Retiring Bath city manager reflects on 11 ‘fun, satisfying’ years

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BATH — From his second-story office window at City Hall, Bill Giroux can watch the activity on Front Street – people chatting with one another, walking with their pets and children, going in and out of downtown shops.

It’s been a way for the city manager to get a sense of the community he’s managed for 11 years. Now he’s about to embark on the next chapter of his life, and his last day in that office is Friday, July 7.

“The staff’s been so good that they made it hard to leave,” Giroux said as he sat back in his chair June 21, with his last day on the job about two weeks away. The 57-year-old announced his resignation at the City Council’s June 7 meeting, citing a desire to take some time off before tackling something new.

The City Council is scheduled to appoint an interim manager from existing staff on July 5.

“Generally, I think that (municipal managers) should be trying to leave their imprint on a community, and impact it in good ways,” Giroux said. “Along the way you find new goals, and new things to do, but I do think that at some point, it’s time to move on to the next challenge and let somebody else have a crack at their new vision for the community, and that’s where we’re at.”

He noted the importance of improving what hasn’t been working well in a community, and bolstering its attributes without harming them.

“This is 400-plus years of shipbuilding heritage, and a fantastic little historic downtown,” Giroux said. “… I think we made it quite a bit better without ruining it. That’s the advice I have for any manager or planner coming into a community.”

He praised, as an example, the nearly complete design of the Bath River Walk along the Kennebec River. The $1.8 million project, to begin next year, will run from the visitors center at 15 Commercial St. to the front of the Bath RiverWalk condominium complex.

“You put 40 high-end condominiums on the waterfront, right next to the downtown, and (the residents are) going to shop at the stores, eat at the restaurants, and be part of the community,” Giroux said, “and I think that’s a very positive impact.”

The continued southern expansion of Bath Iron Works along Washington Street has been one of the most significant changes he’s witnessed in his time with the city. Giroux referenced two Ultra Hall buildings, a machine shop and a paint blast facility, all of which “are investments that (BIW parent company) General Dynamics has made to maintain the viability of the shipyard,” he said.

The construction of two new hotels in recent years – the Hampton Inn downtown, and the Residence Inn along U.S. Route 1 – has also been a boost for Bath, Giroux noted. He expressed excitement, too, about the renovation and expansion of the former Huse School into mixed-income housing, as well as a new Morse High School –  proposed to be built on vacant land at the Wing Farm business park – which could go to referendum this fall.

Giroux grew up in Brunswick, one of 11 siblings in a French Catholic family. He spent 1989-1999 in Portland – first as zoning administrator, then waterfront manager, acting assistant city manager and acting port director.

He then served a year as planning director and assistant manager in Wells and shifted to more rural environs as town manager in Bowdoinham from 2000-2006. His familiarity with Bath from his youth made becoming manager in March 2006 feel natural.

Giroux said expects to manage another community at some point, likely in the Bath area, and intends soon to move from Bath to Woolwich. Seeing travel as a good between-jobs pursuit for about a year – to “clear my mind a little bit and take a break” – he said he plans to spend time in the national parks in the western U.S.

It’s an interest that hearkens back to his desire, as a student, to work for the National Park Service. That led to an early career in the recreation management field.

“Somehow one thing leads to another,” Giroux said. “I certainly didn’t think I was going to be a town or city manager. But it’s a lot of fun … and satisfying.”

Gazing outside his window on that summery day, he noted that while Bath remains active in the winter, “as soon as the weather warms up, you can just see, you can feel the crowds growing in the downtown.”

“You kind of get a feel for how well (Bath) is functioning as a community,” Giroux added. “People are walking around … they’re stopping and talking to each other. Talking about each other’s pets and children. You can see all that from here.”

The window helps him look within, too.

“It’s a good spot to sit and think about what you’re going to do next,” he said.

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

Bill Giroux wraps up 11 years as Bath city manager July 7.

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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.