Cape Elizabeth's new town manager promises to 'maintain responsible, sustainable budgets'

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CAPE ELIZABETH — Although Matt Sturgis didn’t always intend to be a town manager, he’s been building the necessary skill set for years.

Sturgis, the town’s tax assessor, was chosen Jan. 12 by the Town Council as the new town manager. The council formally and unanimously approved his promotion in a special meeting Wednesday, Jan. 18.

“It’s something that’s developed over time,” Sturgis said of his desire to be town manager. “When the opening arose here, it was a good opportunity.”

The Gray resident signed a three-year contract with the town that includes a starting annual salary of $110,000. He will start work Jan. 30.

Sturgis, 48, was one of two finalists for the position; the other was Ephrem Paraschak, the town manager of Naples. The town received 38 applications for the position and six candidates were interviewed. 

The position opened after former town manager Mike McGovern retired Dec. 31 after 31 years on the job.

Throughout his 16 years at the town’s tax assessor, Sturgis said McGovern often encouraged him to seek out leadership opportunities – it was McGovern who suggested Sturgis apply to be his replacement.

Sturgis has held a leadership role in Gray for a number of years as the chairman of the Town Council, a board he stepped down from this week. In Cape Elizabeth, he said he has often stepped up to cover various roles when needed.

Serving as an elected official and as a municipal employee will mean Sturgis will be better informed as a town manager, he said.

“I try to be multi-disciplined in my knowledge,” he said.

Already being familiar with how the town operates is also a plus. Sturgis said it will mean he can jump into the role with less of a learning curve.

“That local knowledge will be huge,” he said.

The fact that Sturgis already knows the town councilors is also helpful, he said. He said having already established relationships will allow them to work together more effectively from the start.

During the interview process, Sturgis said, he was able to have in-depth discussions with councilors about town issues because he’s already familiar with what’s going on in Cape. He said that made him more excited about the possibility of being the next town manager.

“The conversations with the councilors during the interviews solidified that I was making the right choice and that I would be lucky to be chosen for the position,” he said.

Sturgis said he knows being town manager will be much different than his role as tax assessor, though, and that he still has a lot to learn.

“Knowing the unknown is difficult to figure out,” he said.

Sturgis said he’s most looking forward to continuing to work with town employees and to better understand “the diverse issues that face the positions.” 

“My whole thing as a manager is, what can I do to help department heads with their jobs so they can be successful,” he said.

The No. 1 one thing he plans to do is a lesson he learned from McGovern: “Listen.”

“I think it was the big thing with Michael,” Sturgis said. “He would listen and process.”

Sturgis said McGovern would help employees realize what they were capable of, and he’d like to do the same.

“He would ask questions in a way that you could find the answer on your own,” Sturgis said.

Sturgis said he has no plans to introduce a radically different management style.

“From a managerial side, the staff doesn’t need me micro-managing them,” he said. “I trust that they’ll get their jobs done in a way that’s best for the community.”

At the start, Sturgis said he has one goal and priority as town manager.

“First and foremost, I need to get the budget completed,” he said. “We need to work hard to maintain responsible and sustainable budgets.”

Making sure the town is set up to run smoothly for the long run is important, Sturgis said. He said he especially has this mindset when thinking of the future of Fort Williams Park. 

“It’s always evolving, but it’s about sustainability with that park,” he said. “It’s a gem. It’s a gift that comes with responsibility.”

The Town Council has recently been discussing the evolution of Fort Williams Park, and has been looking at what the future should hold after hearing numerous concerns about parking and overcrowding.

“The town needs to find a solution for the park not five to 10 years in the future, but for the longevity of its future,” Sturgis said.

Sturgis said his other priorities are helping the town develop a new Comprehensive Plan and hiring someone to replace him as tax assessor.

The overall goal, however, is making sure the town continues to thrive, he said.

“I’m determined to make sure we can provide the best services for the residents of the town,” Sturgis said.

Kate Gardner can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or kgardner@theforecaster.net. Follow her on Twitter: @katevgardner.

Matt Sturgis will replace former Cape Elizabeth Town Manager Mike McGovern, who retired last month.

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I'm a reporter for The Forecaster covering Freeport, Yarmouth, Chebeague Island, and Cape Elizabeth. I'm from a small town in NH no one's ever heard of. When not reporting, I can be found eating pasta and reading books, often at the same time.