Rich Roedner became Topsham’s planning director in 2002, and its manager in 2014. He starts next month as town manager in Elon, North Carolina. Alex Lear / The Forecaster

TOPSHAM — Rich Roedner will start 2020 by ending a 17-year career in Topsham Jan. 2 and embarking on a new one in Elon, North Carolina, four days later.

Having started as Topsham’s planning director in 2002, the Saco resident became its town manager in 2014.

Roedner started in Topsham a year after the town approved the expansion of Topsham Fair Mall, a Main Street revitalization project concluded around that time.

“Certainly the commercial foundation of Topsham has changed dramatically; that whole back half of the mall,” he said.

About 16% of the town’s value was commercial when he arrived, he said. It was 26.5% commercial as of last year, Town Assessor Justin Hennessey reported.

“That lends a lot of stability to your tax base,” Roedner said. “When it’s all residential, you run that risk of changing economies and really losing out.”

Two communities for older adults – Highland Green and the Highlands – have been developed or expanded significantly during that time. The U.S. Navy Annex in Topsham closed in 2011 and has since been redeveloped.

Topsham in the past several years has “gotten our fiscal house in order,” Roedner said, a job that started before Roedner became manager, but an accomplishment of which he is particularly proud.

“We’re able to pay our bills, we’re able to maintain everything,” he said. “We’re looking at facilities, and making sure we know when things need to be done.”

Whereas there was much angst and distrust of the Planning Department and board, and project approvals being a “cumbersome, slow process” when he started with Topsham, the town strengthened its review process and standards, and was more clear about what was expected of developers, speeding up approval processes, Roedner said.

“We created a level of certainty, a level of trust,” he said. “… We became a good town to work with; we became a town that people wanted to come and build in.”

Topsham has experienced “a tremendous amount of development and growth in the Lower Village, moving us along that route of creating an identity of Lower Village, a place,” as single-story office buildings grow to two or three levels, Roedner said.

While progress has been made there, “it’s still not a downtown,” with added walkability and “smart growth” measures, Roedner said. “We’ve made a lot of progress; there’s a lot more to be made. And that will carry on.”

Dave Douglass, chairman of the town’s Board of Selectmen, said Monday that “the institutional knowledge we’ll lose with (Roedner) will be great, no matter how we go about replacing him.”

Derek Scrapchansky, assistant town manager since 2018, will serve as interim manager upon Roedner’s departure. The town will advertise the position early next year, and Douglass would like a permanent manager in place by March 2020.

In the meantime, “we’re in really, really good hands with Derek,” Douglass said. “… He starts at 5:01 Jan. 2, when Rich hurries up and packs his house and takes off.”

The 57-year-old Roedner will serve as the new town manager in Elon, where he and wife Dorrie are moving to enjoy a more temperate climate and be closer to family.

“I’m taking a whole weekend off to drive,” Roedner said. He plans to drive Jan. 3-4, rest for one day, and “show up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Monday morning; bright-tailed and bushy-eyed,” he joked.

It’s a move the couple has eyed for a few years, but the recession, their two daughters being in college and caring for aging parents postponed those plans until now, Roedner said. They moved to Maine in 1988, after which Roedner spent 12 years as Saco’s planner, followed by two years as Frye Island’s town manager.

Considering what advice to give his successor, Roedner said, “skills can be learned. You can learn to budget, you can learn to manage, you can learn to do all sorts of things. But you’ve got to have the integrity and the honesty, walking in the door.”

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