Brandon selectman tapped to fill town manager job

BRANDON — There’s been a major change in management in the town of Brandon.
After weeks of searching, the selectboard here agreed to accept the resignation of Richard Baker from the board and hire him as interim town manager.
Baker and Brandon resident Seth Hopkins were both interviewed for the job in executive session during a special selectboard meeting on April 19 before the board made its decision. Board Chair Devon Fuller said Baker was eminently qualified.
“We really appreciate Seth’s willingness to be involved,” Fuller said. “If it wasn’t for Richard’s years of knowledge on all of these projects, it would have worked out. Seth would have had a larger learning curve. Richard can hit the ground running.”
Hopkins, owner of the Churchill House Inn, agreed.
“Richard was clearly the best choice for the job,” he said.
Baker, a Brandon native, has served on the Brandon selectboard for 15 of the last 17 years, with one stint as chair. He was serving a three-year term that expires in March 2014. He is also a longtime member of the Rutland Regional Transportation Council representing Brandon. Baker is a retired government employee, having worked  with the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Navy.
The move comes one month after former Town Manager Keith Arlund suddenly resigned after nine years on the job to take a position in the private sector. Arlund gave two weeks notice and left the town’s employ on March 22. The board has been working with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to not only advertise for a permanent replacement, but also find an interim town manager to keep the town operating while the months-long search proceeds. In a town with a town manager and a selectboard, signing contracts, payroll and purchase orders is the town manager’s responsibility.
Brandon Police Chief Chris Brickell has been serving as the interim town manager since Arlund left the post. At the beginning of Monday’s regular selectboard meeting, Fuller made a point of thanking Brickell for his service.
“The board would first like to express its deep gratitude to Chief Brickell for stepping in as interim town manager,” Fuller said. “We promised the chief it would only be for a few weeks, and we felt it was important to have him resume his duties as police chief. I’d rather have him chasing heroin dealers than running the town.”
Arlund’s resignation came at a crucial time for Brandon with a host of complex projects looming, including a water line project set to start this summer and the long-awaited Segment 6 upgrade of Route 7 through the downtown. There is also the repair of Bridge 114 in the downtown, a proposed overflow bypass for the Neshobe River, and flood repair in two downtown parks and Briggs Lane. Selectboard members believed Baker’s institutional knowledge of Brandon and the slew of upcoming infrastructural projects makes him a good choice for the job of interim town manager.
Fuller said Baker will be paid $1,000 a week.
At Monday’s meeting, Fuller said after two candidates for the interim town manager job pulled out at the last minute on separate occasions. The board knew that one of the candidates would have to resign another job and take the town job, he said.
“If you’re honest with yourself, you know that Richard Baker is the best person for the job,” Fuller said. “He knows the town, he knows the history, and he knows the projects.”
There was a palpable change in the air at Monday’s selectboard meeting, which was well attended by roughly 30 residents. There was a feeling of satisfaction and goodwill that has been missing from the board, not just since Arlund’s resignation, but perhaps since before Tropical Storm Irene in August 2011. The board has been working to keep a multitude of projects moving, and it has been an uphill battle. While Baker has often been a lone dissenter on issues before the board, Fuller said he hoped the town could now make some progress.
“We express our deepest gratitude to Richard Baker for stepping into his new role and we hope we can all move forward,” Fuller said. “We always talk about moving forward. Hopefully, we can find common ground instead of controversy.”
As for Baker, it was noted that he would now have to ascribe to a very different dynamic, one where he is working for the board rather than sitting on it.
“I think its fine because it’s all one table,” he said in an interview Monday. “I’m just on the other side.”
Baker said that a “team effort” mentality extends to the board, and he is looking forward to spending more time with Fuller and the board members than Arlund did. He plans to communicate more with staff members and hold regular meetings in an effort to improve staff morale.
Baker said he is just writing everything down and is working with Fuller on a flow chart in an effort to organize and keep track of the progress on town projects.
In the meantime, Brandon residents interested in filling Baker’s vacant seat on the selectboard should send a letter of interest to the board to Brandon Selectboard, 49 Center St., Brandon, VT 05733 or e-mail to [email protected].

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