BRATTLEBORO — With Yoshi Manale leaving less than six months into the job of town manager, community members are saying they'll miss his fresh perspective.
"I'm extremely disappointed," Dick DeGray of Brattleboro, former Select Board member, said Sunday. "I had been associated with the past three town managers that we've had and Yoshi had more energy than any of those town managers, and they were all good. But Yoshi had an energy about him and a vision that I had not seen in the previous town managers. I thought that was very refreshing. I thought that was very good for the town."
On Friday, Manale announced his resignation in a statement. He said he's not "the right fit" for the job.
"I was disappointed it didn't work out," Select Board member Jessica Gelter said Sunday. "We selected Yoshi because he had a lot of fresh ideas and I think we were all excited about bringing him in to take the incredible, stable organization that the town had become under Peter [Elwell, former town manager] and take it to the next step on some of the things we needed to focus on, particularly housing."
The Select Board will be conducting a search for Manale's successor. As of Sunday morning, Select Board Chairman Ian Goodnow didn't have a timeline for the process nor did he know if the search would come up under an agenda item in an upcoming meeting since it deals with personnel. He noted that the board recognizes the search "is of upmost importance."
Gelter is hopeful that a contingency in an agreement with the firm that helped conduct the last search will bring the group back in again. She said if the person hired for town manager didn't work out within a certain period of time, the firm agreed to assist with another search.
"I think we have to still figure out if we still fall within that time frame," she said, "because it's really close. I believe it was six months but we officially offered him the job in October and he started at the end of November."
After Manale leaves on June 3, Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland will be interim town manager. Moreland served in the role before Manale and Elwell were hired.
"I have full faith in Mr. Moreland's ability to act as the interim town manager and help to lead and guide the town as we search for the next permanent town manager," Goodnow said. "I have a lot of respect for his experience and institutional knowledge, and I'm really grateful for his willingness to enter into this interim role."
Select Board Vice Chairman Daniel Quipp said, "We feel confident in Patrick (Moreland) and will proceed slowly in our search for a new town manager."
When asked questions about Manale's resignation, Goodnow said he couldn't discuss personnel issues.
"But I've been really grateful to the town that Yoshi did serve as town manager for the town of Brattleboro and the full Select Board wishes him success as he moves on to his next employment," said Goodnow, who doesn't believe Manale has a new job yet.
The Select Board has "lots of work to be done," Goodnow said, "so I feel confident in the board's ability to move forward both in this important job of the Select Board in searching for a new town manager and then also continuing the work of the town."
Goodnow pointed out Brattleboro is exploring the viability of a joint fire/EMS service, determining how to use federal American Rescue Plan Act funds and designing a new municipal website. The fire/EMS project came about after a contract dispute with Rescue Inc.
Last month, Brattleboro signed a one-year contract with Golden Cross Ambulance of Claremont, N.H., to set up a hybrid model with the fire department to provide a paramedic-level EMS transport service. The split from Rescue drew wide criticism from the community.
On Tuesday, the Select Board authorized Manale to sign a $38,721 contract with AP Triton of Sheridan, Wyoming, to study the viability of the joint fire/EMS service.
Manale didn't immediately respond to a request for comment Sunday. In Friday's statement, he called Brattleboro "a beautiful town that I was excited to work in."
Until arriving in Brattleboro, Manale said, the smallest community he worked in was nearly five times its size.
"The larger populations afforded me anonymity that I did not appreciate until now," he said.
Manale most recently served as chief of staff and deputy mayor for Mayor Reed Gusciora in Trenton, N.J., and previously worked in the Mayor’s Office of Contract Services in New York City, as director of operations and budget for Kean University, in Union, N.J., as township administrator in Bloomfield Township, N.J., and in public policy staff positions with the New Jersey Legislature. He had no previous experience with the town manager model of New England.
Manale said the town manager position "is intended to be the administrative head of all the town departments, offering helpful, detailed information to the members of the Select Board and executing their will for the best of the residents."
"In a small town like Brattleboro, I have quickly discovered that the prominence of this position creates drawbacks for me to fulfill the duties of the job most efficiently," he said. "I am leaving with a sad heart. After consulting with the Select Board, I am sure that I have made the right decision to move on."
His departure left some community members wondering how to do better next time.
"I and many citizens and taxpayers agree that Yoshi is talented and energetic and was bringing exactly the fresh perspective to the town that we need," David Petrie said via Facebook. "My question ... is, since the Select Board did a great job finding Yoshi, what kept the Select Board from doing an equally great job keeping him here?"
Other community members described liking Manale's ideas. He brought forward a proposal to look into add housing to the Harris Lot behind the Gibson-Aiken Center on Main Street.
Earlier this month, the Select Board authorized him to execute an option agreement with M&S Development of Brattleboro. A financial and development proposal for the property is due within six months.
DeGray said the question of why Manale is leaving needs to be answered and that will inform the search for his successor.
"The board is ultimately responsible for any contract that the town has and the town manager is the negotiator," DeGray said. "And so people who are blaming Yoshi for issues with Rescue, in my opinion, Yoshi had a right to ask those questions and I'm a supporter of Rescue but I'm also a taxpayer ... There are no heroes between the Select Board, Rescue and the town manager ... This was a complete breakdown on both sides — so equal billing to both sides for failure to not get through this issue."
When Manale first arrived in Brattleboro, DeGray had a meeting with him. He noted his high energy as well as his "breadth of knowledge about Brattleboro."
"He talked about things I'm not even sure former or sitting Select Board members knew about the town and it really, really impressed me," DeGray said.
DeGray, who served on the Select Board when it hired Elwell's predecessor Barb Sondag, said the search process is "time consuming" and requires careful wading through resumes.
"More often than not, you get it right but there are times when you don't so there's a lot of pressure on the board and there will be more pressure on them now moving forward with this process and given what's happened, so probably not a great time to be a Select Board member," he said. "There's going to be a lot of scrutiny here. There are a lot of people who are upset with the news of Yoshi leaving."
DeGray said he can only hope that Brattleboro is as lucky in its new search as it was in the last one. He anticipates the process could take until September or longer and said he would consider joining a search committee if asked.
For the last search, Select Board member Elizabeth McLoughlin recalled starting the process in June then concluding at the beginning of October.
Like the Select Board, DeGray wished Manale the best.
"For me," DeGray said, "I made another friend, hopefully for life, and I hope we stay in contact."