Our opinion: Sondag's big shoes
It's unfortunate that of the 62 applicants who applied for Brattleboro's Town Manager position, none were found to be the right fit. But we trust the people involved in the selection process, and if they say the town needs to conduct a second search, then let's get on with it.
One of the difficulties in finding just the right person could be blamed on former Town Manager Barb Sondag, because she left behind some big shoes to fill. When a town has someone as capable, responsive and as no-nonsense as Sondag, the bar for a replacement is set awfully high.
Now, some might argue for lowering the bar a bit, seeing as many of the challenges that Sondag and the town faced are behind us (the imbroglio related to the town's transportation project, the Brooks House fire, upgrades to the wastewater treatment plant and Tropical Storm Irene to name just a few). But others might argue that Brattleboro still has a tough row to hoe ahead of it and it deserves the firmest guiding hand it can find.
Of the challenges that will be placed on the new Town Manager's plate, perhaps the most pressing will be finding that line between a budget that provides needed services and a budget that breaks the back of the town's taxpayers.
The next Town Manager also needs to be actively involved in working with Building a Better Brattleboro, the Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce, the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation and Southeast Vermont Economic Development Strategies in developing ways to combat the town's "brain drain" and to encourage businesses that provide good-paying jobs to open or relocate here. Along these same lines, the right candidate must have the necessary skills to deal with the politics in Montpelier in a way that is advantageous to Brattleboro and its residents.
And let's not forget that the town has a major project in the works -- the renovation of its police and fire facilities. The financial burden of the bonding for the work is such that a meticulous eye must be kept focused on each and every aspect of the project.
The new Town Manager will also be dealing with the implications of the 2014 closure of Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Though Vernon, which is home to the plant, will be hit hardest by its closure, Brattleboro and its businesses will feel the pinch when many of the plant's 600 employees begin their exodus out of the tri-state region.
And then there are some of the minor issues (of course, the definitions of major and minor depend on your perspective) facing the town. Those include finding a location (again) for a proposed skatepark, welcoming to downtown the Community College of Vermont and the Vermont Technical College, setting aside enough money to take care of the town's ongoing capital needs, the eventual reconstruction of Putney Road in North Brattleboro, and pedestrian safety all over the town.
Fortunately, as the Selectboard and its appointed selection committee scour the applications it is sure to receive in the second round, the town is in the adept hands of its many incredible department heads and those of Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland, who had the good luck of being Sondag's second in command for two years before taking over at the end of July.
Moreland has indicated that he doesn't believe he is quite ready to assume the permanent duties of Town Manager, but if he's still in place following the completion of the budgeting process and Representative Town Meeting in March, he may embrace the job thrust upon him (or go running in the opposite direction).
We are in no position to advise him either way, but we trust he and the Selectboard will eventually make the right decision.
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