Wednesday July 17, 2013

Brattleboro will be losing a great asset next week when Town Manager Barbara Sondag ends her 10-year tenure here -- first as assistant town manager, then interim town manager and her current position since 2007 - to take a new job in her home state of Missouri.

"It's been a great ride," Sondag told us recently. "I am going to miss the people I worked with and the camaraderie."

Judging from all of the heartwarming praise we heard from those who knew and worked with Sondag, that sentiment is mutual.

"It's a great loss to the town," said Town Clerk Annette Cappy.

"She really set the standard for me and she did it with humor, with grace and with an enormous amount of intelligence," said Jerry Goldberg, executive director of the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce.

"Brattleboro will feel the loss and I wish Barb the best," said Gov. Peter Shumlin, who praised her leadership throughout the town's most difficult challenges over the past several years.

When Sondag took over as town manager, the town's finances were in a shambles, the federal government was breathing down her neck about spending on the town's transportation project and the general budget's bottom line was in the red. Following the propitious hiring of John Leisenring as the town's finance director, Sondag was able to track down every penny spent of the federal money allocated for the construction of the town's parking garage and got the town's finances back in the black.

"She came in to a very difficult and sensitive situation," said former Selectboard Chairman Dick DeGray.


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"The town was having financial issues and she replaced a town manager that was very well liked. Some hard feelings transpired, but she kept her head above the fray. She handled herself with class."

Getting the town's finances back on track wasn't the last, or perhaps toughest, challenge to land on Sondag's plate during her tenure. In April 2011, an electrical fault caused a fire in the Brooks House and in August of 2011, Tropical Storm Irene swept across Vermont, sending flood waters down the Whetstone Brook and through the low-lying sections of Brattleboro.

Rod Francis, town planner, said the fire and the flood proved what most town employees already knew about Sondag: She was strong under pressure and brought a steady hand to town operations.

"She certainly stabilized the management team and allowed people to focus on what they needed to do," he said.

Sondag attributed much of her success as town manager to the people working for her, but as DeGray astutely pointed out, a team can't function effectively without a great leader.

"She led by example with her work ethic and she was available and approachable," he said.

"I look at where we were eight years ago and where we are today," he added. "We are an entirely different community and Barb is a big part of that. She was in the right place at the right time for our town. We were very fortunate to have her."

No doubt there will be more accolades on Friday when town employees, elected officials and members of the public gather to bid a formal farewell to Sondag. The celebratory send off will be held from 3 to 5 p.m. at the Municipal Building, where cake and punch will be served. Next Tuesday is Sondag's last day as town manager as she starts her new job in Olivette, Mo., on July 29. We're sure we speak for many folks in Brattleboro and the surrounding area when we say Brattleboro's loss in Olivette's gain. Farewell Barb, you will be missed.