Topsham town manager to step down in December

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TOPSHAM — Town Manager Jim Ashe, who has held the job for three years, will leave the position in December.

Following an executive session on Aug. 5, the Board of Selectmen voted unanimously to extend Ashe’s contract from its original expiration date of Oct. 31 “through December 2010, exclusive of the hiring process.”

Ashe told the board in an Aug. 3 letter that he had decided not to negotiate a new contract and would seek new employment.

“I am willing to extend the current contract agreement through November and December 2010, to provide the Board more time in its search for a new manager,” Ashe wrote.

Board Chairman Ron Riendeau on Monday said he will miss Ashe.

“To me he’s been good for the town,” Riendeau said. “He’s been a people person; he gets out there and meets the people, and he listens to them.”

He explained that the board decided not to have Ashe participate in the hiring process because selectmen want him to focus on town affairs and preliminary fiscal 2012 budget preparation during his remaining months on the job.

After the 2007 departure of Gary Brown, now town manager of Brunswick, Topsham remained without a manager until that November, when Ashe was hired just in time to help with the move into the town’s new municipal complex at 100 Main St.

Ashe, who had finished a 13-year stint as superintendent of Brunswick schools, said he had planned when he applied to stay in the manager position for only a limited time.

“I’ve done this for three years,” Ashe, 61, said on Monday. “That was as long as I really ever intended.”

He said it’s been a challenge to provide the services people expect in the current financial environment.

“The economy, the (Brunswick Naval Air Station) base closing, the lack of overall development. It’s been hard for me to be able to provide the services that people want, and try to respect how much they have to pay as a residential homeowner,” Ashe said. “… It’s stressful when you’re trying to deal with an issue, and you can’t make everyone happy.”

But he noted that he’s been pleased to see residents approving the funds to maintain those services in tough economic times.

Ashe also praised the many residents who have volunteered to serve on town committees.

“And they volunteer for boards (where) it’s not always an easy experience,” he said, referring to the extent of time often involved.

Ashe said he has wanted his departure to occur at a suitable time for the town.

“I’d like to make sure that when I do leave here, I’m leaving a good place for someone new,” he said.

He said he also wanted to give enough notice to allow the town more time to find a new manager. He expected the Board of Selectmen to begin discussing that process soon.

The Cumberland resident and father of two grown daughters said he does have one immediate plan: a two-week cruise in January with his wife, Nancy, to celebrate their 40th wedding anniversary.

Ashe said he will miss the town staff and the camaraderie he has enjoyed with Topsham residents.

“I think it’s important to go out, see the public, have them know you have other interests, (and that) you do other things,” he said. “… You need to be very, very visible and approachable for the people. You’ve got to hear what people want, what people are concerned about, and you’ve got to try to manage based on that.”

Alex Lear can be reached at 373-9060 ext. 113 or alear@theforecaster.net.

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Jim Ashe, in his Topsham office, will step down as Topsham’s town manager in December.

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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.