SULLIVAN — Rob Eaton, bouncing between seasonal jobs in Maine and Florida, was looking for a reason to stay in Sullivan year-round.
In 2016, when town residents voted to hire a town manager — the first in Sullivan’s 228-year history — people immediately suggested to him that he consider applying for the position. He dismissed the idea at first, but ultimately decided to apply.
He had a background in public service, serving as a state representative for eastern Hancock County from 2006 to 2010. More recently, he worked as the innkeeper at Ironbound in Hancock and at hotels in Florida during the winter. Throughout that time, he’s been an active community member, volunteering at YMCA events and for the Red Cross.
“A few weeks passed, and I started to think about it, and thought, ‘I could spend the next three years here and not go away — and give it all to my town,'” Eaton said. “I decided I wanted to stay in Maine. I missed being here; I didn’t like being away from home.”
By the first week of November 2017, he was starting work at the Sullivan town office.
In the 13 weeks since, Eaton said he’s been working closely with his co-workers in Sullivan’s local government. Mainly, they’ve been getting a sense of what Eaton’s newly created position could entail, and how his time could be best spent.
Early on, he said, a big priority was communication. Sullivan officials unveiled a new digital sign outside the town office announcing meetings and events. They also re-launched a Facebook page for the town, and built a website with regular updates about town government.
The updates already have proven useful. Recently, when Eaton was awake at 4 a.m., he noticed a Facebook message from a resident — time-stamped 3 a.m. — inquiring about a meeting that had been advertised on the digital sign.
Another issue Eaton takes seriously is becoming an “Age-Friendly” town. AARP hosts a network of cities and towns that are committed to serving retired communities. An early focus for Eaton’s town manager role is to make Sullivan comfortable for people of all ages, and part of that has been to create an Age-Friendly committee.
Sullivan has become the 46th town in Maine to become an AARP Age-Friendly member.
“The goal is to help our seniors age gracefully in their homes,” Eaton said.
For him, the town manager position is a way to focus on community needs. It’s extra time and energy that wasn’t available in the past, meaning new initiatives can be undertaken. As part of that effort, the Age-Friendly committee held its first meeting with 11 people in attendance.
“That’s the key,” Eaton said. “You’ve got to get the asks out to people; that’s what I can do. I’ve got the time.”
Another challenge Eaton has identified is the lack of a community gathering spot in Sullivan.
A part of an effort to link people in the town together, Eaton said, staff hosted the first tree lighting during the holidays in three years.
“We were hoping to get 20 people. We had 17 different people pitch in to help us pull it off,” Eaton said.
By the end, 80 people had come out to attend the event.
Eaton said he’s a hard worker with high standards for himself, but recognized that there’s a learning curve to his new gig. He began talking with other town officials nearby about how to approach the job — including Bryan Kaenrath in Gouldsboro and Stu Marckoon in Lamoine.
He’s also been attending meetings held by the Maine Municipal Association and working with Sullivan’s staff to implement efficient systems, like online car registration and accepting debit and credit cards.
Eaton consistently points to the other staff members at the town office as crucial to his work. The most important thing, he said, was that people are proud to be from Sullivan.