A bustling beginning for the new Town Manager

The Town is fortunate to have hired a new manager who is familiar with how things work in Vermont.

A bustling beginning for the new Town Manager
Brian Story; from Thetford Municipal Website

Ever since his first day on June 19th, not even two months ago, our new town manager, Brian Story, has been on the go.

The first week involved an overlap with the outgoing interim manager, Tom Yennerell. This was to help acquaint Brian with the staff at town hall and provide him a very brief introduction to the way our government is structured and an overview of ongoing issues of the day.

A fairly major issue arose after just one week, with the resignation of the town’s Zoning Administrator (ZA) on June 26th. This left several residents up in the air over building permits yet to be issued. There was also an upcoming hearing of the Development Review Board (DRB)  that required the ZA to be in attendance. Members of the DRB, particularly the chair Tim Taylor, managed to fill the ZA’s role of taking notes of the deliberations and drafting the final opinion.

Brian immediately set to work to fill the ZA position. But hiring a ZA is not so simple. That duty is divided by Statute between the Planning Commission (PC) and the Selectboard. Even though the Town Manager is the ZA’s supervisor, it is the PC who reviews the candidates and makes a nomination to the Selectboard, which then has the responsibility of appointing the ZA.

Brian suspected that finding a new permanent ZA would take some time; meanwhile residents’ inquiries and requests for building permits were accumulating. So he explored and proposed the quick, stop-gap measure of contracting with an interim ZA from among the ranks of the planners at Two Rivers Regional Planning Commission. The Thetford PC came back with a different recommendation — to advertise for an interim ZA drawing from the local community. After further consultation with the PC and the DRB chairs, Brian set this in motion, and the PC is now ready to make a nomination to the Selectboard on Monday.

In fact there is a regional dearth of career ZAs. Thus the towns of Windsor, Weathersfield, and Bellows Falls are pooling resources to hire a shared ZA , which would allow them to hire an experienced individual at a professional salary , an idea that Brian also researched.

The fourth week into the job began on July 10th, the day of the now-infamous torrential rainstorms that left devastating damage across much of Vermont. During and after the storm, the Town’s Emergency Management team monitored the level of the Ompompanoosuc River and kept the Town Manager and other officials abreast of alerts across our region. In the aftermath, it is the Town Manager’s role to oversee the Department of Public Works (DPW) as they patch and repair the storm damage. And it may involve more than overseeing. If the Town wishes to apply for FEMA assistance, a very rigorous documentation and record-keeping process is necessary.

Shortly after the storm Brian was called away unexpectedly for a few days due to a family emergency.

His periodic updates to the Selectboard list the other things he has been working on:

Working with All Access, the town’s IT provider, to iron out various access problems and to discuss improved cybersecurity.

“Putting out fires” for a week at the end of June after a more local storm: “Neither (Dale or I) felt it was appropriate to use overtime to complete repairs for roads that could be reopened in their current state … It doesn’t appear that there was enough damage in our region to seek an emergency declaration, so we’ll bear the cost of the repairs.”

Preparing to install public EV charging stations at the Elementary School and Town Hall as recommended by a study from the Joint Thetford Energy Committee and the Intermunicipal Regional Energy Coordinator. Brian has applied for a grant to install chargers at both locations. “It is a competitive grant, but I understand that it is very well funded.”

Following up with the owner of a dangerous building to get a realistic timeline for its demolition, and contacting an engineer to figure out the next steps

Working with an architectural engineer to arrive at an estimate for stabilization and renovation work on the Timothy Frost building.

Lining up candidates to fill the current open position on the DPW.

Starting the catch-up work on “old e911 address requests” with Chief Scruggs.

Communicating with Blaktop Paving about weather-related delays in adding a “shim coat” and “finish coat” on Academy Road.

And — thinking ahead to fall — completing the permit application for the Town Labor Day Parade.

The Town is fortunate to have hired a new manager who is familiar with how things work in Vermont from his years as Johnson’s municipal administrator. He was able to hit the ground running. However, let’s hope in the near future that there will be a lull in the action. The manager needs time to get to know the community — deeply. And just as importantly, the Town, particularly the Selectboard, needs to know what to expect in working with a town manager.

The town manager form of government is founded on the idea of dichotomy between policy and administration. The policy-makers are elected citizen representatives (selectboard) familiar with the values of their community and with ideas of how to reflect them when crafting policy. The town manager is in charge of implementing policy through his actions and those of the professional staff he manages to deliver town services to residents.

Subscribe to Sidenote

Sign up now to get the latest stories right in your inbox.