Bath hires Owen as permanent city manager

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BATH — The City Council on Wednesday unanimously voted to give interim City Manager Peter Owen the permanent position.

The panel also indefinitely tabled a second ordinance vote on traffic safety changes on Richardson Street and Western Avenue.

Owen served as the city’s public works director from 1999 until the departure of City Manager Bill Giroux last July. Although he said at the time that he planned to retire once the city chose a new permanent manager, a charter amendment approved by voters last November changed his mind.

Whereas managers had to live in Bath, the charter change now allows that person to live outside the city, but only with majority approval by the City Council. That has been a critical element as the city prepared to search for Giroux’s replacement, and also as Owen – a Brunswick resident – planned his future.

While the residence restriction “kept me out of the ring,” he said, “once that (amendment) got passed, then it sort of opened the door.”

Although he had offered to serve up to two years as interim manager to allow the council to take its time in the process, two months ago he said he was “mulling over” whether to apply for the permanent position.

Owen said meeting with a variety of business leaders in recent months – and a positive experience with the City Council in his time as interim – enticed a desire to continue work with both parties and put himself forward as Giroux’s permanent replacement.

“Everyone (is) rowing in the right direction, as Bill used to say,” Owen noted.

“I provide consistency, continuity, a familiarity with the business community, and operations of the city, and it saves the city a lot of money in having to go out for a (candidate) search,” he added. “You usually have to hire a search firm.”

The council, which Owen said had previously discussed his candidacy in executive session, took three votes on the matter: on appointing him manager, approving his residency, and green-lighting his contract.

Owen’s two-year contact stipulates a starting salary of $116,000, which includes a 2 percent cost of living adjustment all employees received Jan. 1.

Councilors commended the selection of Owen as the new manager. Aaron Park noted the professionalism and knowledge the former public works director brings to the job, and Sean Paulhus praised the continuity his hiring brings to the post.

Richardson Street

The City Council at recent meetings heard concerns from residents about traffic volume and speeding along Richardson Street and Western Avenue. The streets run through high-density neighborhoods between U.S. Route 1 and High Street (Route 209), and are used as shortcuts by motorists to reach the north end of Bath, Police Chief Mike Field explained in a Nov. 28 memo to the council.

Such concerns led the council last month to grant the first of two necessary passages to an ordinance change that would ban commercial vehicles larger than two axles from traveling on Richardson Street and Western Avenue. Such vehicles, except for those servicing those streets, would only be allowed with permission from the police chief.

But Owen learned last week that since Richardson Street is a state aid road, “and the state maintains authority for rules of those rules, just like they do Route 1” he said. “… Only the state can change the conditions for Richardson Street.”

The city has hired a consultant to look into traffic calming measures, and “I think what we do is continue down that road and see what the consultant comes back with, work with the state, and see if we can implement” such measures, Owen said.

Although Western Avenue is a local road, enacting the ordinance for Richardson Street would only push the traffic in question onto Western, “and that’s exactly what we don’t want,” Owen noted.

With this in mind, the council unanimously tabled the matter indefinitely.

Alex Lear can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @learics.

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A Maine native and Colby College graduate, Alex has been covering coastal communities since 2001, and currently handles Bath, Topsham, Cumberland, and North Yarmouth. He and his wife, Lauren, live in the Portland area, and Alex recently released his third album of original music.