigley Field and the RiverWalk.

“I hope people understand we wouldn’t have that without Mike,” Skehan said.

The relationships Roy has formed with philanthropic groups over time and the trust he has developed are invaluable, according to Skehan. “Those are just going to be hard to replace. It’s helped Waterville a lot.”

Roy is active, family-oriented, and community-oriented, according to Skehan.

“Mike is the most supportive boss I’ve ever had, and not to say he’s a pushover, by any means,” he said. “He hasn’t always said ‘yes,’ but he’s been thoughtful and open to my own thoughts and ideas.”

Kimberly Lindlof, president and chief executive officer of the Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Growth Council, has known Roy since they were children and their mothers worked together at what then was Seton Hospital.

Lindlof recalled an incident that sticks in her mind as representative of Roy’s penchant for getting things done.

She was a Lawrence High School student and member of an active Key Club. Roy, who had just started working for the town of Fairfield, came to a club meeting one day and recruited members to help with a cleanup of Mill Island Park in that town.

“I have a scar on my thumb I got scrubbing rocks in the parking area,” Lindlof recalled. “From then, he went to Vassalboro and did a hell of a job getting that school built. He was town manager when the school was built. When he was town manager of Oakland, he was instrumental in the launching of FirstPark, the Kennebec Regional Development Authority (of which Roy is president).”

Lindlof said Roy faces many challenges in Waterville, which is a service center where the population doubles during the day and people use city services, and is thoughtful and thorough with every project he works on.

“His focus is on protecting the tax base, protecting the citizens and making sure everyone is safe. He looks at something very thoughtfully and critically to make sure it is in the best interest of Waterville.”

Revitalization efforts have added a lot to Roy’s plate, but “is there a more perfect time to be city manager or chamber president?” Lindlof asked. “Probably not. I think he shares in that enthusiasm. He obviously has institutional knowledge.”

She pointed to Roy’s work supporting efforts to build the Interstate 95 interchange at Trafton Road. Roy urged Trafton Properties to hire former state Department of Transportation Commissioner John Melrose as a consultant to help with the project, and Melrose helped to bring the project to fruition.

“Such an important part of being effective is the relationships you build over time and the trust that you establish with others so that they are comfortable working with you, making decisions,” Roy said.

Roy has been a member of the Waterville Rotary Club for 32 years. Lindlof has been a member 18. She said that when Roy approaches a project, he tries to live by the “four-way test” Rotary espouses: “Is it the truth? Is it fair to all concerned? Will it build good will and better friendships? Will it be beneficial to all concerned?”

“I think he tries to look through that lens, personally and professionally, when he’s making decisions or when a project is in front of him or he’s trying to determine what’s in the best interest of the city of Waterville,” Lindlof said.

HATHAWAY CREATIVE CENTER

When Roy was hired, the former Hathaway Shirt Co. building was city-owned; and while it was in good shape, it was a liability because state and federal agencies had given hundreds of thousands of dollars to help the shirt factory continue operations. The operation did continue, but not long enough, according to Roy.

The city had to negotiate a deal with the federal and state governments in order to be able to sell the building to developer Paul Boghossian, who eventually turned it into high-end apartments, offices and retail space.

State and federal officials could see that the project was important for the city and worked with Roy, Colby officials and others, and the city ultimately sold the building to Boghossian for $350,000.

“It took a long time to go through the bureaucratic maze to make things happen,” Roy recalled. “That really was the spark that started downtown revitalization. I think seeing what Boghossian did was an incentive or encouragement to say, ‘Maybe Waterville’s coming back.’ Now, the building has been sold to an investment group that I think is very well-capitalized and has other projects in the state.”

Aside from being a member of the Rotary Club, Roy has been a 25-plus year member of the High Hopes Clubhouse, which helps those with mental illness become employed. He has been a member of the Delta Ambulance board of directors more than 20 years; is Chairman of the Board of Kennebec Federal Savings Bank; and is a past member of the Central Maine Youth Hockey Board.

He was named Maine Town and City Manager of the Year in 2002.

 

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

 


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