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Millinocket town manager to leave for Houlton position

Posted Sept. 05, 2012, at 4:58 p.m.
Last modified Sept. 05, 2012, at 7:12 p.m.
Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue argues against a proposed 70,000-acre national park before the Penobscot County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012.
Millinocket Town Manager Eugene Conlogue argues against a proposed 70,000-acre national park before the Penobscot County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2012. Buy Photo

MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town Manager Eugene Conlogue, perhaps best known for his opposition to Roxanne Quimby’s proposed national park, will resign early next month to become Houlton’s town manager, officials said Wednesday.

The Houlton Town Council will formally vote to appoint Conlogue on Monday. Councilors interviewed him for the second time and offered him the job on Tuesday night, Houlton council Chairman Paul Cleary said.

“We thought he was a real professional,” Cleary said Wednesday. “He did a great job in the interview. We felt that with all of his experience, he could jump right into the new job and do a good job.”

Conlogue said he looks forward to his new job. Millinocket’s town manager for 13 years, Conlogue will be paid $78,000 in his new position during his six-month probation. He said his salary will rise to $80,000 annually, equalling his Millinocket pay, if he completes his probation successfully.

Conlogue, a Houlton native, will succeed Doug Hazlett, who resigned as Houlton’s town manager in March after seven years, Cleary said.

“I feel that this was a good time to make a move, after 13-plus years’ time,” Conlogue said Wednesday. “I enjoyed the job here thoroughly and I don’t want to go stale, so I was happy to look forward to a new challenge and Houlton was available.”

On Aug. 13, the Houlton council announced that Wade Hanson, a Houlton resident who had spent 10 years working in various positions for the town, would take over as manager, but Hanson opted instead to serve as the economic development director for the Houlton Band of Maliseets.

Hanson’s declining the manager’s job a day after he was hired cleared the way for Conlogue, who already was a finalist for the job, Cleary said.

Millinocket Town Council Chairman John Davis described Conlogue’s resignation as “unfortunate.”

“Gene has done a lot of good things for the town,” Davis said. “I think we have a different vision of how to move forward.”

“I must say that I understand why he is going,” Councilor Michael Madore said of Conlogue, who had a Millinocket apartment and a home in Presque Isle and will split time between Presque Isle and Houlton. “He has done a long commute for a lot of years, 13 years, and he wanted to be close to his family.”

Besides steering Millinocket through close to a decade of little growth or reduced town budgets driven by the Katahdin region’s declining economy and population, Conlogue handled complex negotiations with Meriturn Partners and Cate Street Capital LLC as they attempted to buy the region’s two paper mills, Davis said.

“He has very good budget skills. They are excellent. He knew what the council asked him to do and he made it happen,” Madore said. “He has very good organizational and communication skills.”

Cate Street’s purchase of the mill on Katahdin Avenue and in East Millinocket a year ago led to the restart of the East Millinocket mill.

Cate Street subsidiary Thermogen Industries LLC also is expected to start next fall what would be New England’s first torrefied wood facility at the Katahdin Avenue site, a $48 million project that will employ 20 to 25 people directly and four or five times as many indirectly. State officials hope to approve the project by Oct. 1.

Conlogue said he was proud of having helped engineer five straight years of tax decreases during the last decade in Millinocket.

Conlogue also was a leading voice in the town’s opposition to Gov. Paul LePage’s withholding of $216,000 in state aid from town schools. LePage withheld the money because he said town leaders failed to keep a multiyear agreement to help fund operations at the Dolby landfill in East Millinocket. Town officials produced paperwork that they said made it clear they agreed to fund only a single year of landfill operations.

The state’s agreement to assume ownership of the landfill was crucial to state efforts to lure Cate Street to buy the mills. The dispute between Millinocket and the state is pending in civil court.

Conlogue also helped volunteers establish the Katahdin region’s first multiuse recreational trail, Davis said. The trail connects to ATV trail networks statewide and thus opens the region to all-terrain vehicle traffic that proponents hope will eventually grow to equal the region’s internationally recognized snowmobile trail services.

Conlogue’s anti-park stance, which the council supports, alienated the town’s business community, which supports exploring Quimby’s plan. He also embodied to some town and Katahdin region leaders Millinocket’s presumption of leadership over the entire region and its assumption that the forest-products industry is most crucial to the region’s survival, though Conlogue always said he also supports the tourism industry.

Most recently, some councilors felt overshadowed by Conlogue. They need to mend relations with downtown businesses and continue to investigate ideas that Conlogue appeared to drop, such as the town’s getting into the wholesale electricity business, Madore said.

“The priorities shifted away from what the councilors felt we needed to do and they need to shift back that way,” Madore said. “I would say there was a majority element [among councilors] that wasn’t necessarily happy with his playing to the media.”

“I always followed the direction of the council, so that statement doesn’t ring true to me, but we have had some very difficult issues to contend with,” Conlogue said in response to Madore’s remarks.

“I don’t call the media,” he added. “The media calls me. When it comes to policy, I have never failed to carry out a council directive. Never. That goes over a 20-year career.”

Conlogue said he was reviving the wholesale electricity idea as recently as this week. Councilors will have information on that shortly, he said.

“I just think it was time for us to move in a different direction,” Madore said. “Is he going to be missed? Absolutely. But nothing is forever.”

If Houlton’s vote to hire Conlogue goes as expected, he will start his new job in mid-October, Cleary said. Davis said he soon will discuss replacing Conlogue with other Millinocket councilors.

Conlogue said he looks forward to examining Houlton’s budget and town government for improved efficiencies and helping the community develop more business.

“It is a nice community,” Conlogue said of Houlton, saying it resembled Millinocket in being a service hub for the towns around it. “It is just a nice area for the state. As much as I have enjoyed Millinocket, it will be nice to live and work there.”

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