BRATTLEBORO — John R. Potter is getting ready for his next job, one which will bring him back to his New England roots.
“I grew up in eastern Massachusetts and went into public service because I wanted to work in supporting people and helping them have a great quality of life,” Potter, Brattleboro’s new town manager, said at the Select Board meeting Tuesday. “That was really the motivator for me in my career.”
Trained as a forester, Potter started his career as superintendent for the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission. He then worked as the director of land management for New York City’s Bureau of Water Supply.
His family “took a big leap” and moved to Oregon, where he was senior policy adviser in the Oregon Department of State Lands and the assistant director for managing Oregon’s state park system. During his tenure with the state of Oregon, Potter led a team of 725 staff members and oversaw an annual budget of $60 million, according to a news release.
Most recently, Potter served as deputy director of the Open Space and Mountain Parks Department in Boulder, Colo., a job he’s held since 2016. He oversaw 50 staff members and managed a budget of between $4 million and $7 million annually, according to the news release.
“We’ve had this chance to live in great places across the country,” he said. “I really think we found the best place. I’m really excited to come to Brattleboro and join the community and be part of the great things you’ve got going on here.”
Potter said he has seen and worked in a lot of places, however, “I’m really here to listen and learn about the town.”
“Before I can support the Select Board and RTM [Representative Town Meeting] and the community,” he said, “I really need to learn a lot.”
Potter invited community members to reach out when he starts Dec. 30. He plans to meet with people or groups.
Having grown up in New England, Potter said he and his wife wanted to return to be close to their family.
“That was the big draw for us, then what an incredible community Brattleboro is,” he said when asked what brought him to Vermont. “I’m excited to work at such a special place as this.”
Potter told the Reformer he’s learning about the community safety review process in 2020 that led to a report with recommendations for policing and support systems, and the planning related to emergency medical services since the town split ways with Rescue Inc. after contract disputes. A feasibility study by AP Triton is looking at the future of EMS in Brattleboro, with a report expected to be discussed at the Dec. 20 board meeting.
On Tuesday, the Select Board unanimously approved an employment agreement between Potter and the town.
“I’m excited to welcome John to the town of Brattleboro family and I think he’s going to do a great job,” Select Board Vice Chairman Daniel Quipp said.
After an approximately five-month search, board member Jessica Gelter called Potter a “great candidate.”
“I’m sure you’re going to find this community a welcoming place to live and work,” Board Chairman Ian Goodnow said. “We’re ready to support you in this role.”
Goodnow thanked Assistant Town Manager Moreland for serving as interim town manager and his leadership.
Potter’s contract includes an annual salary of $120,000 and $5,000 a year for vehicle expenses. Like his predecessor Yoshi Manale, he will be eligible for severance pay if his employment is terminated for several reasons including if he resigns following a written or oral offer to accept resignation from a majority of the Select Board.
“In the event that the Town Manager is terminated without just cause, or resigns in lieu of termination other than for just cause, the Town will make a lump sum cash payment equal to six months aggregate salary plus employer paid health coverage for up to six months or until re-employment, if sooner,” the contract states. “In addition, the EMPLOYEE shall be compensated for all accrued vacation time to the date of termination or resignation.”
Manale, who had the same salary, received $60,000 in severance pay from Brattleboro after less than six months into the job. In September, he was hired as city manager in Claremont, N.H.
In a statement at the time of his resignation, Manale said in part, “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. I am not the right fit for this position.”
“I am leaving with a sad heart,” he stated. “After consulting with the Select Board, I am sure that I have made the right decision to move on.”
His resignation prompted questions from community members about how the town goes about hiring the town manager and supporting the person when initially taking on the position.
Manale, formerly of New Jersey, had taken over after Peter Elwell retired. Manale and the board faced pushback over a decision for the town to cut ties with emergency medical services provider Rescue Inc. after contract disputes.
Elwell, who grew up in Brattleboro and whose father served as town manager, returned from Florida for the job he held from January 2015 until the end of 2021.