Retiring Waterville City Manager Michael Roy with “Ellie,” his name for the Civil War-era elm tree in Castonguay Square outside Waterville City Hall. Roy, who was city manager for more than 16 years, said Monday he saw the tree every day when he went to work. It is a rare survivor of the Dutch elm disease that decimated the elm tree population in Waterville and elsewhere in Maine during the 1950s and 1960s. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

WATERVILLE — It wasn’t easy replacing Michael Roy as city manager, both literally and figuratively — not only because of the pandemic, but because it would be difficult to find someone with comparable skills, knowledge and commitment to the city.

A Waterville native who had seen Waterville through a recession as well as major improvement projects, Roy announced in April 2019 that he planned to retire at the end of December 2020 after more than 16 years at the helm.

He had given the city plenty of notice, but a year later the unimaginable happened — the coronavirus pandemic hit.

That slowed the search for a new city manager because of difficulties with setting up travel and face-to-face interviews with candidates, Roy announced in November. The original plan was to select a new city manager by Nov. 1, 2020, and have that person start working for the city in December.

“The pandemic became, and has been, very, very difficult at times, making sure that we continued to provide services to the public and still protect the people here that are providing services,” Roy, 68, said Tuesday. “It was a fine line to walk and not much room for error. The people working here — they get the credit.”

On Jan. 5, the City Council voted unanimously to hire Stephen Daly, a municipal management contractor with more than 30 years experience as a chief administrative officer. He was chosen from among 70 applicants. Roy agreed to stay on through the end of January to help with the transition.

“I’m glad that I got a chance to work with the new manager because I’m even more convinced that the city has made the right choice, and I believe Steve Daly will do a fine job in carrying forward and providing new ideas and insights,” he said.

Roy said he thinks all the projects set in motion prior to Daly’s coming bode well for the city in the future, with downtown revitalization leading the way. Head of Falls off Front Street is prepared for development that might come along, the Interstate 95 interchange at Trafton Road will reap economic development benefits for the city, and there is a commitment on the part of city officials to proceed with an aggressive road improvement initiative, according to Roy.

In an interview this week, Roy reflected on what he sees as the major accomplishments realized during his tenure: Selling the former C.F. Hathaway Co. building; helping to secure property for what would become Quarry Road Recreation Area; and raising money for, and developing, the $1.5 million RiverWalk at Head of Falls. Roy also worked with partners, including Colby College, to launch the $11.27 million major downtown revitalization project, and saw other projects through, including renovations to City Hall, the Waterville Opera House and Waterville Public Library, and construction of the police station and Trafton Road interchange.

Most recently, Roy, a Colby alumnus, supported a plan by the Alfond Youth & Community Center and Central Maine Youth Hockey to build an indoor community ice skating rink on city-owned property next to the center on North Street.

Ken Walsh, the center’s president and chief executive officer, said Roy for many years has been an important partner and vows, even after retirement, to continue helping with the community ice rink effort. 

“He said, ‘Ken, I’m there all the way and I want to make sure this project happens and is completed,'” Walsh recalled. “He is totally enthused by this. There is no such thing as retirement. It’s the next step. There will be a lot of next steps for Mike.”

Walsh said the city was fortunate to have had Roy.

“It doesn’t happen often when you have a Waterville person, with strong roots, to be able to be in a position that has supported this community in so many ways as the city manager, and have his leadership skills, to stay in Waterville,” Walsh said. “It’s a real success story for everything you hear about in Maine economics, trying to keep local people who go get educated and come back to do service, and Mike is a perfect example of that.”

Roy credits others, including department heads, mayors and city councilors, with helping to ensure successes realized during his time at City Hall.

“One thing I think I was able to do was connect all of those players and get them to commit to a common goal, create alliances and relationships with different organizations, different players, so that we all could march toward the same common goal,” he said. “I was, in many ways, blessed with the right people in the right places, not only elected people, but department heads. I think that the commitment we made to the city’s capital assets — buildings and roads and different facilities — were a very, very important part of my time here.”

Lisa Hallee worked with Roy to raise funds for and develop the RiverWalk at Head of Falls, a project Hallee says Roy was passionate about and determined to see become a place that people of all ages could enjoy. Hallee said Roy cares about history and took a long view when planning for the RiverWalk, committed to seeing the project through before he retired. His father had worked at the former Wyandotte Mill on the site when Roy was growing up, and it meant a lot to him that it would be a place seniors could visit, according to Hallee.

“It was super important that he leave the riverfront better than he found it,” she said. “That was a project from his heart.”

Prior to coming to Waterville, Roy was town manager of Oakland. Before that, he was Vassalboro’s town manager and previously deputy town manager of Fairfield.

‘A JOB WELL DONE’

Waterville attorney James LaLiberty has known Roy for many years, since growing up one street apart from him in the 1960s. Roy was a star hockey player many youths looked up to and was three years ahead of LaLiberty. They lost touch after going off to college, but when Roy started as city manager in Waterville, they had more contact.

The chairman of both the Board of Directors for Waterville Creates! and MaineGeneral Health, LaLiberty said Roy was reasonable to deal with, always accessible and knew what Waterville needed to succeed.

Retiring Waterville City Manager Michael Roy stands outside his former office Monday at Waterville City Hall in downtown Waterville. He was city manager for more than 16 years. Rich Abrahamson/Morning Sentinel Buy this Photo

“If you were hiring a town manager, Mike is the template,” he said. “He’s the guy you want to be city manager. Mike is one of the easiest professionals to work with that I have ever dealt with. I don’t mean, by any stretch, that he was a pushover. He was low key in how he approached people. He was always, always, always fair, and always had the best interest of Waterville in mind. He never played politics with things and was always concerned with what’s best for Waterville.”

Police Chief Joseph Massey said Roy was the sixth city manager during his time and enjoyed working with Roy immensely.

“I think that he provided the leadership to the city’s management team, and that is the department heads, to really work as a team and keep the city moving forward,” Massey said. “I credit him with that, to keep us working collaboratively as different departments for the same goals, and I think that he’s just shown a lot of leadership. Certainly, his management skills are top-notch. He’s an easy person to talk to. He listens well, which I think is one of the most important traits a manager can have. He just applies a lot of common sense to the everyday issues that we as department heads face. I credit him with a job well done.”

City Clerk Patti Dubois agrees with Walsh that Roy really loves the city and is dedicated and loyal to Waterville.

“It was commonplace to see Mike’s truck parked outside of City Hall after hours and on the weekends where he would be quietly working,” Dubois said. “As a boss, he was extremely supportive and fair. Mike’s door was always open, and he never made you feel like you were bothering him, even though he probably had much more important things that he could be working on.”

Dubois said Roy will remain a trusted friend and mentor.

“I admire Mike for his work ethic, but admire him just as much for his dedication to his family,” she said. “Simply put, he is a good man. I will truly miss working with him, and I join many others in wishing him all the best in this next phase of his life.”

Matt Skehan, the city’s public works and parks and recreation director, said he thinks everyone is sorry to see Roy leave, but also happy for him.

“Once fully retired, I’m hoping he won’t be hard to find,” Skehan said. “We’d love to have him join some of our volunteer community groups. In the nearly 15 years I’ve been with the city, Mike has always been positive and supportive of the projects we’ve worked on together. Not once has he not had time or been too busy to meet with us. I’ve learned a lot from Mike and wish him all the best.”

Roy said he plans to golf, fish and spend time with family, including two grandchildren. He plans to stay involved with community organizations he has been part of for many years, including Waterville Rotary Club and High Hopes Clubhouse, and hopes to start an initiative to support the RiverWalk, in addition to helping with the community skating rink endeavor, he said.

“I can honestly say that I have enjoyed coming to work about every single day,” he said. “There were certainly difficult times, but the rewards of being involved with people making things happen at the local level far outweighed the negative stuff. People for too long have seen government as an illegitimate activity, whether it be federal, state or local government, and I’m just glad to be able to play a part in helping to show that government is not an illegitimate activity.”

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