Originally published in The Weekly Packet, April 25, 2019
After 24 years, Jim Schatz looks back—and ahead
Jim Schatz, shown at his (now clean) desk at the Blue Hill Town Office, stepped down as selectman after 24 years.
by Anne Berleant
It was almost a quarter-century ago when then-town treasurer Sarah Brooks approached Jim Schatz with nomination papers in hand. “She said, you should run,” he recalled in the final days of his long reign as selectman.
Schatz stepped down after the April 5 town meeting after eight terms and 24 years. During that time, he also served as state representative for then-District 37 from 2004-2010, ran the Blue Hill Farm Country Inn with wife Marcia, and served on Blue Hill Memorial Hospital Board, Blue Hill Peninsula Chamber of Commerce Board, Healthy Peninsula Project Steering Committee, and Peninsula Area Team for Health.
He also saw a quarter-century of changes flow through Blue Hill and the peninsula.
“Technology has changed a lot in 25 years,” with the advent of email and social media accelerating “the opportunity for misunderstanding,” he said from behind a scarred, metal desk in the selectmen’s room at the town office. The desk piled high with papers, Schatz was in the midst of organizing town business for the new board of selectmen and, he hoped, a new town administrator, approved in an April 4 referendum.
Another change is the increase in absentee ownership of local businesses. “Early on, many of the people operating businesses were year-round neighbors, even if they closed during the winter. There was more of a feeling of community that involved the business community.”
Schatz himself, he noted, moved to Blue Hill to “start a business and live here and be part of a community.”
The present business model is more akin to that of recent transplant John Warren, Schatz noted, who bought properties, “prettied them up,” and is looking for people to run businesses in them.
“It’s a shift, neither good nor bad, [but] creates stresses and challenges and leads to more opportunity for an ‘us and them’ relationship.”
Schatz also noted changes in the selectman’s role. “When I first started, the select board was featured as good old boys that made sure there weren’t big disasters. For the most part, everything ran by itself.”
The board was reactive in nature, he continued. “You get bombarded. While you’re doing that, you miss opportunities to be more thoughtful and forward looking.” Now, Schatz sees more of an opportunity for balance, with selectmen “having the opportunity to be both. Before, you could only be reactive.”
Schatz found parallels in his dual roles as a state legislator and selectman, he said. “In a town, it’s a little less political. Opinion, issues don’t follow along political lines. People need to work together.”
In his dual roles, he also found himself “able to leverage issues we had here, like school consolidation,” and to advocate for the Blue Hill hospital.
After an unsuccessful 2010 state senate bid, Schatz again ran for the House, but lost to fellow Democrat Ralph Chapman in a primary election. From that point on, he could be found in the town office most weekdays, handling town business while looking forward to issues such as the dredging of Blue Hill Harbor, a long-standing proposal that may yet happen.
“You have to be like a bull dog,” Schatz said, “grab hold and stay with it, stay with it, and change comes about.”
One change Schatz would like to see is more public waterfront access. “If I had a disappointment, it’s that,” he said, referencing a failed 2018 town vote on purchasing a Salt Pond waterfront parcel. “It’s a tough nut to crack.”
The existing downtown waterfront is underused, in his view. “I’d really like to think that in five to 10 years our waterfront would be more vibrant. I think it will happen. I know it will happen.”
While Schatz backs away from any question regarding his legacy, he commends the past selectmen he has worked with, such as Gordon Emerson, Duane Gray, Judy Danico, and John Bannister.
“What made this all possible is the people I got to be with and work with,” he said. “People like [Town Clerk] Etta Perkins become like family. You feel like you’re coming home just going to work.”
The Schatzs sold the inn several years ago and, with Schatz retired from town business, plan to move to Louisville, Kentucky, to be near their grandchildren.