On open, effective town government and Brattleboro's town manager search


The process and the substance of local government are tough stuff. We make ourselves available to be elected and appointed to town government positions because we are committed to the public good and to serving the community. Public service work, however, isn't always easy, and competing interests have to be balanced.

We want and feel the need for solid municipal services, but the costs can overwhelm us. We live in a place where citizens are really engaged in our community's life, but people often disagree strongly about priorities and what is best for the town. We have thoughts, feelings and concerns about town projects, but they develop and bubble up over time, and decisions often have to be reopened and revisited as a result.

Government can and must function in the sunshine, because transparency leads to trust, honesty, and public engagement. These are fundamental principles to which I, and all members of Brattleboro's Selectboard, are fully committed. This means that we make public information available to be considered, we solicit public input, we take the time to listen to and hear what people are saying, and we make decisions in the open, based on our best judgments of what is best for the town.

There is, however, a time and place for everything. Brattleboro employs about 135 full time and 20-50 part time and seasonal workers. These people work hard, often in very difficult circumstances, to provide core municipal services that are necessary for all of us to live safely. We owe these municipal employees our thanks and a debt of gratitude. Personnel and human resources issues relating to these employees are and must be confidential, and they deserve to be treated that way.

Brattleboro's search for a town manager has been ongoing for quite some time, and it is a process that reflects all of these issues. We are looking for a town manager who has the experience and skills effectively to manage and oversee a large, complex municipal organization that has to be ready and able to deliver daily services, to react in emergency situations, to comply with the law, to plan for the future, to balance competing priorities, to reconcile adverse views, to respect people's rights, and to respond to the needs of our population.

The town manager search has been, needs to be, and will continue as a confidential process. Individuals who have expressed interest in and are interviewing for this position have the right to expect that information about them will not be made public. Basic tenets of fairness and decency also require that information about the search not be leaked or released in a way that can hurt people who are involved in the process.

While respecting these basic requirements of confidentiality, the Selectboard has worked hard to make the town manager search process as inclusive as possible. We have invited employees and citizens to meet with and evaluate candidates, while reinforcing the confidential nature of the search. We have conferred and worked with these participants to get their feedback about the decision. Their input is highly valued, and has allowed us to ensure that many different perspectives are heard and considered as we work to make the best possible decision.

I respectfully have to disagree with the positions expressed in the Brattleboro Reformer's July 26 editorial. Based on everything I know about the town manager search, including information that is public, and related confidential personnel information, it is clear to me that the premature disclosure of information about the search process in the July 8 Brattleboro Reformer article caused harm and disruption both to the search process and to the lives of people involved in the search. There certainly was a risk that the Reformer would lash out at me personally when I said this publicly at the Selectboard's July 15 meeting, and when I called out the member of the citizen's committee who prematurely shared information about the search with the newspaper. Nevertheless, it needed to be said.

The Brattleboro Selectboard is committed to continuing forward and working collaboratively with citizens and employees during the ongoing town manager search, because this is how we can best benefit from the broadest possible perspective and have as much information as possible when making the decision on selecting a town manager.

I also am sure that I speak for the entire Selectboard when I extend my respect and thanks to everybody who participates in our Town's government in any way, large or small, whether by holding elected position, volunteering to serve on a committee, coming to meetings, sharing their views, and even just staying aware of town business. It is only by virtue of the dedication, commitment, and effort of an involved citizenry that we keep our town vital and strong.

David Gartenstein the the chairman of the Brattleboro Selectboard.


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