Proposed position for sustainability coordinator molded by many

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BRATTLEBORO — Many minds came together to consider what someone hired to be the town's sustainability coordinator might do.

"Town staff has written a job outline, the Energy Committee working group (including a lot of members of the public) has written a few documents, and it's all going to the Select Board on Tuesday to see if they'll direct the town to start hiring," Brattleboro Energy Committee Chairman Oscar Heller said in an email. "My expectation is that they will — Town Meeting made its wishes clear, and town staff and the community have done the legwork to make sure it's a practical, valuable position."

During a joint meeting Monday with the Energy Committee, the Brattleboro Planning Commission voted 5-0 to support the hiring of a sustainability coordinator.

Commission Chairwoman Felicity Ratte said sustainability covers a lot of ground — not just climate change. That will be "an obvious focus" of the work, Town Manager Peter Elwell said, adding that rent rates, health and economics might also be part of the job.

The town previously would contribute $10,000 annually to paying the energy coordinator. During annual Representative Town Meeting in March, Town Meeting members approved a motion to fund energy/sustainability projects at $100,000.

In April, the Energy Committee unanimously approved a motion stating its opposition to hiring someone to take on the vacant energy coordinator position. Instead, the committee wanted to focus on creating a sustainability coordinator position.

In a memo following Representative Town Meeting, Elwell said many reps voiced support for using the money to hire a sustainability coordinator but "the wording of the RTM article states that this funding is to be expended at the discretion of the Select Board. Therefore, I recommend that the Select Board continue forward with the plan to allow staff sufficient time to work with the community members who have been researching the potential scope of a sustainability officer position so that the results can be brought forth in early summer for Select Board consideration. That way, early in [fiscal year 20]20, the Select Board will be able to make an informed decision about proceeding with creation of such a position versus investment of these funds in other energy efficiency and/or sustainability initiatives."

FY20 began on July 1.

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Heller anticipates the person to fill the position would have a lot of interaction with his committee and the commission.

The jobholder would be part of the town's Planning Services Department. Heller said much of the person's work in the first year would involve reaching out to the community, acting as a liaison between groups and researching issues or initiatives.

"The outline lays out pretty well the things that we'd be looking for," he said. "A lot of it is interpersonal skills, ability to work with different organizations, to have some body of knowledge. This isn't someone who's going to come in and say, 'This is how you solve the housing problem.'"

Elwell worked with Planning Director Sue Fillion on the outline, which will be released Friday on the town's website at brattleboro.org. A job description and salary range are anticipated to come later.

This year saw the creation of another town position, human resources director. Sally Nix started the job in June. She reviewed the outline for the sustainability coordinator position, Elwell said.

"In terms of getting started, I do think there are lots of actions in the Town Plan," Fillion said. "There's a whole bunch of little things to get started, even doing agricultural lands inventory."

Other communities with sustainability jobs were looked at in the process. Heller described the position as one in an "emerging discipline."

"The role makes a lot of sense for Brattleboro," he said. "That's the conclusion that 20 or 30 people involved in the research have sort of agreed on."

Reach staff writer Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com, at @CMaysBR on Twitter and 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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