Norm Heitmann isn’t the most visible Bangor official. But as the city’s top lawyer, he has played a central role in many of the Queen City’s most consequential developments of the past few decades.
Now, after 20 years in the position of city solicitor — and four years before that as the assistant solicitor — Heitmann is retiring at the end of this week. He will be succeeded in the job by current Assistant Solicitor Paul Nicklas.
During an interview in his office on the second floor of City Hall, Heitmann, 65, said that he is proud of the wide variety of projects he has worked on over the last two decades.
That included years of legal work for the opening and expansion of the city’s largest taxpayer, Hollywood Casino, which now has a total property valuation of more than $90 million. But Heitmann’s job has also entailed countless other small tasks that are necessary to running the city, such as reviewing the contracts for road salt and sand every winter.
The city’s lawyers sometimes go to court to handle parking tickets, violations of land rules and other legal matters, but their job mainly involves drafting rules, reviewing contracts and assisting the City Council with its directives, Heitmann said. Plus, many court matters are handled by the assistant solicitor.
“We’re going to be involved in a big way or little way in virtually everything,” Heitmann said of the city’s legal office. “What’s really rewarding, unlike a lot of private practice work, is you get to see the results of a project. You can walk around town and say, ‘I was involved with that project, or I was involved with that.’”
Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow and Finance Director Debbie Cyr both said that Heitmann has been instrumental to many complicated changes around Bangor in the past 20 years, including the development of the Hollywood Casino, the Penobscot River waterfront and the area around Bangor International Airport.
“He’s done a tremendous amount of work for the city,” Conlow said. “He’s passionate about the city, and he’s just been overall a great friend, and yeah, I’m going to have to figure out what to do without him.”
Before coming to work for Bangor in 1995, Heitmann spent 16 years in private practice in Bangor and Millinocket.
In retirement, he plans to keep living in Hampden with his wife, Pat, in part so they can be near children and grandchildren who also live in the area. While he will miss working with his colleagues at City Hall, he said he’s looking forward to having more time to spend with his family, particularly now that his weekday nights will no longer be consumed by City Council meetings.
The job has been particularly meaningful to Heitmann because he grew up about 30 miles away in the Waldo County town of Troy and has felt a strong connection to the Queen City all his life.
With that long view of the city, Heitmann has not been surprised by the redevelopment of its waterfront and downtown in recent years. He is also optimistic that the city will be able to help revitalize the Bangor Mall, a large taxpayer that has seen a wave of tenants depart in the past few years.
“Even living in Millinocket, I got to see the ebb and flow of Bangor,” Heitmann said. “The core was always there. I think there has been a resilience. I don’t think the city government or the citizens ever really gave up on Bangor, even in the downtimes.”