Durham’s first-ever Town Manager Kathy Tombarelli. C. Thacher Carter / The Times Record

Durham’s first town manager, Kathy Tombarelli, started work Monday after being appointed by the select board in April.

According to Select Board Chair Kevin Nadeau, appointing Durham’s first manager was a significant step forward for the town. Residents voted to allow the select board to appoint a manager at a town meeting last November.

“Over the last several years, as the town has grown, there are quite frankly a lot more full-time employees than the town had maybe 10 years ago,” Nadeau said this week, noting a new public works department, full-time fire chief, part-time planner, full-time code enforcement officer and a full office staff. “Especially from a human resources perspective, it was important to have somebody that was overseeing the entire organization of a full-time basis.”

According to the US Census, Durham’s population increased from 3,852 people in 2010 to 3,993 in 2019. Durham had a larger population shift in the last century, when it grew from 1,280 in 1970 to 3,500 by 1997, according to the town website.

Nadeau said that Tombarelli was selected for a handful of reasons, including general leadership qualities, local Maine knowledge, strong education credentials and a good approach and background with town government, particularly as it pertains to planning and land use issues.

“She comes to the table with an understanding of the issues in this part of the state,” Nadeau said, noting that the position drew applications from as far away as Oregon.

The select board unanimously voted to hire Tombarelli in 5-0 vote in April. Tombarelli will receive a $85,000 annual salary and was selected out of an applicant pool of about 40.

Tomberalli comes from Gray where she has worked as a town planner for over six years. She is a graduate of the University of Southern Maine, holding a master’s degree in public policy and management from the Muskie School of Public Service.

She spent her first day on Monday touring the town’s municipal buildings and familiarizing herself with Durham.

“The last thing anybody wants to hear is how things are done in the town that you came from before,” Tombarelli said, when asked what her first moves as manager might be in an interview. “I really want to listen to the staff, and I really want to listen to the citizens and see what it is that they want.”

As for preliminary ideas, Tombarelli noted two possibilities that she said were briefly discussed with the select board: interns and grants.

“We need to get young people interested in municipal government as a career path,” Tombarelli said, noting that she initiated an internship program in Gray. “There’s a couple reasons why I would love to do that. First of all, municipal government is aging.”

Tombarelli also added that an intern program would help bring valuable energy into the town hall, offer new perspective and help grow technological efficiency and systems.

Tombarelli also said she would be interested in putting more effort into finding and applying for grants.

“It’s really difficult in a small community like Durham to find the time to apply for these grants, but the money is out there,” she said.

Tombarelli grew up in Washington state, at times living in California and Texas, but spending most of her life in Maine. She said that, for now, she continues to live in Gray. Tombarelli is married with two daughters — who also live in Maine — and she has four grandchildren.

 

This story was updated at 11:17 a.m. Thursday, May 13 to correct the spelling of Kathy Tombarelli’s name.


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