On Monday, William “Bill” Bridgeo announced his intention to retire as Augusta’s city manager in September, after decades of service to the community. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

AUGUSTA — City Manager William “Bill” Bridgeo has announced his retirement, after 23 years as Augusta’s manager and 43 years in municipal management.

The 71-year-old Maine native said he still loves his job, but the time is right for someone new to take on the job and for him to join his wife, Janice, who retired six months ago after two decades as an elementary school teacher in Winthrop.

He submitted his resignation to city councilors Monday, one day before completing his 23rd year as Augusta’s manager, with his last day on the job to be Sept. 10. He started on the job in Augusta in 1998, after serving as manager in Canandaigua, New York, for 11 years.

He is Augusta’s longest-tenured city manager. The next longest was Paul Poulin, who served more than 17 years, from 1965 to 1983.

“It has been the most stimulating, challenging and rewarding career path I can imagine,” Bridgeo said in his resignation letter. “It is the right time for me to turn over the reins to a successor and to join Janice in exploring whatever new adventures life may have in store for us.

“I make this decision with significant reservations and after months of serious consideration. That’s because I love my job,” he added. “There’s never been a morning since the day I was sworn in where I have not looked forward to coming to work.”

Bridgeo said Monday he pondered retiring about a year ago, but with the coronavirus pandemic hitting “frankly I just didn’t think it was right for there to be a leadership void in city government as we worked through that stuff.” He said now it appears the management challenges posed by COVID-19 are under control, and city government and the community seem to be in a good place.

Mayor David Rollins said Bridgeo has done a remarkable job for the city and has been the city’s manager as Augusta has undergone a revival in the last 15 years.

“There has been a high-spirited change in people’s image of Augusta, people wanting to come to Augusta, and people talking about Augusta, and he played a large hand in that,” Rollins said of Bridgeo, with whom he’s worked the last seven years as mayor, and previous to that nine years as a city councilor. “There has been a whole change in the way people see us.”

Bridgeo came into the job when the city was in the midst of controversial negotiations and process of removing the former Edwards Dam from the Kennebec River, opening up the river above it to sea-run fish.

During his tenure, a third bridge was built over the Kennebec River, Cony High School, Kennebec Valley YMCA, MaineGeneral Medical Center and Alfond Cancer Center were built, and new development took place at the Marketplace at Augusta and Augusta Crossing. Significant older buildings — including the former city hall, Cony flatiron building, and Hodgkins and Buker schools — were also redeveloped. Residents also approved funding to greatly expand and renovate the historic Lithgow Library.

Darek Grant, a former longtime city councilor and school board member, said Bridgeo played a role in making sure MaineGeneral built its new hospital in Augusta. He also noted Bridgeo’s role in obtaining funding for the new Cony High School and the development of a new Hannaford supermarket. Bridgeo is also working to send a proposal to voters, potentially in June, to build a new police station.

“Hopefully voters will agree and the new police station will be one more thing he’s played a role in,” Grant said. “And of course the expansions of Lithgow, Hartford (Fire Station), those are in place in part because of him.

“Him and Ralph St. Pierre (the latter the recently retired finance director and assistant city manager) found a way to take on these projects without a significant burden to the taxpayers of Augusta,” he added. “I think Augusta has been very fortunate to have Bill Bridgeo leading the way in the pandemic. If anybody deserves to take a break, it’s Bill.”

Before Bridgeo’s tenure, the job was a bit of a hot seat, with city managers serving shorter, more controversial stints. Grant, an Augusta native, said Bridgeo was willing to confront any issues and didn’t let them boil over.

The city’s downtown area has also seen revitalization during Bridgeo’s tenure, with apartments taking the place of office space in some downtown buildings, though some vacant storefronts remain.

Heather Pouliot, an at-large city councilor and president of the board of directors of the Augusta Downtown Alliance, said he and other city officials have been open to new ideas and to partnering with Augusta Downtown Alliance to create a business-friendly environment. She cited Bridgeo’s listening and collaborating with stakeholders who proposed converting the traffic flow through the center of downtown from one way to two-way traffic, which was controversial but has since taken place.

“Bill has a great way of hearing and really listening to ideas, staying out of the politics of it all, sharing some sound advice and then when council makes a decision ultimately pulls the strings to make it all come together nicely,” Pouliot said.

In 2019, Bridgeo agreed to a new, three-year contract with an annual salary of $125,000, though his agreement with the city allows him to retire before the expiration of that contract.

Bridgeo said his regrets include that the riverfront historic Kennebec Arsenal property was never developed after city officials worked with the state and buyer Thomas Niemann to facilitate a plan to redevelop the site that has still not materialized. He said he’d also hoped that the Sand Hill area of the city would have been revitalized more than it has been.

With the recent retirements of St. Pierre, former fire chief Roger Audette, and the pending retirements of Bridgeo and longtime Community Services Director Leif Dahlin, the city is seeing a significant loss of veteran managers. But Bridgeo and Rollins said there is a succession plan in place and the roles of St. Pierre and Audette are now performed by employees who were promoted, and a successor has also been selected for Dahlin’s role.

How to fill Bridgeo’s job will be up to city councilors to determine over the next several months, but Bridgeo said Susan Robertson, assistant city manager and human resources director, is eminently qualified to serve in an interim capacity, and perhaps more.

A native of Aroostook County, Bridgeo, who has two adult children, Will and Claire, plans to stay in Augusta, which he said is blessed with a rich history, a dynamic civic life and a wealth of community assets, which he describes as his “cherished home.”

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