Brandon picks Maine woman as its new town manager

BRANDON — Robin Bennett has signed a three-year contract as Brandon’s new town manager and will start work Sept. 9.
The move comes five months after Brandon was left without a town manager when Keith Arlund resigned with two weeks’ notice after seven years on the job.
Bennett, 43, is a native of Benton, Maine, and comes to Vermont via Southwest Harbor near Acadia National Park, where she was the town manager from July 2007 to June 2011. Prior to that, she served as the city manager in Barre for a year, from August 2005 to August 2006. She has worked as a town administrator in North Haven, Maine, and town manager of Exeter, Maine, and has a background working in finance in the private sector.
Bennett holds a bachelor’s degree in political science from Manhattanville College and a master’s of public administration from the University of Maine at Orono.
Brandon selectboard Chair Devon Fuller said Bennett was the first choice of the search committee, which was made up of the board, downtown business owner Nancy Leary, artist Warren Kimble, and Jeff Stewart of the Downtown Brandon Alliance.
“The search team worked through 65 applications for the position finding Ms. Bennett the most qualified,” Fuller said in a press release issued on Aug. 30. “Ms. Bennett was the search team’s first choice and the selectboard is happy that the number-one choice accepted the job.
“Ms. Bennett’s experience in both the public and private nonprofit sector made her a very appealing choice.”
Arlund’s departure in March came just months before several large and complicated public works projects were set to begin. A water main upgrade, the Option 8 Water Project, was supposed to break ground this summer, installing a new water main from the Brandon Inn across the Neshobe River and down Center Street to Seminary Street to improve fire protection on the north side of town. That project was delayed and will hopefully start next month. The Option 8 water line must be installed before the long-delayed upgrade of Route 7 through the downtown begins in what has been delayed again until 2015. That project is expected to last two construction seasons. A renovation of Bridge 114 in the downtown is also planned at the same time.
In the meantime, town employees have been working out of the fire station since Tropical Storm Irene on Aug. 28, 2011, after the town offices were flooded. The rehabilitation of that building has moved at a snail’s pace, dogged by inaction and red tape. There are also two downtown parks awaiting flood repair.
Reached at her home in Maine on Monday, Bennett said she is eager to get started and will be moving to Vermont on Friday. She said she spent a few days in Brandon during the interview process, and was immediately taken with the atmosphere in town.
“What really impressed me about Brandon was that everyone I met had a great, positive outlook and enthusiasm about the town, and that made an impact on me personally,” she said.
Bennett was asked about the year she spent in Barre and why she left. She said she had intended to stay much longer, but politics dictated otherwise.
“Certainly it was a shorter experience than I would have hoped,” she said, adding that she had applied as the interim town manager and ended up being hired for the permanent position.
But 2006 was an election year in Barre when current Mayor Thom Lauzon was first sworn into office.
“There was a big, political shift with Mayor Lauzon coming in,” Bennett said. “The election took place before I got my contract signed. There was no other conflict other than Mayor Lauzon wanting his own guy in there.”
But Bennett said she does not regret her time in Barre, saying it was “a great learning experience” and that during her short tenure, she was able to get the city’s budget in the black for the first time in five years.
Bennett said budgeting is one of her favorite aspects of town administration and she will be well served in Brandon, as the selectboard is in the midst of revamping how the budget is developed following a long budget re-vote process earlier this year. Bennett said she intends to start the budget process in Brandon next month.
Bennett also said she will be developing a capital improvement plan for Brandon, which will itemize and prioritize infrastructure projects over the next 10 or 20 years.
“It’s invaluable in my opinion,” she said, adding that she developed a 20-year plan for Southwest Harbor, Maine, that included much-needed upgrades to everything from the water plant to the police station, culverts, roads, docks and sidewalks.
“It had been ignored for so long, it was a case of, if we do nothing, it would be a potential disaster,” she said.
Bennett said she used a funding combination of federal economic stimulus money, state agency funds and grants to pay for the improvement plan.
In his press release, board chair Fuller said that Bennett’s experience with capital improvement plans, budgeting, negotiating union contracts, grant writing and infrastructure improvement made her the right choice for the job.
“These are some of the attributes for which the selectboard and search team had been looking for in a town manager,” Fuller wrote. “We are feeling fortunate to find this all in one person, and the selectboard is excited to begin working with Ms. Bennett.”
Bennett said there is no overlap planned with outgoing interim town manager and former Selectman Richard Baker, but she said he would be available to answer any questions she has.
For his part, Baker said he respects the board’s decision naming Bennett to the post.
“It was a lot of work to choose someone,” he said. “I’ll support Robin Bennett to make sure she has a smooth transition and will be available for anything she needs. I’m not going anywhere.”
Bennett will be at the selectboard’s Sept. 9 meeting. Once she is settled in, the board is planning a few public receptions to welcome the new town manager to Brandon later this month and in early October.
As for Bennett, she just wants to get to work.
“I look forward to working with the board and the staff and the people of Brandon as we face the challenges ahead of us,” she said. “I’m just ready to roll up my sleeves and get started.”

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