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City Manager search progresses

We are, of course, the only city looking for a manager. We have a unique set of opportunities here.
— Vergennes Mayor Jeff Fritz

VERGENNES — Vergennes Mayor Jeff Fritz said this past Thursday that the interview committee he sits on could recommend two or three city manager candidates to the Vergennes City Council as soon as by the end of this week.
On Nov. 14 Fritz pegged the timetable as “within the next 10 days.”
By that morning seven candidates had responded to ads for the position, and Fritz said, “I’m very pleased to report all with some sort of municipal experience … This is a very good pool of candidates.”
Aldermen Mark Koenig and David Austin are joining Fritz in conducting preliminary interviews for a replacement for City Manager Matt Chabot, who recently announced he would step away after about a year on the job.
As of Thursday morning they had either spoken to or scheduled meetings with five candidates. Fritz said he expected the committee would speak with all seven by early this week before making recommendations to the full council for further in-depth interviews.
Fritz said several Vermont communities are looking for municipal managers, a situation that created a ready pool of interested candidates and helped the search get off to a quick start.
Asked if he was worried that also created competition for the best candidates, Fritz said he believed Vergennes would stand out in the field because of its city style of government.
“We are, of course, the only city looking for a manager,” he said. “We have a unique set of opportunities here.”
Another potential complication in a search came up in last week’s city council meeting. There, the council agreed with Chabot’s recommendation not to offer new city employees the same favorable deal on health insurance that current employees enjoy — Vergennes has paid 100 percent of workers’ health benefits, with the understanding, according to city officials, that its pay might be lower than offered elsewhere.
Council members have been looking at controlling increasing health insurance costs as a way to keep city spending in check, but didn’t want to take away existing employees’ benefits for several reasons, including risking losing them.
“Making a change is essentially a cut, and we need continuity in employees,” said Alderman David Small.
Council members acknowledged at the meeting that the change could affect talks with candidates to replace Chabot and longtime City Clerk/Treasurer Joan Devine, who will retire early next year.
“It’s going to be part of the negotiations,” said Alderman Bill Benton.
Fritz said the city is “limited in what we can offer in salary and benefits,” but should be competitive in talks with managerial candidates.
“That really is part of the negotiations with the people to whom we might offer the position,” Fritz said. “The council feels strongly we are following the national best practice.”
And he is optimistic about the search and its mid-December timetable for hiring a new manager, despite the two failed efforts in 2018 to find a replacement for former long-term manager Mel Hawley before Chabot stepped forward.
“We have the toolkit we need to proceed,” Fritz said. “I continue to feel very positive about the search. It doesn’t feel as daunting as it did the last time around.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at andyk@addisonindependent.com.

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