Media Archive

Day-to-day job as town administrator always changing

Article from The Piscataquis Observer, Vol. 165, No. 38, September 17, 2003

By Jessica Lee
Staff Writer

Sophie Wilson

BROWNVILLE For Sophie Wilson, the decision to leave a job she loved to become town manager in Brownville was a difficult one.

But, looking back, she says she wouldn't change a thing.

Wilson came to Brownville in July 2000, after working as the community relations coordinator at WomanCare in Dover-Foxcroft.

She decided to apply when the town manager's job came up, because she wanted to "put my degree to work."

Wilson, who received her bachelor's degree in political science and master's in public administration from the University of Maine, said that she had applied for several town administrator positions before accepting the WomanCare post. But, because she "looked about 16," she says, not many took her seriously.

"I had applied for anything remotely connected to my degree, but I had no work experience," she said, beyond an internship working with the city of Bangor.

So, she went to work, first finding a job at the American Red Cross based in Ellsworth and later at WomanCare. At the time, she was commuting from Bangor to Dover-Foxcroft every workday.

Both jobs, she said, gave her more confidence in herself. She became more used to public speaking.

"If you're wishy-washy, people think you don't know what you're doing," she said.

When she applied, the board of selectmen told her it was important to facilitate the community's development, as well as for the town manager to be responsive to residents.

"When I was going through the interview process," she remembered, "the board was very particular about what I knew about plowing roads, public works, and other topics. In grad school, they never taught us how to plow roads."

Sometime after she was given the job, and before she walked through the doors at the town office, she thought, "Oh my word, am I going to be able to do this ?"

She thanks the staff at the town office and department heads for making that transition go smoothly.

"The staff is just incredibly dedicated and knowledgeable," she said. "They've made it easier for me to come on and look at the bigger picture."

And the board of selectmen also have eased the transition.

"The board really supports me and the decisions to be made," she said.

'"Being a town manager, Wilson said , is different from being a corporate head. "As the town manager, I'm really the third in line," she says,falling behind the town,as a whole, and the board of selectmen.

"My joo is to carry out or administer policies and to make recommendations to the town," Wilson said.

She said the day-to-day job of being a town manager changes, reflecting any problems that may come up. "When you talk about a typical day, there isn't one," she said.

Every day, though, she does check in with her department managers, and she is always available for members of the board of selectmen.

She did break her job down into four categories.

A quarter of her time is spent at a computer working on paperwork to make sure the town stays compliant with state and federal laws, she said. Another quarter of her time is spent concentrating on economic development efforts. Another quarter is her "jeans and sweatshirt" time when she is in the field, actually troubleshooting with public works or other department heads. And the rest of time is spent dealing with needs of citizens.

She said the needs of this small, rural Maine community differ from those needs in larger cities. "You develop relationships and build connections and become a part of the community," she said. "There is a different expectation for government in smaller towns. Everybody is watching your back."

She said teamwork in small communities is important, as every individual can play a key role in solving a problem.

Wilson said she looks forward to each day in her job as town manager.

"I have no idea what will greet me when I walk through the door."

NOTE - This article reflects the views of the author and not necessarily those of the TRC Alliance Team.