BAR HARBOR — After 17 years working with the city of Ellsworth, Planner Michele Gagnon will be leaving her job to take the job as planning director in Bar Harbor.
“We just really liked her enthusiasm for the job,” said Bar Harbor Town Manager Cornell Knight. “I think she’ll be a great fit. She has a very good attitude about her work.”
Gagnon, who was appointed at a Bar Harbor Town Council meeting on Jan. 15, will start in Bar Harbor on Feb. 25, Knight said, at a salary of $80,000. The Bar Harbor vote was unanimous, although Bar Harbor Town Councilor Joe Minutolo recused himself for “relationship reasons.”
Ellsworth City Manager David Cole thanked Gagnon for her service to the city.
“She’s helped lead the planning office through some very busy times,” Cole said. “Bar Harbor will certainly benefit from her experience here.”
Cole said he would be announcing an interim planner soon and be advertising for the position in the coming weeks.
“The trains will keep running in the interim and I’m confident in our team,” Cole said. The open position will “be a great opportunity for someone because there’s a lot going on here.”
Bar Harbor officials said they were looking forward to putting Gagnon to work on upcoming projects.
“We have a comprehensive plan update coming scheduled to start this summer,” Knight said before Tuesday’s meeting. “We’re working on housing affordability. The planner staffs the Planning Board, Design Review Board, Conservation Commission and the Board of Appeals. There’s a lot on her plate. It’ll be good to get her on board.”
During her time in Ellsworth, Gagnon was involved in a flurry of construction activity, including the new Jackson Lab campus, the expansion of Walmart and a string of housing developments. She was also part of updating the city’s 2004 comprehensive plan.
A Bar Harbor resident, Gagnon said she was most proud of her implementation of a technical review team comprised of department heads working together to review development applications. She also cited her work on overhauling Ellsworth land-use ordinances in 2012.
“Every year we made changes and improved the process,” Gagnon said. “I think that resulted in a more fair and efficient development process.”
Bar Harbor has had several planners in as many years. The town’s most recent former planner, Janna Richards, served as Bar Harbor planner from April to November 2018 and now works as economic development director in Ellsworth. (Richards was paid $66,373 in the Bar Harbor planning director position.)
Before Richards, the position of Bar Harbor planner was held for two and a half years by Robert Osborne, who retired in 2017. (Code Enforcement Officer Angela Chamberlain has served as interim planning director between appointments.)
Council Chairman Gary Friedmann said he was excited about Gagnon’s appointment.
“I’m thrilled to have Michele be nominated for this position,” he said. “She brings depth of experience, great knowledge of the ordinance and she works well with developers and other stakeholders in the community.”
Bar Harbor officials interviewed three candidates for the position, Knight said. Gagnon “has many years experience,” along with a master’s degree in urban planning.
Bar Harbor councilors briefly discussed potential ethical conflicts with having a department head (Gagnon) who has a relationship with a town councilor (Minutolo). Minutolo will have to recuse himself perhaps “during budget discussions,” said Knight, but “there’s no conflict per se” for their being a relationship between a councilor and a department head.
Councilor Paul Paradis said Minutolo “will have to bone up on the ethics ordinance” but Paradis said he didn’t think it would be a problem.
Becky Pritchard contributed to this story.