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Vergennes to launch search for two officials

VERGENNES CITY CLERK/Treasurer Joan Devine will step down on Feb. 28 after more than 38 years. She is the longest serving clerk in Addison County. Vergennes has formed a Succession Planning Committee officials hope can find a replacement for both Devine and City Manager Matt Chabot.

VERGENNES — The Oct. 15 resignation of Vergennes City Manager Matt Chabot, effective no later than Jan. 15, means the city council will be attempting to fill two key positions in the next four months.
Longtime City Clerk Joan Devine, who earlier this year informed the city council she would step down sometime in 2020, recently confirmed to Mayor Jeff Fritz she will retire on Feb. 28.
Chabot, then an alderman, was hired as manager on Aug. 31, 2018, after the failure of two searches to find a replacement for longtime City Manager Mel Hawley. He is leaving to return to work for his previous employer, Burchfield Management Co. LLC.
Devine took over from Hawley in 1981 as Vergennes City Clerk. And Devine previously had served several years as Hawley’s assistant clerk/treasurer. She is the longest-serving municipal clerk in Addison County. Starksboro’s Cheryl Estey is second, having held her post since 1989. Estey told the Independent this week she plans to step down when her current term expires in March 2021.
Despite the upcoming turnover, Fritz said the city is well prepared to handle the two searches for new employees, in part because the city council had just formed a Committee on Succession Planning in anticipation of Devine’s retirement.
United Way of Addison County executive director Helena Van Voorst has agreed to serve as chairwoman of that committee, and other members have been recruited, Fritz told the city council on Tuesday.
That committee, although it expected to work to replace Devine as its first order of business, is up and running and will instead turn its attention to finding a new city manager, Fritz said on Monday, adding he believes what city officials learned from the failed searches last year can be put to use to create a productive process.
“We feel we’re out in front of this, unlike the last time we had transition at city hall. The committee has been informed,” Fritz said.
The city council agreed on Tuesday to provide $1,000 for advertising, and agreed with Fritz to post the position with a salary range of $75,000 to $85,000. Chabot’s salary stands at $82,400.
Fritz said the city and the committee will manage a process modeled on that used by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, which helped Vergennes with its second search last year. That effort provided three finalists, all of whom backed out in the late going before Chabot put forward his résumé.
“I’m very comfortable with the playbook they provided us last year and feel we have the tools necessary to proceed. The position will be posted on our website and we’ll do some local advertising as well,” Fritz said.
Fritz also said that the fact that Vergennes, unlike in 2018, now has a clear job description for the position of city manager would help with the search. Hawley wore many hats at city hall, including zoning administrator.
As for a timetable, Fritz offered a scenario that would hire a new manager by December, in time to participate in a similar process to find a replacement for Devine.
“My hope is within 30 days we’ll be interviewing final candidates, and I think we can actually do that,” Fritz said. “We’ve done a lot of homework in preparation for this coming.”
Fritz added on Monday he believed it was important to involve the next manager in the search for a new clerk, in part because the council is drawing up a new city charter for citizen consideration in the upcoming months that would require the clerk to report to the city manager, not to the city council.
“I think it’s really critical the next city manager be part of that process,” Fritz said.
Fritz acknowledged the challenges of the two searches at Tuesday’s council, but also sounded an optimistic note there.
“I feel very good about our ability to move forward,” he said.

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