‘Just do the job’: Meet the new Sabattus town manager

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SABATTUS — Rick Bates’ week looks like this:

Monday and Tuesday, town administrator in Milton, N.H.

Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, new town manager here.

Thursday night, new member of the Camden Budget Committee.

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It’s shaping up to a busy retirement.

Bates started last week as Sabattus’s second-ever town manager, hired when the Board of Selectmen signed a one-year contract with Municipal Resources Inc. of New Hampshire to provide part-time management services. Bates has worked with MRI for several years.

A Massachusetts native, he started his municipal career in Raymond, N.H., serving 22 years as director of parks and recreation.

“It was the best job on the planet,” he said. “I spent my days hiking and backpacking and skiing and canoeing. I went in every day looking forward to going into work.”

When Raymond needed a new town manager, he was hired. Bates retired in 2007 after 30 years there.

He’s been part-time in Milton, through MRI, for two years. That position will wrap up between April and May, Bates said.

Sabattus reminds him of Raymond, particularly with an undeveloped turnpike exit and 300 acres around it. High on the selectmen’s agenda is seeing that area takes off and he’s worked toward that before, Bates said.

“(While town manager) I spent, to the chagrin of some selectmen, I spent time actually traveling and meeting developers and dragging them to Raymond, N.H., to see our site,” he said. “It was all set up — it’s amazing how much it looks like just here.”

That town lined up brownfield grants for cleanup, attracted a developer with big box stores and set up a deal that had the new taxes paying for a sewage treatment plant. Ultimately, the project wasn’t able to get off the ground, he said, with the poor economy.

For Sabattus, developing its exit means working with the right companies and figuring out the best uses, Bates said. Residents might want a grocery store; facts might not support it.

He’ll meet soon to talk with selectmen about his other priorities.

Bates, who lives in Camden, described his leadership style as “a big picture, bridge builder-type person.” Despite a warm welcome, he said he’s aware of concern in town about contracting with an out-of-state firm for $90,000, money that would come close to hiring a more traditional town manager full-time.

Sabattus received more than 40 applications when it had put out the call.

“Everybody thinks the job market is so bad right now you should be able to get somebody to fill the job. (With some exceptions) the best, more qualified people are working now,” Bates said. “The people that are already in jobs, prying them out of that, they aren’t moving.”

He said he’s been honest with selectmen: If the position isn’t being served by three days a week, he’ll speak up. There’s also an advantage, he said, to having outsider status and a contract that lets Sabattus walk away at any time.

“I don’t have a dog in the fight — I just have to do the right thing,” he said.

And why work in retirement?

Three days a week is appealing, Bates said. It gives him plenty of time to sail in the summer and “use skills and not have to worry too much about the politics, to just do the job.”

kskelton@sunjournal.com

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