ASHLAND, Maine — The manager of this heavily wooded community for the past five years will be leaving for the sprawling potato fields of Easton now that he has been named that town’s new manager.
James Gardner Jr. is expected to take over in Easton in mid- to late December, according to that town’s selectmen, who announced Gardner’s hiring on Monday.
Gardner will replace former manager John Hangan, who retired in October.
Gardner has spent the past five years as town manager in Ashland. Before that, he managed the town of Washburn for 11 years. He is a state certified code enforcement officer and a certified grant writer.
“Jim’s vast experience in management in Aroostook County will serve the citizens and businesses of Easton well, and we look forward to working with him to move Easton forward,” Michael Corey, the chairman of Easton’s Board of Selectmen, said Monday.
Gardner said Wednesday that he began thinking of making a change when selectmen in Ashland wanted to take the town in a direction that wasn’t in line with his managerial plans for the community.
“So we sat down, and I decided it was time to go,” he said. “There was no animosity. These things happen sometimes.”
Gardner said that his last day in Ashland will be Dec. 17, but he may stay on longer to help the new manager make the transition into the job. The community has begun advertising for Gardner’s replacement.
The 55-year-old said Wednesday that he is “very happy” with what he accomplished during his time in Ashland. During the past five years, the town’s tax rate has dropped from 25.75 mills to 17.25 mills, and the community has significantly revamped its trotting park. Gardner said that he is especially proud of the town’s assis-tance to Northeast Pellets during his tenure.
The pellet manufacturing firm closed after a fire on March 31, 2009. The accidental fire put 17 people out of work. Owned by Matthew Bell, the pellet manufacturing facility first opened in Ashland in 2006. Before the blaze, Bell had successfully increased production at the plant to more than 10 times what it was when he first launched the business.
After the blaze gutted the facility, town officials immediately pledged to seek state and federal assistance to help rebuild the company.
In April, U.S. Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins announced that the U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development program had bestowed $99,999 in grant funding to the town. The funds were used to assist in the acquisition of equipment to help restart Northeast Pellets.
“Getting that business up and running again was really one of my happiest moments,” Gardner said. “I’ve had a lot of happy moments here. I am going to miss the people the most.”
Gardner said that he and his wife plan to move to Easton as soon as they can, but they will still keep a home in Ashland.
“I am looking forward to my new job,” he said. “Easton is a beautiful community, and I look forward to hitting the ground running.”