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Peabody planner preps for Merrimack


PEABODY — For the past seven years, Karen Sawyer Conard has been one of the city’s most visible public officials.

From improvements to Peabody Square to developments on Route 1 to countless ribbon cuttings for new businesses, the community development and planning director has never been one to spend her days sitting behind a desk.

But next week, Conard will be moving on to a new position as the executive director of the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, the agency which coordinates planning for 15 municipalities.

“I started in Peabody seven years ago this month and it’s been a nice run,” said Conard. “I started under Mayor Michael Bonfanti and Mayor (Edward) Bettencourt kept me on. They have both been fantastic to work for.”

The opportunity at the commission became available and Conard was encouraged to apply, she said. Conard said she is familiar with the Merrimack Valley, living in Andover with her husband and children and having worked in Methuen.

“This is an opportunity to grow in the field and to be an advocate on behalf of the five cities and 10 towns,” Conard said. The goal of her new gig will be to foster collaboration between communities within the region on planning and transportation issues.

“We are delighted to have Karen join us as executive director,” said Robert Lavoie, Merrimack Valley Planning Commission chairman. “She brings decades of experience and extensive planning knowledge as well as deep community, government and business relationships. We are confident she will not only continue but also build upon the strong collaborative and cooperative development efforts of retired Executive Director Dennis DiZoglio.”

Bettencourt said Conard will be missed.

“Karen represented my administration and the city extremely well as director of community development,” he said. “She played an instrumental role in a number of key initiatives including the Main Street and Peabody Square redesign projects. Peabody benefited a great deal from her knowledge and expertise and I wish her great success in her new role.”

Conard said what she will miss most about working in Peabody is the commitment and pride that the city’s residents and business people show on a consistent basis.

“I love the people,” she said. “I am blown away by their sense of community pride. It is quite unique and powerful. It is a great place to live and work, and there are so many talented people working there.”

The mayor said the city will advertise for a new head of the Community Development and Planning Department at the beginning of the new year.

“This is a very important role for the city of Peabody,” Bettencourt said. “I think the opening will generate a good deal of interest and I’m confident we’ll have a strong pool of very well-qualified applicants from which to choose.”

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