New Orono manager sees challenge

Posted Feb. 25, 2011, at 5:39 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — Sophie Wilson has fond memories of Orono from her time as an undergraduate and graduate student at the University of Maine in the early 1990s.

A few months ago, when she noticed that the Orono town manager position was suddenly vacant, she saw an exciting new challenge.

She applied for the job and, after town councilors spent weeks trimming a list of 40 candidates down to three finalists, the 39-year-old Wilson was the last one standing.

“It’s such a unique community and it’s well-known for having a really skilled staff,” Wilson said in a recent interview. “I was particularly interested in the council’s vision for the future.”

Wilson, who begins her new job on April 1, is under contract for three years and will be paid just under $82,000 annually with a generous benefits package. For the last 11 years, she has been town manager of Brownville, a community of about 1,200 residents in Piscataquis County.

“Obviously, she comes from a smaller community, but she has organized that town in an impressive way,” Town Council Chairman Geoff Gordon said last month after councilors made their decision. “She’s poised for this step forward.”

After she graduated from UMaine with a master’s degree in public administration, she interned in the Bangor city manager’s office under Ed Barrett and Bob Farrar, who Wilson said helped shape her management philosophy.

In true small world fashion, Catherine Conlow, Orono’s town manager from 2004 to 2010, took the position left vacant by Barrett’s sudden departure after 22 years as Bangor’s manager.

Orono councilors moved quickly to replace Conlow. Aside from Wilson, the two other unidentified finalists were not from Maine. Assistant Town Manager Maria Weinberger, who has served as Orono’s interim manager since November, did not apply for the full-time job.

Wilson has met many of Orono’s municipal officials over the last few years related to her involvement with the regional Municipal Review Committee and the Maine Municipal Association.

She relishes the challenge ahead of her.

“Brownville has a completely different form of government and obviously Orono is bigger and offers a completely different set of resources,” she said. “I’m eager to work with such a skilled staff.”

Before her tenure in Brownville, Wilson was community relations coordinator for Womancare, a community group in Dover-Foxcroft that supports victims of domestic violence.

Wilson has a husband and two school-age children. She said she plans to move her family to Orono soon.

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