Longtime Belfast City Manager Joe Slocum announced he is planning to retire in March. Credit: Abigail Curtis | BDN

BELFAST, Maine — Joe Slocum, the Belfast city manager who was instrumental in a years-long effort to create trails in the community, will retire in March.

Slocum, 66, who has overseen city operations for nearly 13 years, said the time is simply right to make the change. He was going to resign earlier this year but didn’t want the vacant position to be a campaign issue, he said.

“I think the community’s due, and that change is good sometimes,” he said Tuesday, adding that he announced the news to city staff last week with a combination of gratitude, joy and sadness. “This job has had a profound effect on me. I’m extremely lucky, and I feel very, very fortunate.”

Slocum, a writer with two novels in manuscript form and another in the works, said he would like to get one of them published in his retirement. He also is looking forward to spending time with family members, including his wife, Janet Whitcomb Slocum, whom he met while working in Belfast.

“It’s going to be very sad for me to leave. I love this community and these people,” he said.

City officials who have worked with him for years said his leadership was appreciated during complicated projects. Slocum was at the helm during the development of the formerly moribund waterfront into a lively area that includes the Harbor Walk and Front Street Shipyard, a major employer.

As well, the manager oversaw the sometimes bumpy transition of two miles of railroad tracks that led from the city center into the Rail Trail, a path that’s now used by dog walkers, joggers, cyclists, snowshoers and more. But in 2016 the project was shadowed by the possibility that the city would need to seize land by eminent domain in order to connect it to the downtown.

It was a controversial move, but Slocum, and other city officials, didn’t blink, and ultimately, the path was completed without the use of eminent domain.

“Joe leaves a legacy of great accomplishments and a long list of things we are in the midst of,” City Councilor Mike Hurley wrote the BDN. “He was instrumental and irreplaceable in seeing the Harbor Walk and most significantly the Rail Trail, which might not have been completed without his tireless efforts.”

One project that started under his tenure is Nordic Aquafarms’ plan to build a large land-based salmon farm by the Little River. Although that project led to a lawsuit, since dismissed, against the city by an abutting neighbor, city officials and Slocum have been resolute in their support, which isn’t shared universally by others in the community.

“The salmon farm is a big project, and a big project should invite big scrutiny,” he said. “I’m not surprised that a lot of people like it and a lot of people are concerned about it. It certainly has a lot of benefits to bring.”

Slocum said he jumped at the chance to apply for the manager’s job back in 2006.

“I was drawn here because the artists were here, the manufacturing history, the changeovers between the chicken broiler years, the credit card lenders and shipbuilding,” he said. “I thought it was a nice size. You can know people. You don’t just wave and say, ‘Who’s that?’”

Councilor Neal Harkness said that Slocum led the city with a high level of professionalism.

“Throughout the time he’s been there, he’s been a kind of visionary of the future,” the councilor said. “He kept the council thinking long-term … he always managed to keep a vision and maintain the integrity of what he thought was best for the city.”

Officials said they believe Slocum has set a high bar for the city.

“He knows how to put the right people in the right places for success,” Mayor Eric Sanders said. “We’re going to miss him … personally, I think that Belfast is in a much better place because of Joe.”