2016-08-26 / Community

Cape Elizabeth town manager calls it a career

By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer

Michael McGovern Michael McGovern CAPE ELIZABETH — After nearly 40 years with the town, and 31 as its top administrative official, Cape Elizabeth Town Manager Michael McGovern has announced he will step down at year’s end.

In a resignation letter sent Monday, Aug. 22, McGovern said, “It is a good time to leave and to feel good about where we are. It is also a good time for the town to have new leadership bringing new ideas and new approaches.”

McGovern, 60, began his career as a college intern during summer 1977, under then town manager Quentin Spector. In May 1978, McGovern was hired by Spector’s successor, John E. Henchey, to be a full-time administrative assistant. He then ascended to the top job in 1985, upon Henchey’s retirement.

“I’m personally saddened by Mike’s decision,” Molly MacAuslan, chairman of the Cape Elizabeth Town Council, said in a prepared statement. “He’s been a tremendous asset to the community and it’s been a privilege to work with him as town council chair this year, but I know he looks forward to pursuing his many personal and professional activities and commitments.”

McGovern said he plans to continue his volunteer work, which includes worldwide travel to combat polio on behalf of Rotary International. He said he also is not adverse to taking on “some interim (town manager) assignments outside Cape Elizabeth from time to time.”

The search to replace McGovern, who was making $123,000 per year, will begin with an Aug. 29 council workshop.

“While Mike has been instrumental in establishing strong governance, organizational and financial structures, systems and policies that will ease the transition to a new manager, it will be difficult to find someone with both his operational skills and his personal and professional integrity,” MacAuslan said.

In his resignation letter, McGovern stressed input from town councilors, employees and residents over the past four decades, saying, “there are no accomplishments which are solely mine.” Still, much has been accomplished on his watch, not the least of which was the development of Fort Williams Park and its historic Portland Head Light into an international tourist attraction.

“I have been fortunate to work on many projects over the years and perhaps will most remember helping to transform Fort Williams from a site with many dilapidated buildings to a beautiful park enjoyed by thousands of people each week,” McGovern said.

Cape Elizabeth paid $200,000 to the federal General Services Admiration for the former military installation in 1964, after it was closed down. However, it was not until 1979 that the town finally declared the site to be a public park and began to develop it as such, with many of the improvements visitors now recognize coming under McGovern’s tenure.

“I also am pleased that we were able to preserve about 1000 acres of open space around the town,” McGovern said, also citing “a nice new library, good police, fire and public works facilities, exceptional ballfields, a pool and a recycling center being improved an expansive community center,” among other amenities developed and improved over the years. That work, he said, came about thanks in large part to “a culture of integrity, transparency, planning, collective decision making and a willingness to take on difficult issues,” that permeates through all town departments, he said.

“For nearly 40 years I have had the privilege of working with 54 dedicated citizens who have capably served on the town council and have made this town one of the finest communities anywhere,” McGovern said. “Cape Elizabeth has the best department heads anyone could ever wish for and exceptional town staff members who always come through in meeting all of the service needs of our citizens. We are also fortunate to have an engaged citizenry who volunteer on our governmental committees and who give of their time and talent in so many other ways.”

Although the Maine Municipal Association does not track the longevity of individual town and city managers, it has issued reports in the past pegging the median tenure at little more than five years. Having logged 31, McGovern is thought to trail behind only Casco Town Manager Dave Morton among all current managers in terms of service to a single community.

A former president of both the Maine Municipal Association and the Maine Town and City Management Association, McGovern was named Manager of the Year by the latter group in 1993.

When McGovern celebrated his 25th anniversary as town manager in 2003, Jack Roberts, outgoing chairman of the council, called him an “expert at reading the different personalities and views of town councilors throughout the years.

“He leads them, and at the same time lets them lead him,” he said.

That leadership, others have noted, has taken McGovern from communicating via mimeograph machine to a Twitter account, an unparalleled experience level the council expects will boost the chances of finding a worthy successor.

“I and other council members are pleased that Mike has agreed to assist with the transition process for the next several months,” MacAuslan said.

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