BANGOR, Maine — She has been spotted in the crowd at two recent high-profile meetings to hear ongoing discussions over Bangor’s proposed arena complex and to learn about the city’s plans to consolidate emergency dispatch services with Penobscot County.
Soon, Catherine Conlow will no longer be a spectator. Bangor’s newest city manager, who was hired by the City Council in mid-October, begins her job today.
“It’s been a long process,” she said last week shortly after her staff in Orono gave her a going-away party. Conlow had been Orono’s town manager since 2004. “In the last couple weeks, it’s been 15-hour days trying to wrap things up here while still keeping an eye on some big things happening in Bangor. It’s hectic, but I’m looking forward to the change.”
It’s unlikely Conlow will ease into her new role slowly. On her first day, councilors will revisit a controversial proposal by a resident to establish residency restrictions on certain sex offenders. On Tuesday, councilors will explore how much they think the city should spend on a new arena and convention center. On Wednesday, the city will hear a presentation from representatives of Northeast Patients Group about plans for opening a medical marijuana dispensary in Bangor.
“There is a lot going on; that’s what is really exciting for me,” Conlow said. “There are a lot of things I’ll be challenged by.”
Bob Farrar, who has served as interim city manager during the search and has been Bangor’s assistant city manager for two decades, figures to help guide Conlow along. In addition, she will have a number of experienced department heads in her corner.
Former City Manager Ed Barrett held the post in Bangor for 22 years before he stepped down last October at the council’s urging. Barrett is now city administrator in Lewiston, a position he assumed in early January.
Bangor councilors launched a nationwide search in February to find a replacement for Barrett and hired the Mercer Group, an Atlanta-based recruiting firm, to oversee those efforts.
This summer, councilors settled on three finalists, each of whom was brought to Bangor to interview in person for the position. One of those finalists later withdrew from consideration.
In September, councilors made an offer to a finalist in the search, but the two sides were unable to come to an agreement, forcing the city to start the search anew.
Finally, after about 10 months, the council settled on Conlow.
When she first accepted the position, she was under the microscope, but Conlow doesn’t see herself as Bangor’s second choice.
“I think the community was looking for a good fit, but the incoming manager is looking for the right fit, too,” she said. “Both sides have to buy in. I’m not worried about what happened before I became a candidate.”
Before taking the job in Orono, Conlow served as public services director in Blaine, Minn., near Minneapolis. Before that, she spent 12 years working in county government in Oregon. She is originally from New Jersey.
Conlow’s contract calls for her to serve as Bangor’s top administrator until Nov. 30, 2015, although her employment is subject to termination by the council at any time upon 360 days’ notice. She also can resign on her own accord with 60 days’ notice.
She will be paid $116,022 in the first year and $118,930 in subsequent years, plus benefits that include a $400 monthly allowance in lieu of a vehicle provided by the city.
As for Orono, the town has hired Eaton-Peabody of Bangor to conduct a search for Conlow’s replacement. Orono hopes to have the position filled by next March.