After nearly 25 years with Cape Elizabeth, including seven as town manager, Matt Sturgis is prepping to take over that role in Cumberland. Drew Johnson / Sentry

Leaders are ultimately remembered for how they led.

Over his seven years as Cape Elizabeth’s town manager, Matt Sturgis led by example, focusing on collaboration with the goal of helping every member of the team become better – all with unwavering kindness, according to his colleagues. He leaves next week to become town manager in Cumberland.

“He’s very respectful and that filters down to how we all work,” Police Chief Paul Fenton told the Sentry.

“Matt was a great supporter of all our departments and staff,” said Public Works Director Jay Reynolds. “(He) was always looking out for us.”

That leadership style was fostered through his time on select boards and town councils, including five straight years as chairman in Gray. Another 17 years as Cape Elizabeth’s town assessor honed his style.

“I always had a lot of opportunities to learn more things and be involved, not working in a silo, but looking across departments and working side by side,” Sturgis said in an interview. “I was always interested to help out with an eye towards having a bigger picture understanding of what we do as an entity.”


Sturgis was hired as Cape Elizabeth’s town manager in 2017, taking over for Michael McGovern, who had encouraged him to apply for the job. McGovern will take over as interim town manager as Cape Elizabeth looks for a permanent replacement. Sturgis will vacate the position on May 8 and start work in Cumberland in June.

Sturgis’ greatest challenge in Cape Elizabeth came when the pandemic hit three years into his tenure as town manager, he said.

“You’re making decisions with a fraction of the information you need to make a decision, and you hope you’ve made the right decision. Making sure people are safe, cared for, that we’re providing services,” he said.

The town was putting the finishing touches on its municipal budget proposal when the nation went into lockdown.

“We took the whole document and scrapped it,” Sturgis said, and it was pared down to focus on sustaining the services the town had and ensuring the community’s safety. “We rebuilt that budget from step one all the way through to come in with what you can call a ‘cataclysmic event budget.'”

The years to come required more collaboration than ever before, he said.


“All of the departments worked to get us through COVID. That was probably one of the proudest moments I had; to see how we worked to keep the operations going,” he said.

A half dozen of Sturgis’ colleagues interviewed for this article each painted the picture of a person who cares about everyone he works with. Many said they have developed true friendships with him.

“Working alongside Matt Sturgis has been a deeply enriching experience,” said Cape Elizabeth Facilities Director Dave Bagdasarian. “He consistently made an effort to connect personally, often inquiring about my family and showing genuine interest in the well-being of his team.”

Superintendent Chris Record said he’ll miss Sturgis “as a colleague and as a friend.”

“As superintendent, you hope to work with a town manager who is collaborative, thoughtful, friendly, and supportive of schools. Matt definitely fits all of those qualities. We worked very well together in the ‘one town concept’ of Cape,” Record said. “Cumberland hit a homerun with this hire. I wish him the very best of luck.”

Debra Lane, assistant town manager and longtime town clerk, has worked with Sturgis all throughout his nearly 25-year career in Cape Elizabeth.


“It’s been a pleasure watching him grow over the years personally and professionally,” Lane wrote in an email. “I am so happy for him as he takes this next step. It’s been my honor to work alongside Matthew. I thank him for his unwavering support, understanding, kind heart and wit.”

Fire Chief Steve Young said Sturgis is “a tremendous supporter of public safety” who put an emphasis on maintaining staff levels and ensuring the department had the resources it needed.

“He’s just a great guy,” Young said. “He definitely sees the value of personnel here.”

When Police Chief Fenton told his staff that Sturgis was heading to Cumberland, “they were devastated he was leaving and asked ‘What can we get him for a gift?'”

“We’re one of the few departments in the country that’s fully staffed right now,” Fenton said. “That’s largely because of Matt.”

Amidst the stress that comes with the title, the town manager was always willing to laugh and make others laugh, too.


“The fact that he understands my sense of humor during meetings will be missed,” said Town Councilor Penny Jordan, who was on the council throughout all seven years of Sturgis’ time as town manager. “I hope the citizens of Cumberland know how lucky they are to have Matt.”

“His sense of humor and ability to keep a positive outlook in our workplace was also part of what made Matt a great person to work for,” Reynolds said.

When asked what advice he’d leave the community of Cape Elizabeth with, Sturgis said to keep an open mind.

“You can disagree, but we don’t have to be disrespectful or completely shut somebody down,” he said. “There are others who might have ideas that are different than your own that you may want to consider.

“I think that could be said for the person that comes into this position as well as for most of us going forward.”

This story was updated May 1 to add a comment from Superintendent Chris Record. 


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