Retiring Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo, right, and his wife, Janice Bridgeo, laugh as former mayor William Stokes tells stories about him during a party Wednesday outside the Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

AUGUSTA — Retiring City Manager William “Bill” Bridgeo still loves his job after a 43-year career in municipal management that he admittedly came to largely by accident.

Bridgeo, 71, a native of Caribou, was in his 20s when, after his father had a heart attack, he left law school after three semesters to make some money and help support his family. He came across an assistant to the manager’s job in Killingly, Connecticut.

His first winter there, the Blizzard of 1978 struck, trapping people who were brought by snowmobile to a shelter at the local school. Bridgeo was put in charge of running tht shelter for a few days until the roads could be opened back up. He said the challenge of seeing that people at the shelter were safe and warm and fed spurred a lifelong interest in providing local government services. At the urging of the manager there, Gary Stenhouse, who served as a mentor to Bridgeo, he went for this master’s degree in public administration that brought him to his long career.

Retiring Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo laughs Wednesday as former mayor William Stokes tells stories about him during party outside Augusta Civic Center. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal

“I love my job; I’ve always loved my job,” he said. “The job of a city manager is alluring to me because of the constant diversity of issues and challenges. Every single day something comes up in the community that challenges your intellect. In local government you are so close to the people you serve and the issues you deal with. You see results immediately.”

Bridgeo plans to travel with his wife and the pair plan to remain living in Augusta, a community that has seen significant change during his time as manager.

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, and the downtown has seen revitalization with an influx of residential uses. 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.

Bridgeo said the library was a special project for him. It was turned down by voters initially, when the proposal was funded nearly entirely by local tax dollars. It was later approved by voters after library supporters raised significant funding to help pay for the massive expansion and renovation project.

“It’s an example of what the community can do when it gets together,” he said.

Bridgeo, who has never taken a sick day since coming to Augusta, is Augusta’s longest-tenured city manager.

His  last day on the job is Monday. Susan Robertson, human resources director and assistant city manager, will serve as interim manager while the search for Bridgeo’s replacement continues.

Augusta City Manager William Bridgeo, right, takes the hand-off of the Law Enforcement Torch Run June 8, 2006, from Sue Gammon, left, at the Hallowell line on State Street. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal file

He said the hardest part of the job has been laying off workers during financial downturns, which the city did in 2008 and again a year ago in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

His regrets about his time in Augusta are few. He said he wishes he’d taken steps that could have helped prevent the historic Kennebec Arsenal property from being allowed to sit, undeveloped, after it was sold to a private developer. And he wishes ground could have been broken for the new police station project, for which voters approved funding in June.

He said he’ll miss the people he works with the most, praising past and present city councilors and mayors, and city staff, for working together and without the negativity seen elsewhere.

In 2019, Bridgeo agreed to a three-year contract with a salary of $125,000, an agreement that allowed him to retire before the expiration of that contract.

His first city manager’s job came in Calais in 1979, after he got his master’s in public administration from the University of Hartford.

While working there he met his now-wife, who was then Janice Church, a Gardiner native working as an elementary teacher in Princeton. They married in 1984. They left Calais in 1985, after Bridgeo resigned because his relationship with the city council soured over his selection of a new police chief.

They moved to Hallowell in 1985, where he took a job as assistant director of Maine State Housing Authority, and Janice continued teaching, having a long career at Winthrop Elementary School before her own retirement last year. The housing authority job lasted less than two years as he was asked to resign as part of a leadership change.

“So my long-suffering wife was married to a guy who lost two jobs in three years,” Bridgeo jokes of that low point in his career path.

In May of 1987 he was hired as city manager in Canandaigua, New York, where they moved with their son, Will. They were there 11 years, adding a daughter, Claire, to the family.

In 1998 he flew to Maine to interview for the city manager’s job in Augusta, on the night of the devastating Ice Storm of 1998.

This May 8, 1998, file photo shows Attorney Elizabeth Butler, City Manager William Bridgeo, Augusta Mayor John Bridge and State Planning Office Director Evan Richert reviewing the settlement documents regarding the removal of Edwards Dam from the Kennebec River during a meeting at the Maine State House in Augusta. Kennebec Journal file

He got the job, beating out 100 other applicants, and officially started in Augusta on April 13, 1998. Though his actual first day doing work for the city was the previous Friday. The city, at the time, was embroiled in heated talks with the state over the removal of the former Edwards Dam, and then City Councilor Dick Dumont wanted Bridgeo to speak for the city at a meeting that Friday with then-Gov. Angus King. The city chartered a plane to fly Bridgeo to Augusta for the meeting with King that Friday.

Coincidentally King, with whom Bridgeo forged a relationship, called Bridgeo to wish him well in his retirement last week while Bridgeo had literally been recounting that story to a reporter.

Bridgeo’s advice to his successor as Augusta’s manager, as he has shared with students who’ve taken public administration courses he taught at the University of Maine at Augusta, is to ascribe to a strong code of ethics, and live by it.

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