Newly appointed Bethel town manager reflects on past, looks to future

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BETHEL — When Christine M. Landes was hired as town manager Nov. 10, it was the culmination of more than 16 years of municipal experience.

However, Landes said government was the last thing on her mind when she was in high school.

“If you had told me, when I was in high school, that I would eventually be involved in town government, I would’ve said you were crazy,” Landes said with a laugh. “I was not a government major. I hated it at the time. I was more interested in finances and banking.”

Landes harnessed her interest in banking and turned it into an eight-year position as branch manager at Waldoboro Bank in Rockland, but she quickly discovered that the hours did not mesh well with her life at home.

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“I realized that the hours I worked were not what I thought they were going to be,” she said. “Something had to change, because I had a little one at home.”

After eight years at the bank, she applied to be town clerk in Warren.

“When I went in for the interview, the town manager asked, ‘Are you going to commit to me?’ I told him, ‘I’ll give you five years,’” Landes said. “He said, ‘I’ll take you,’ and here we are, 20 years later.”

She said, “Town government kind of became my forte. The town manager there taught me a lot. He let me be myself. I ran my own department, and I asked a lot of questions, which I still do today.”

While Landes grew to enjoy her position as town clerk, she and her family were forced to move to Florida after her husband, who served as a Navy officer at the Brunswick Naval Station, was reassigned.

“When they shut down the Brunswick Naval Station, we all ended up moving to Florida,” Landes said. “I worked in the tax collector’s office in Orange Park, and I soon learned that town governments in Florida are much different than Maine.

“When you’re in the tax collector’s office in Florida, you’re responsible for giving driver’s licenses and collecting property taxes,” she said. “I went from working in a small town government to giving driver’s exams and doing road tests with kids. It was quite a change.”

Landes said her family moved back to Maine after her husband retired from the Navy.

“After he retired, he told us, ‘We’re going back to Maine,’” Landes said. “When I got back, I started applying to jobs that I saw through the Maine Municipal Administration website. I ended up in Veazie as deputy town clerk. I worked there for about three months before I applied for the deputy city clerk position in Brewer.”

Landes’ stint in Brewer lasted about a year-and-a-half before budget cutbacks led to her position being cut.

“Up until that point, I had been taking two classes a semester at the University of Maine in Augusta toward a bachelor’s degree in public administration,” she said. “After I was let go in Brewer, I said, ‘It’s now or never.’ I signed up for six classes in the 2014 fall semester and applied for town manager positions. I thought to myself, ‘If I get hired now, great — and if not, I’ll be going to school full time.’”

Out of the three towns she applied to, Bethel made her an offer.

“I was ready to serve as town manager,” Landes said. “When you work in small towns, the employees wear many hats. You see what’s going on, what decisions are made and why they’re made. It’s different than bigger cities, where everything is sort of departmentalized.”

It’s been a month since Landes was hired, and she said her schedule doesn’t leave much free time.

“Its finals week right now, and after that, I’m taking four more classes in the spring semester,” Landes said. “After that, I’ll graduate and get my degree.”

Landes said that while she is spending her weekdays in Bethel, she spends her weekends in Orrington, where her family is living.

“I didn’t want to take my youngest son out of school in the middle of the year,” she said. “Part of my contract is that I have to live in Bethel, so I’m staying here during the week and going back to Orrington on weekends. The plan is for them to move to Bethel next June.”

Until then, Landes said she is focusing on accomplishing a list of goals that she’s set for herself.

“I’m really interested in working on the town’s personnel policy,” Landes said. “It really needs a lot of updates. It hasn’t been touched in almost 20 years, so I’m excited to get working on that.”

She is also looking forward to working with the Bingham Forest Authority in figuring out what to do with the town’s 2,300-acre forest.

“My husband is a huge outdoor enthusiast, and I know that this project is something that could be very beneficial for the community,” Landes said. “Even if it takes a while to do, I think it’s something we should focus on.”

If the weather permits, Landes said she wants to get into the community and get to know some of the people.

“The weather has been really nasty lately, so I haven’t gotten to do that as much as I wanted,” Landes said. “But when the weather starts clearing up, that’s at the top of my list.”

mdaigle@sunjournal.com

 

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