Patten hires a new town manager, Gail Albert, after nearly four years since the last town manager resigned.  Credit: Courtesy of Gail Albert

PATTEN, Maine — Breaking a nearly four-year span without a permanent leader at the helm, Patten recently hired a new town manager.

On Feb. 6, Gail Albert took on the task of guiding the town forward, but for now, she said she’s focused on listening, learning and observing.

“I really want to take in what is important to the town and the residents to see where I can make a difference and also to ensure the services the town is providing are the best that they can be for the town residents,” Albert said on Thursday.

The town faces several high-profile issues, including the proposed Pickett Mountain zinc mining project by Canadian mining company Wolfden. There’s also a new $8 million library project, a move to save the historic 1845 Regular Baptist church built by the town’s founders, a solar array ordinance and ongoing outdoor and trails initiatives.

During this turbulent time, temporary town managers each served a short time after the April 2019 resignation of town manager Raymond Foss.

During Foss’ three-year tenure, the community of about 988 residents created a town website, completed a comprehensive plan, developed and implemented a capital improvement plan, updated ordinances and the town’s financial position improved, according to town meeting minutes and Foss’ resignation letter.

Patten Planning Board Chairman Ron Blum, who is also the town health officer, said his interactions with Foss were professional and he was impressed with Foss’ handling of situations.

“He was better than most,” Blum said.

Nonetheless, there was discord between the Select Board and Foss regarding the terms of his contract renewal prior to his resignation, town records said. Foss had sought a family insurance plan from the town.

After an initial unsuccessful search for a town manager, the Select Board gave up for a time and decided to go with the town clerks, Blum said.

In early 2020, then Deputy Town Clerk Lora Ryan served as town manager, and in May of that year she served in both town clerk and town manager roles. The next month, former town Finance Director Rebecca Phillips served as town manager from late May until her resignation in early October 2020, according to select board meeting minutes.

Then-Select Board Chairman Marty McCarthy explained the town was doing fine at that time with existing staff, according to the meeting minutes. 

In July 2021, Darrel Mims was hired, but he only stayed in the position for four months, the town office said. According to Blum, it wasn’t until new select board members were added that the search resumed last year.

The town has had no point person for years, Blum said, adding that because there are so many new town employees, there is little institutional memory.

“Everybody is hopeful,” Blum said, referring to Albert. “We are hoping she can put things in order.”

“With every decision we make, we should always keep in mind the benefits for the town, the residents and the town over all,” Albert said. “I’m really hopeful we can get to a place where that’s the driving force, not to say it isn’t now, with the decisions we make.”

She used the Patten grocery store, Ellis Family Market, as an example.

During the pandemic, Albert and her husband were living at their Mt. Chase cabin when she noticed a sign at the Patten market, “If you are in desperate need of something please come to the desk.”

“I thought to myself, what a wonderful way to be community-based,” she said. “It really resonated with me. It’s how my husband and I want to live our lives.”

Albert grew up in a small Virginia town and graduated with a degree in public relations from American University in Washington, D.C. Her husband is originally from Houlton.

For 15 years, Albert was chief of staff for the Cornea Society in Fairfax. While this is her first job in a municipal position, she said she hopes to make a difference for the town.

“My office door is always open,” she said. “I don’t want there to be a barrier between our office and the town residents.”

Albert said she would explore programs and services Patten isn’t offering right now but would benefit residents. Since she’s only been on the job for a month, she said she needs more time before making changes.

One thing is certain: all the snow is a new treat for Albert. Along with her husband and their three dogs — Murphy, Cooper and Jackson — she enjoys hiking and going for winter walks.

“I feel a connection to the area and this town really resonates with me and where I grew up,” she said. “It feels like home and it’s nice to be back here.”

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Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli is a reporter covering the Houlton area. Over the years, she has covered crime, investigations, health, politics and local government, writing for the Washington Post, the LA...