After being ‘chief,’ turning to the role of ‘coach’ and ‘guide’

When Tim Polky put his name in for the job of St. George’s town manager last autumn, he admits it was with a certain amount of reluctance. “I had an idea of what the job is about—I’d been working with John [Falla, who retired as town manager at the end of January after nearly 30 years in the position] for about 25 years. I just didn’t want a desk job.”

But after Falla moved up his retirement date from June 30, 2017 to February 1, Polky says that putting himself forward as a candidate for the position seemed the right thing to do. As Richard Bates, the chair of the town’s select board, explains, with Falla retiring five months earlier than expected, the timeline for the search process the board had set up with the help of the Maine Municipal Association suddenly became “impractical” if the board didn’t want to rush into making a choice. Although hiring an interim town manager was an option, choosing to enter into a three-year contract with Polky, Bates says, “offered a pretty close to optimum solution.” As town manager, Polky would be able not only to provide administrative continuity as needed changes are made at the town office, but also to bring familiarity with the work of the town’s various boards and committees and the issues they are currently facing.

“I think that my primary goal is to make the transition—to go from what we had to what we’ll have down the road,” Polky says in terms of his administrative role at the town office. “Whether I’m here two or three years from now, we still need to have that plan in place and it will be different from what John did. A lot of things may be different. I look at myself as a coach for that transition.”

Already the position of assistant town manager that Polky held under Falla has been eliminated and the position of finance director—now held by Elizabeth Curtis—has been added. Creating Curtis’ position, which involves many of the responsibilities Falla had, has allowed Polky to retain most of the same roles he had as assistant town manager—that of town planner, road commissioner, transfer station supervisor, emergency management administrator—while assuming his new responsibilities as town manager. These include working closely with the select board and shepherding special projects such as the development of the Cold Storage Road property and addressing new concerns such as affordable housing issues.

“The biggest thing I left behind was the job of fire chief,” Polky notes. It’s a position he had held since 1980. “I had to leave that behind because the fire chief reports to the town manager.” Polky is quick to add that he is confident the department will continue to function well under the new chief, Mike Smith. “We have a capable, well-trained fire department. I’ve stayed on as a firefighter and I’ll be there if they need me. The planning part of it—how will we make improvements—has always been a group process. We’re also fortunate because we’ve got a lot of young people, so for the near future we’re in fairly decent shape—we can always use more, but right now it’s good.”

Polky says that, in addition to playing coach in matters of reorganization at the town office, as town manager he also sees himself as “a guide” in helping the town’s committees and boards reach the town’s goals. “I’ve been in the town a long time, I listen to people and have an idea of what they want. Of course all taxpayers have an idea of where they want the town to be. What we need to do as a town is to talk to each other and make what we want known and not make assumptions. So if you have a question, ask.”

Polky has lived in St. George all his life and his ties to the community go even deeper. “Some of my family was here in the early to mid 1700s. The land where my house is has been in the family since before the Revolutionary War. And my father’s family came here from Finland about 1900 to work in the quarries in Long Cove.”

Polky admits that it is those deep ties to the community, in part, that affects how he looks at his new job. “I don’t remember ever not doing something for the community. My family always did. I just grew up that way. I think that has a lot to do with why I’m doing this. If I wasn’t so tied to the community I probably wouldn’t have told the select board I was interested in this job. But I think this transition is going to work fine. We have an excellent staff here—they know what has to be done. It’s a team and the transition will be a collaborative process.”—JW

PHOTO: Julie Wortman

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