Topsham selectmen hire new town manager

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TOPSHAM — The Board of Selectmen on Thursday unanimously approved the hiring of Cornell Knight to replace Jim Ashe as town manager.

Knight, now town manager in Winthrop, will join Topsham Feb. 1, 2011. Because Ashe is leaving at the end of this year, staff will fill in during the month-long gap.

Selectmen had 60 applicants for the post and interviewed five candidates, Selectman Don Russell said. He said Knight holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in public management from the University of Maine and has 30 years of experience in municipal management in four Maine communities.

“He brings to Topsham extensive experience relevant to municipal budgets with a focus on keeping a community healthy financially,” Russell said, reading from a prepared statement.

Knight, 54, grew up in Cape Elizabeth. He is married and two adult children and three grandchildren. He has lived in Hallowell for 28 years, but said he plans to move closer to Topsham.

Knight started running towns right after college, beginning in Baileyville, then Hallowell in the 1980s, followed by seven years in Jay and the past 12 in Winthrop.

“It’s an interesting career; I enjoy it,” he said, noting that while he once took a brief break from town management to be a stockbroker, “I decided I was a better town manager than stockbroker and got back in.”

Knight noted that the population in Winthrop, where he works with a Town Council, is about 6,500. Topsham’s is more than 10,000, with a larger budget, but he said the departments and operations are similar.

Knight, who had to give 45 days notice to Winthrop, said he was impressed with the Topsham Board of Selectmen’s energy and with the town’s facilities.

“I’m excited to get started,” he said.

The Board of Selectmen approved an annual salary for Knight of $93,000, plus benefits.

Accolades for Ashe

Several selectmen praised Ashe’s performance during the past three years. Chairman Ron Riendeau said he was easy to work with.

“I just hate to lose you,” Riendeau said.

Selectman Jim Trusiani said Ashe was hired at a difficult time, but that Topsham has been a better town with him as manager.

“You’ve done a tremendous job for us,” Selectman Don Russell told Ashe. “We’re in as good a position as we can be.”

Former Selectman Sandra Consolini echoed those sentiments. “I know we had our ups and downs, and we butted heads, but we always came away with respect for each other,” she said.

Ashe, who announced his retirement in August, spent 13 years as superintendent of Brunswick schools before taking the Topsham post.

“I’ve met some many fine people; board members, citizens, staff members alike,” he said. “I want to personally thank all of them.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or

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Cornell Knight will start as Topsham’s new town manager on Feb. 1, 2011.

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.