Winslow Town Manager Michael Heavener, pictured at the town office, is retiring from the job he unexpectedly came to love after serving since 2006. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

When Michael Heavener was approached by the former town manager of Winslow about taking over the position, he laughed at the idea. But nearly 14 years later, Heavener is retiring on June 30 and saying a bittersweet goodbye to the job he unexpectedly grew to love.

Michael Heavener is seen in an undated photo when he was the Winslow police chief, posing with a 9mm Smith & Wesson gun that he wanted to be upgraded for the department. Morning Sentinel file

Heavener’s tenure as the town manager began in October 2006 after he spent six years as the Winslow police chief and more than 21 years in law enforcement overall.

“The former manager was getting ready to leave, and he happened to ask me if that was anything I’d ever considered and quite frankly, I laughed at him,” Heavener said during a phone call Wednesday. “I told him, ‘That’s the most negative job I know. Everybody is angry at you all the time. Why would I want to do that?’ But then I went home, and I just started thinking about it. And it had been 21 years, so I thought maybe it was time for me to have a change.”

Looking back, Heavener said he made the right choice.

“It was definitely a good decision,” Heavener said. “I love the people here, I like the job, you’re kind of on the front lines of things, you have a sense of what’s going on (and) you have a part in coming up with a solution. It’s very challenging, very demanding, but I’ve enjoyed it.” 

Heavener, 63, was born in Atlanta, Georgia, and raised in Wrentham, Massachusetts. After spending three years stationed in Germany when he was in the United States Army, Heavener, his wife, Donna, and their two daughters, Tina and Cassie, moved to Maine in 1982.  

Heavener’s dream to become a game warden drew him and his family to the state.

“While I was in Germany, I was doing some thinking about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life,” Heavener said. “I came to the conclusion that I wanted a job that would take me outdoors because I loved wildlife and wanted to preserve nature. So I focused on Unity College because they were known for that, so that brought us to Maine. (Also) growing up, both my wife and I did some camping in Maine, and we recognized and felt that Maine would be a great place for us to come and raise our daughters.”

When Heavener graduated from Unity College in 1985, there were no openings for game wardens in the state so he accepted a position with the Wiscasset Police Department until a job as a game warden opened up.

“(I) figured I would do that temporarily until they had an opening, (but) I enjoyed it so much I decided to continue in law enforcement,” Heavener said. “And from there I went to the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office, where I worked as a criminal investigator and did that for about 12 years. Then I became the Chief Deputy in Lincoln County, did that for a couple of years. Then I applied for chief’s position here in Winslow and got hired (and) came in 2000. So I was at the police department until October 2006, which is when I accepted the position of town manager. So I’ve been doing that since.” 

Over the course of his time as town manager, Heavener said the economic recession in 2007 was the most significant challenge he’s had to work through.

“When the economy went south, there were a number of years there that were very challenging,” Heavener said. “As far as budgeting and resources and so forth so that was a very difficult time. But I’m happy that Winslow was able to get through it. We went through a time period where we had to reduce some staffing, but fortunately we’ve been able to get back up almost back to where we were in 2007 as far as staffing goes. But that was definitely a challenge.”

One of Heavener’s fonder memories is writing the grant for the construction project at Fort Halifax Park in 2015.

“For the Fort Halifax Park, we ended up putting in a paved parking lot and it used to be a dirt parking lot,” Heavener said. “I used to go there in the summer time to eat my lunch, and when someone would pull in, you had to cover your food because the dirt went everywhere. So when I applied for the grant, I had this vision. … So we put a committee together and we took our time and designed, I think, a very modest upgrade to the park. And I’ve heard nothing but positive comments.”

Winslow Town Manager Michael Heavener, pictured at the town office, is retiring from the job he unexpectedly came to love after serving since 2006. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

 

Fellow staff at the town office were emotional Thursday when they spoke about their relationships with Heavener.

Town Clerk Lisa Gilliam, who worked with Heavener for about a year and a half, said the town office has been the best place she’s ever worked, largely due to Heavener’s efforts.

“The group of people that Mike has put together in the department heads is one of the best,” Gilliam said Thursday. “He really is one of the best town managers I’ve ever worked with, and the time I have worked with him is just not long enough. … He’s very professional, but also kind and thoughtful. And not just to the staff, but to the residents of Winslow as well. It’s like he was made to have the role as the town manager.”

Gilliam said the next town manager, who has yet to be chosen, will have big shoes to fill.

According to Heavener, town officials are currently interviewing two people for the position. The person who will replace Heavener will begin in September, with Paul Fongemie, the public works director, filling in during the interim period.

Heavener has offered to return in October to show the new town manager the ropes of the budget process.

For Code Enforcer Adam Bradstreet, Heavener’s level-headed approach to leadership is something he enjoyed about working with Heavener for the past three years.

“He worked together versus trying to butt heads. He’ll sit and talk about a situation and try to come to a reasonable answer,” Bradstreet said. “He’s done a lot for the community. He’s just easy going, doesn’t have a temper, he’s great, especially from a code enforcement position. If somebody doesn’t get the answer from me, they’ll go to him, and he’ll always talk to me first, and we figure out the best way to move forward. We’re just very, very sad to see him go. He’ll be hard to replace.” 

Judy Mathiau, the town’s assessor, shared a story about her first encounters with Heavener when she began working with him more than 10 years ago.

“My first day of work, I hadn’t realized that I had taken his parking spot,” Mathiau said. “I didn’t know anything about it, and nobody said anything, and, of course, he didn’t say anything. It didn’t bother him. It was just one of those things that he goes with the flow on. Well, it suddenly dawned on me about two weeks later that I had been parking in his spot, so I went down and apologized and he just laughed it off. That’s the kind of guy he is.”

Mathiau, like Gilliam, said that Heavener is one of the best bosses she’s ever had.

“Mike is way beyond; he is above and beyond a town manager,” Mathiau said. “I’ve been around for a while and I’ve worked for a lot of people … Mike is approachable, compassionate, empathetic, he listens, he doesn’t judge, he doesn’t micro manage, he doesn’t get easily upset. So anytime you have some sort of crisis or problem, he’s that calming influence. He gives you that perspective that you can work through things.” 

Heavener shared similar sentiments about the staff, town council and residents of Winslow.

“The most rewarding thing about the job, I think it’s the people,” Heavener said. “… we’re almost like a family atmosphere here. People get along, they support one another, work as a team, so I think it’s the people. … (And) the people of Winslow, not just the staff here at the town office but the people of Winslow have been a great group of people to work with. I can’t say enough about the people here in town. I’ve appreciated the support of the people in town over the years. As well as the support from the town office staff and the town council.”

When Heavener officially retires on Tuesday, the next step for him is to have some fun.

My wife and I both like to go camping, and so we’re going on a three-month trip with a travel trailer,” Heavener said. “We’re going to hit nine national parks and we’re going to have a good time. We’ll be camping, fishing and just recreating.” 

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