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Slocum to retire in March; has positive reflections on Belfast

By Kendra Caruso | Dec 02, 2019
Source: File photo Belfast City Manager Joe Slocum will retire in March.

Belfast — In 1967, when Belfast City Manager Joe Slocum was 13, he found himself unexpectedly caught in the middle of a race riot in Poughkeepsie, New York. On broken glass, he crawled his way to safety through swinging clubs and burning cars.

The event set him on a trajectory to studying law, which fostered his passion for community management and ultimately led to his becoming Belfast’s city manager, an office from which he will retire March 6.

While growing up in Binghamton, New York, a city roughly the size of Portland, Slocum said his parents instilled strong civic values in him and his seven siblings. Those values led him into a career in public office, starting out as a 26-year-old Binghamton city councilor.

He served as the Broome County attorney in New York before giving up the fast life of arguing in courtrooms to become town manager for Castine in 1994.

“I could’ve had maybe a bigger, flashier life,” Slocum said. “The single greatest thing I ever did for my children was to move them to a small town in Maine and let them grow up here.”

Soon after, he took a job in Augusta supervising property and casualty claims for Maine municipal properties. All the while, he was keeping an eye on Belfast — a city he said he desired to work in after visiting a few times.

So in 2007, when the city was seeking a new manager, Slocum submitted his resume and the City Council hired him over 39 other applicants.

“Joe Slocum was a lucky hire for Belfast, and lucky for Joe as well,” City Councilor Mike Hurley wrote in an email. “If I had to lay one accolade on Joe, it is that he was instrumental in bringing the Rail Trail along the Passagassawakeag to fruition.

“The job of manager is complex and veers from highly technical to deeply personal, high finance to mundane, and it all requires tenacity and perseverance. Joe excelled at the multi-tasking, he had a relentlessly positive and good-humored approach and he’ll be recalled in history as a talented and productive city manager.”

Slocum did not want to build the city in his own vision, but, rather, to help councilors develop legislation to further their goals to grow it economically and help it respond to climate change.

He helped the city transition to 90% renewable energy in all its buildings and assisted councilors with completing the Rail Trail and Harbor Walk. He helped the city with its development of three solar projects, the largest of which was finished last winter on Crocker Road.

After bringing in economic developer Thomas Kittredge in 2010, the city saw a rapid increase in business startups. In 2011 the Portland Press Herald reported that the city saw 28 new businesses open that year.

One of Slocum's top priorities as city manager was to make sure city employees felt valued and appreciated. He tried to stay in contact with city department heads to be certain he was addressing all issues.

“I want to look in my rear-view mirror and I want to see people I work with who knew that, while I worked with them, their work was very important,” Slocum said. “It’s very important to me to know that they know that their work is very important. And secondly, I want those same people to know that while they did those jobs, they were valued for doing those jobs.”

He said he was happy to work with dedicated city employees like Public Works Director Bob Richards, who always tried to fulfill city requests, even if he was stretched thin with work.

He kept a lighthearted relationship with the Police Department, which has issued him several tickets for downtown parking violations. One Christmas he gave Officer Russell Spickney, who monitors downtown parking, a set of multicolored chalk to mark tires with as a gag gift for the many tickets he received that year.

Soon after, he came out to his car tires chalked in pink. Spickney still uses the chalk – mostly during Pride Week.

“Joe has been a good city manager,” Spickney said. “ … He’s always been very kind and very helpful and has a pretty good sense of humor.”

Slocum names two instances where he moved and never looked back. The first was his decision to uproot his family from New York to Castine, and the second was leaving his state job in Augusta to accept the position as Belfast city manager.

He said he intends to stick around town a little longer before moving back to his house in Castine. But he will still be active in the community. He wants to bridge generational gaps between young and older people in the community to encourage high schoolers to stay in Maine.

In retirement, Slocum wants to pursue what has been a moonlight writing passion. He has two fictional stories in manuscript, but has been too busy with his career to pursue publishing them. Much of his writing time was spent on the long drives between Castine and Augusta using a recording system while driving. He hopes to write more and get published in his retirement.

Reflecting on his career, Slocum said he feels lucky to have two successful children, and a happy second marriage, while still appreciating the time with his first wife and having participated in a community that he said is welcoming and bonded.

“I am the luckiest person I know. And that’s not just about Belfast, that’s my entire life,” Slocum said. “I have great brothers and sisters, I had great parents, I was married to a phenomenal woman to share two children with — have great kids …. I’m very lucky to have met Janet Whitcomb in Belfast and fallen in love with her. I’m glad that we have married. We have a dog. I have a job that I love. I work with people that I care deeply about.”

Mayor Eric Sanders wrote in an email, “I have had the honor of getting to work with Joe for 10 of his 13 years. He is a caring, gracious manager. The bar has been now set very high. His numerous contributions to the city and its citizens have been remarkable.

“I am sad, but also thrilled that he worked with us. Only the best wishes! Very few people I know actually get to retire, and I suspect he will do so with the same gusto he brought to our city!”

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