Christopher Ryan, left, a candidate for the city manager’s job in Gardiner, speaks Tuesday with Peter Johnson at an informal community gathering for residents to meet the candidate. Jessica Lowell/Kennebec Journal

GARDINER — The top candidate in Gardiner’s search for its next city manager met Tuesday with about two dozen residents at an informal gathering, before his second interview Wednesday with the city’s elected officials.

Christopher Ryan, 61, has been an economic development and professional planner for about 35 years in communities of different sizes in several states.

“That made me understand that many of our challenges are the same, but some are different,” Ryan said. “I really do feel empathy for people who really love their community and want to make it a better place to live, work and play.”

Ryan fielded questions on a range of topics, including about his management style, experience with budgets and regionalization of municipal services.

While he has worked for communities large and small, he said he enjoys rural and small town communities.

“They are a big challenge, because they tend to be overlooked from a budgetary standpoint by the state and in competing for grants,” Ryan said. “It’s hard because they often don’t have dedicated, professional grant writers. They are really pulling themselves up by their bootstraps. If they can compete, they can be successful. But it’s a matter for finding the way to compete for all the resources.”

Ryan is now the director of economic and community development for Harvard, Massachusetts. The department is responsible for supporting existing businesses, encouraging appropriate economic development and promoting Harvard as a desirable place to shop, work, visit and invest.

Ryan said he is considering relocating to Gardiner because he and his partner love Maine and visit at least twice a year. At the same time, he is looking for a chance to take a last step in his career and to do something he has wanted to do for a long time.

Ryan received a bachelor’s degree from Miami University in Ohio, a master’s degree in city planning from the Georgia Institute of Technology and a doctoral degree in environmental studies from Antioch University.

During questioning this week, Ryan was asked to provide examples of his biggest challenges and successes in economic development.

Ryan said Harvard’s only commercial district is badly underdeveloped, and what development exists is not what the community wants.

“It’s been very difficult to try to get the citizens and residents and business owners to see a new path,” he said.

He said Harvard residents are used to suburban-type development, but the new path is clusters and pods of village-like development, surrounded by open space. Gaining support and funding for the concept has been a lengthy process.

Ryan said one of his short-term successes has been coordinating and updating resources for COVID-19 relief from local, state and federal sources to get information to the local business community.

Ryan said his professional experience includes working on regionalization with two different agencies in Massachusetts, where some efforts worked. In instances where they did not work, he said, it was because of differing cultures and a lack of synergy with goals and objections.

“I think it can be a very good tool to provide services that can’t be provided or can’t be provided very well at the local level with budgetary constraints,” he said. “The ones that tend not work very well are building commissioners and planning departments.”

Success depends on culture and funding, he said, and making sure the groups coming together have a good fit.

Ryan was one of 12 people to apply for the city manager position in Gardiner. Five were invited to interview, but withdrew. Of the three remaining candidates, Ryan was invited for a second interview.

On Tuesday, Ryan toured city facilities, met with city staff and some residents at the community gathering.

On Wednesday, he toured the city and met with the City Council for a second interview.

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