Top 10 stories from 2018: Leaders leave in the Little City
Vergennes officials and residents began the year understanding a replacement would have to be found for longtime City Manager Mel Hawley.
They didn’t know how difficult that task would prove to be, even with a full year’s notice — or that two other civic leaders would unexpectedly step down.
The first surprise in a year full or them came in early February, when two-time Vergennes Mayor Michael Daniels resigned, alleging in a statement that he had a poor working relationship with the Vergennes City Council.
“I was told right at the beginning by several council members that we are all equal; stop running out in front and work with the council,” wrote Daniels, who had also served the city as an alderman and a fire department officer. “I will no longer be a puppet.”
Senior Alderman Renny Perry, who replaced Daniel as mayor, said different points of view were inevitable.
“Councils aren’t there to agree with one another, including the mayor,” said Perry, himself once a mayor and city manager in New Hampshire as well as a former Vergennes city manager. “That’s the way the process works.”
A month later Addison Northwest School District Superintendent JoAn Canning announced she would move to the Middle East to take over as the first female superintendent of the Universal American School of Kuwait, in Kuwait City. The announcement came after four years in which she earned praise for shepherding school governance unification, restoring financial stability to the district, and helping bring more educational equity to its students.
In late May ANWSD hired Harwood Unified Union School District Curriculum Director Sheila Soule to replace Canning.
Around mid-year two prominent leaders in the community also retired: the Rev. Gary Lewis at the Vergennes Congregational Church and Bixby Library Executive Director Jane Spencer.
The search to replace Hawley did not go too smoothly. The city council ran an in-house search that came up empty. Then the council enlisted the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. The VLCT’s efforts produced three finalists, but only after Hawley agreed to stay on for another month to buy time for the search.
For one reason or another, all three of those finalists dropped out — one just days before a final interview, and all of them within three weeks of Hawley’s final deadline.
Then out of the blue search committee head and Alderman Jeff Fritz got an email from fellow Alderman Matt Chabot. It stated, “Wondering if perhaps we should meet,” and included a résumé detailing Chabot’s 25 years of extensive and varied management experience.
Chabot said he had not wanted to put his name forward at first due to the turmoil after Daniels resigned, and then the search seemed to be going well. But in mid-August, Fritz was happy to hear from him.
“He was our white knight,” Fritz said, “and not only am I excited, but I am grateful.”
Chabot took the reins as city manger on Aug. 31.
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