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BRATTLEBORO — Town Manager John Potter is settling into his new job, tackling everything from the budget to emergency medical services to community safety.

“I think it’s been going pretty well,” he said in a recent interview. “I’m really enjoying it.”

Potter said he’s happy that what town staff told him didn’t end up being true: the town manager is the first one to go off the Harris Hill Ski Jump each year.

“That’s the sort of level of stuff I’m dealing with here,” he laughed. “It’s good though. I’m starting to meet everybody around town, which is really helpful.”

Potter said he feels he’s been learning a lot but still has “so much more to learn.”

“It’s really quite a bit to get up to speed on in terms of how rich our community is, with the issues and different people’s perspectives,” he said.

Potter grew up in eastern Massachusetts and started his career as superintendent for the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission before working as the director of land management for New York City’s Bureau of Water Supply, senior policy adviser in the Oregon Department of State Lands, assistant director for managing Oregon’s state park system, and most recently, deputy director of the Open Space and Mountain Parks Department in Boulder, Colo.

Brattleboro's new town manager seeks to support 'a great quality of life'

When Potter first joined Brattleboro’s town government on Dec. 30, he participated in weekly budget meetings with the Select Board. With the proposed spending plan for fiscal year 2024 ready for annual Representative Town Meeting on March 25, the frequency of meetings returned to about twice a month.

Potter said it would feel as though once one meeting was finished, staff were getting materials and agendas ready for the next.

“That kept me focused on getting the budget finalized in time for Town Meeting,” he said.

Now, Potter feels he can catch his breathe and sit down to talk with community members. He noted there are a lot of people to meet.

With concerns about safety and crime downtown, he’s started gathering with a small group of merchants and business owners, as well as the Downtown Brattleboro Alliance and Brattleboro Area Chamber of Commerce.

“I’ve also heard from a number of interested community members who would like to be a part of that,” he said. “So we’re hoping to stand up probably a couple of groups around that effort to get a toolbox put together to help support businesses who are concerned with some of these issues and then also to work through those with our police department and with our town to figure out ways forward.”

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Potter has met with representatives from the Brattleboro Retreat, Retreat Farm and Brattleboro Development Credit Corp. He also attended what he called “this really great informal meeting of a number of the executive directors from the arts and cultural type nonprofits in town.”

“I just had a very good conversation with them about their vision for the town and things they’re concerned about and want to work on,” he said.

One of his biggest focus areas is emergency medical services. Last year, the town split ways with Rescue Inc. and partnered with Golden Cross Ambulance in an EMS/fire department model.

Town staff are looking at all the complexities involved with different options for the future, Potter said. He called the project “fun” and “very challenging.”

“We got this really helpful report from AP Triton but there’s a lot in there,” he said. “We’ve been trying to figure out what that all means in a more local context specific to the town and specific to the directions we could go in.”

Potter anticipates town staff will report to the Select Board on how the town could go about proceeding with the different options, with potential timelines for the projects.

With the town being a new organization for him to manage, Potter said he hasn’t encountered any major challenges. He touted staff’s high level of professionalism, knowledge and intellect.

“My goal will be to try to bring some managerial experience and some of the things I picked up along the way and help the town staff continue to make excellent decisions and provide their really quality services that we do here in Brattleboro,” he said, considering efforts to be “very much” collaborative. “One thing I do have quite a bit past experience on is putting together teams for projects and just for big functioning of municipal services. That’s one thing I’m looking forward to continuing to work on and perfect with the staff here in Brattleboro.”

Also in the pipeline is collective bargaining with the four unions in town and developing a process for the Select Board to decide how to spend federal American Rescue Act Plan Act funds the town received. Potter said the focus is on finding balanced agreements with the unions that address retention and other concerns such as inflation and tax rate increases. He also anticipates the board will soon be working on allocating money set aside in the Community Safety Fund, which came out of a process back in 2020.

Potter commended Town Clerk Hilary Francis for coordinating “a very good, smoothly run election” Tuesday.

“We’ll be moving forward with a new Select Board now,” he said, “and I’m looking forward to serving them and continuing to provide the best professional management that we can for the town.”

Potter is “doing a fantastic job,” Select Board Chairman Ian Goodnow said. “I’m really grateful for his hard work and his willingness to listen and take on many of the really difficult situations and tasks that the town is facing right now. He’s so far shown to be a really excellent partner in this important work.”

Goodnow said the board is responsible for ensuring a smooth transition in leadership.

“I’m really happy to say that that’s been going very well and he’s stepping into a really important time of the year for the town with Representative Town Meeting right around the corner,” Goodnow said. “I think this will be a really excellent opportunity for him to learn more and participate in one of the most important parts of the municipal calendar year.”