Alderman Chabot picked to be Vergennes City Manager

VERGENNES — The six-month search to find a replacement for retiring Vergennes City Manager Mel Hawley ended with a third-act surprise.
After three finalists recommended to the city council by the search committee dropped out, a last-minute in-house candidate emerged to become the new Vergennes city manager and will take over officially on Aug. 31.
The next city manager is familiar to the council and residents: Alderman Matt Chabot, 53, is a Vermont native and resident of Vergennes for the past 16 years (now with a family of four) who was just re-elected this past March to a second term on the council.
Deputy Mayor Jeff Fritz, chairman of the search committee, said he received an email from Chabot on Aug. 9, the day after the final candidate informed the committee he had found another job, leaving its members contemplating a third search.
That email from Chabot read, “Wondering if perhaps we should meet,” and included a résumé detailing his 25 years of extensive and varied management experience. That list includes stints as the general manager of Burlington’s downtown Town Center Mall, the chief operating officer of the Redstone commercial real estate firm, the customer and employee relations director of Vermont Teddy Bear Company, and the store manager and vice president of the Burlington Macy’s department store.
Impressed with the résumé, Fritz forwarded it to the other members of the search committee. They agreed to recommend to council members that they hold their Aug. 10 manager interview session as scheduled and put Chabot in the interviewee seat.
Council members agreed to do so. Fritz said they were impressed, and they moved to hire him, pending a background check that Fritz said came out spotless.
“Our interview with him on that Friday was the first time that many council members really knew what his background was. His strength in management, managing people, managing an organization and dealing with budgets and that sort of thing really did make him stand out,” Fritz said.
At the same time Fritz acknowledged the search did not end as expected.
“This is not at all the scenario that I envisioned,” Fritz said. “But we got an excellent candidate. He will be the right man for this job. He’s well acquainted with everyone here. He knows all the department heads, he has relationships with them. He has a vested interest in the city because he lives here. This is sort of an ideal candidate.”
Chabot’s decision to throw his hat in the ring came as a relief to city officials after the three finalists withdrew, one with no explanation, one due to a serious illness in the family, and the last because another job was offered first.
All that ended a second search, one supported by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns that produced 42 candidates. An internal search that produced 13 candidates and one finalist ended in May. Fritz acknowledged the committee liked that one finalist. But that candidate also withdrew, leaving the committee feeling doubly jilted this month.
“It felt very much like being left at the altar,” he said, adding, “It looked like we would have to go back and start the whole process again. Logistics were the real concern. Mel gave us a drop-dead date of Aug. 31. That would have meant we would have had to go out and seriously pursue an interim manager, and that would have meant a much, much bigger process.”
But now, after what Fritz called “a great planetary alignment,” all’s well that ends well with one Vergennes resident ready to take over for another as the city’s manager.
“His prior experience shows he has the ability to manage people, places and things,” Fritz said. “I have a lot of confidence in him. I am very excited.”
Chabot, who for the past almost three years has served as the operations manager for Burchfield Management Company LLC in Vergennes, said he also believes he can succeed in his first venture into the public sector, in part because of his experience on the council.
“I’ve really enjoyed being an alderman, and that role has helped me meet more of my neighbors and better understand the city, its needs and opportunities,” Chabot said in an email. “We also have strong department heads and great staff who have already been supportive both of me personally and of the work of the council. That is hugely beneficial to me as I take on this new role.”
Chabot said his work background has also helped ready him for the job.
“My career has been evolutionary, with each preceding role seemingly preparing me for the next one,” he said. “There is quite a curve to be mastered regarding the nuances of city government, moving from the private to public sector and learning a new job, but the essential skills I need are in place.”
Several factors came into play in Chabot’s decision not to apply earlier, including his wish to remain as an alderman to help provide stability “after sudden changes in the composition of the council,” including the surprise February resignation of Mayor Michael Daniels; big projects that included preparing his son for a cross-country trip; and uncertainty of whether a new manager would be required to take over Hawley’s many responsibilities, including as zoning administrator.
“Mel was wearing a lot of hats, which was to be expected after his many years of service. The city council decided early on to disperse some of the responsibility, which made the prospect of taking on this responsibility slightly less daunting,” Chabot said. “The position of city manager is a role I always thought I would be successful in, and when our last candidate dropped out, it seemed apparent to me that all this was happening for a reason, and I should apply.”
If all goes well, Chabot can foresee a long tenure once the inevitable challenges of management transition are met.
“These are big shoes to fill, and we’re losing an exceptional asset in Mel. I know I have the support of the council, department heads and staff, and we’re all in it together. I’ll be dependent on my team, who are all experts in their own fields, to assist me in managing the city,” he said.
“I’m hoping if I’m fair and clearly communicate at all levels we can continue to develop positive outcomes. My job is to communicate our objectives, get the best support and advice from all parties, and move us all forward. If I do all that well, I suspect that the council, our employees and citizens will choose to keep me around.”
In the meantime, the council still has an opening to fill, with a deadline looming. Those interested in a seat on the city council have until this Friday, Aug. 24, to submit a letter of interest to City Clerk Joan Devine in person or at [email protected]. The council will interview candidates at its meeting this coming Tuesday.
Fritz expects that process, which earlier this year resulted in David Austin being appointed to the council to replace Daniels, to be easier than replacing Hawley. The committee is thankful Chabot rode to the rescue, he said.
“He was our white knight,” Fritz said, “and not only am I excited, but I am grateful.”

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