NORWAY — After working for 32 years with Community Concepts in a number of different roles, including as chief executive officer for Community Concepts Finance Corporation since 2012, newly appointed Town Manager Dennis Lajoie said that he was ready for a change of scenery.
“I was at Community Concepts for a really long time, and I was getting a little burnt out,” Lajoie said. “In that field, there’s a lot going on, and you’re trying to help folks in multiple counties. With the town manager job, it’s really about helping the town and the citizens of the town.”
Lajoie, who lives in Hebron, replaced David Holt, who had served as town manager since 1989. He is Norway’s third town manager in the last 43 years.
In 1988, when Holt’s predecessor, Larry Todd, was still town manager, Lajoie said he worked for the town of Norway as a community development manager.
He also briefly worked with Holt in 1989, after Holt replaced Todd.
“I already have some familiarity with the town and how it’s been run,” Lajoie said. “I’m also aware of what’s been going on here in terms of the arts and the assets that the town has.”
At first, Lajoie said that he didn’t know if the skills he had built at Community Concepts would be “transferable” to a town manager position.
“After awhile, I thought, ‘I think they are,’” Lajoie said. “They’re both administrative positions, and both of them have staffing, budgets, and a board to deal with, all of which I’m familiar with.”
He admitted that while he hasn’t “managed a fire station or police station,” the employees in each department have been invaluable resources in helping him get acclimated to his new duties.
“The fire and police chiefs, the town clerk and deputy clerks, they’ve all been here for a long time and are highly respected,” Lajoie said. “When I was considering whether to take the job, I was thinking, ‘Could my personality blend with the personalities in this town?’ I think that it does, and obviously, the board thought that it did, too.”
Lajoie said that his familiarity with Norway and its proximity to his home in Hebron convinced him to pursue the town manager position.
“There were other positions that weren’t town manager positions that I was looking at, but all of them would have required travel,” Lajoie pointed out. “My son is going to be going to [Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School]. I know I could’ve done the jobs at those other places, but I didn’t know them enough to know how I would fit in with their culture.”
Plenty to do
Lajoie said that his goal as Norway’s new town manager isn’t to shake things up, but to “learn, be supportive, and help the community be the best that it can be.”
However, he admitted that he has some areas that he would like to focus on in the early days.
“I was walking down the street with [Police Chief] Rob [Federico] the other day, and we were talking about some of the vacant storefronts along Main Street,” Lajoie said. “I definitely want to see if we can get some of those buildings filled up with new businesses.”
He said that his previous job with Community Concepts Finance Corp. focused on economic development and “helping small businesses find capital.”
“I still have a really good relationship with the folks there, and I’ve added all of Norway Downtown’s meetings into my calendar,” Lajoie said. “I want to be as supportive of the businesses here as I can and help them grow, if they want to.”
Lajoie has also looked at “about one-third” of the town’s infrastructure and has been impressed with the quality of the roads he has seen.
“I haven’t seen them all, but it seems like the town has done a nice job of keeping the roads in good condition,” he added.
He said that he wants to look at the five-year plan for the town’s roads and make sure everything still makes sense moving forward.
Another goal that Lajoie has is to learn if there are any programs in town for seniors.
“I know the Recreation Department doesn’t have anything, and I haven’t talked with the library staff yet,” Lajoie said. “With Maine having an aging population, I’m trying to figure out how to get people to stay in the state once they retire, and how to engage them in either committee work or fun activities to keep them socially involved.”
When Lajoie isn’t busy with work, he said he likes to “stay physically active.”
“Yesterday, it was my first selectmen’s meeting in the evening, so between the end of the work day and the selectboard meeting, I said, ‘I have to go outside and play some hoop,’” Lajoie said. “I grabbed my basketball, changed into some shorts, went down to the high school and played some basketball for awhile.”
He added that he and his son “play some mean Frisbee.”
“I like running around and enjoying the sunshine,” Lajoie said. “It helps me clear my head and puts things into perspective.”
During the winter months, Lajoie said that he and his wife go snowshoeing.
“Where we live, there are plenty of trails to go snowshoeing,” he said. “Now that I work in Norway, I’ll be able to go up to Roberts Farm and use the trails there. I just like doing things outside.”
‘Be honest, be open…’
For a week before Lajoie officially took over as town manager, he said that he worked alongside Holt, who told him to “be honest, be open, be candid, and be polite.”
“His personality and mine are probably different, but our philosophies, our values, and our morals are the same,” Lajoie said.
Lajoie said that he knows Holt’s retirement is “a big change for the staff,” but looks forward to getting to know them as they get to know him.
“Going from working with someone for 28 years to working for a new person is always going to be tough, but what I’ve been trying to do is meet with each staff member and get them to know me a little bit more,” Lajoie said. “I want to be supportive of whatever they’ve got going on. That’s what works best for me.”
He added that “everyone has been great.”
“The whole town has a helpful, open-door philosophy, and that’s exactly who I am as a person.”