Laurie Smith was recently named municipal manager of the year by the Maine Town, City and County Managers Association. Tammy Wells Photo

KENNEBUNKPORT – This pleasant, pretty town – arguably one of Maine’s most famous communities – has a lot going for it. There is the nearby ocean, sometimes calm and sparkling and at other times, swirling and feisty. There is the attractive, vibrant Dock Square area, an elementary school, and a working waterfront in the Cape Porpoise village area of town, among other attributes.

So, what pressures do a town manager and selectmen face in a town like Kennebunkport?

Ask the town’s own Laurie Smith, named Manager of the Year, earning the Linc Stackpole Award, given annually by the Maine Town, City and County Management Association.

The award came last month. Smith, town manager since 2014, was nominated by selectman Patrick Briggs. There were letters of support from municipal staff, selectmen, and community leaders.

“I was surprised and very flattered the board and staff would put my name forward,” said Smith in an interview last week. “It’s always nice to be recognized by those you work with, but more work has to be done and we need to put our shoulder back to the grindstone.”

The work entails finding solutions to matters like trying to assure there is housing that working families can afford in a community that tends to be pricey, and issues like balancing the demand for short-term housing rentals with needs associated with keeping a vibrant, viable year-round community.

“Kennebunkport has been at the crux of dealing with its own success,” said Smith from her workspace tucked away in the depths of the municipal office on Elm Street. “The community has a desire to maintain the sense of culture and character that drew people to fall in love with Kennebunkport to begin with.”

The outside world, she said, can create pressures and demands that impact these values.

“Change is not necessarily bad, but it’s about making change in concert with the community’s own goals and vision,” she said.

Smith has been town manager in several communities. The Brunswick native majored in public administration at the University of Maine. She worked as a paralegal for several different law firms, as she contemplated attending law school – and found that her heart did indeed belong in public administration. She has also been town manager in Boothbay, Oxford, Boothbay Harbor, Auburn and Wiscasset.

She said the work she does has to be varied for her to be successful; it must be meaningful, and she needs the support of the municipal board and staff.

Testimonials associated with her nomination show she has that support and gives a glimpse of how she operates.

“Laurie has been a fierce proponent of ensuring that the town, its citizens, and visitors are safe amid the pandemic,” one piece stated, outlining initiatives like making sure hand sanitizing and glove stations were installed throughout the community and advocating that the town’s public health department conducted COVID testing for employees, residents, and surrounding communities.

Among other pandemic related initiatives, Smith was instrumental in organizing a drive-through Halloween trick-or-treat event that drew 600 children, – proving that even during a pandemic, one could have fun, according to the letters of support for her award nomination. There was the Holiday Trail of Lights in concert with the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel Chamber of Commerce, and the Kennebunkport Promise, which publicly outlined the measures merchants, restauranteurs and hoteliers were taking to promote safety.

She leads by example, according to the letters of support, believes in employee recognition, education and working hand in hand with community partners like the Kennebunk, Kennebunkport and Arundel Chamber of Commerce, the Residents Association, and the Kennebunkport Housing Trust, among others.

In Kennebunkport, an update to the Comprehensive Plan – the town’s direction for the future – is ongoing and the committee tasked to wrote it is tackling a wide range of issues, including climate change, a weighty, worrisome issue in a seaside community.

“The comp plan supports commercial fishing,” Smith noted. But as climate change hovers, “what happens when the waters warm and there’s no lobster?”

Housing is an important piece of the puzzle – though she pointed out, Kennebunkport is not the only municipality facing housing issues. And, she said, there is a focus on maintaining the residential nature of the community.

“There are some big issues on the table,” she said. “I guess we could trim around the edges … but to me it is digging in and a lot of that is education and that is tough work.”

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