Ex-Shelburne town manager may consult on town manager switch

(An earlier version of this story published in the online newsletter has been edited and updated here to include reporting of the June 12 selectboard meeting.)
In the middle of a discussion of three metaphorical buckets to organize town thoughts about changing to a town manager, it was revealed that former Shelburne town manager Lee Krohn might be enlisted to help Charlotte figure out what goes into which bucket.
The bucket analogy was used on June 6 at another special meeting about whether to switch to a town manager municipal government. Selectboard chair Jim Faulkner said one bucket would be for the responsibilities of a town administrator, one for those of a town manager and one for responsibilities required by state statute.
Charlotte officials have used the bucket metaphor previously, for example to organize discussions about land-use plan amendments.
Faulkner said he had been talking for a week or so to Krohn, who recently retired as town manager of Shelburne and who lives in Charlotte. He related that Krohn is not interested in working as an interim town manager, but he’s willing to serve as a consultant. Faulkner proposed for the town to enlist Krohn to organize the advantages and disadvantages of a town administrator versus a town manager into the “three buckets.”
Board member Louise McCarren said the question she has come away with from her discussions with town residents is: “What is the problem we’re trying to solve?”
The answer, she feels, is that many residents think the selectboard is preoccupied with mundane things when more important things need its attention. The board reached a consensus agreement, which it later violated, to not use curb cuts as an example of such mundane decisions that it could delegate.
Lewis Mudge, also a board member, said he doesn’t see Charlotte’s situation as a problem, but more as an opportunity. With town administrator Dean Bloch retiring, it’s an opportunity for the town to consider what the role of that position should be.
“I think it’s normal, and I think it’s appropriate that we do. We might stay with a town administrator,” Mudge said. “What direction do we want to move in?”
Board member Frank Tenney recommended the town look at how and why some towns, which changed to town managers, veered from state statute to modify their town managers’ responsibilities.
Such a change from state statute would require a charter approved by the legislature. That process would probably take two years, Faulkner said.
The selectboard is worried about the amount of time it is taking to hire Bloch’s replacement with him leaving at the end of October. Board members discussed, as they have before, how it will affect hiring to fill this position while the nature of that position is unsettled.
Faulkner believes that Krohn’s experience as a town manager could expedite the hiring process.
To reiterate: An ad hoc group headed by former selectboard chair Lane Morrison has collected at least 200 signatures on a petition to hold a vote on changing to a town manager. The group has decided to pause in submitting that petition while the selectboard considers the proposal. If the petition is submitted, the town would have to schedule a town meeting within 60 days for residents to vote for or against the change.
Even if the selectboard decides it wants to change the town government to a town manger system, it would still require a vote by residents.
Although Faulkner had suggested it would take Krohn about four to six weeks to organize the various points for and against into the “three buckets,” resident Peter Richardson contested that estimate, saying it should take a couple of hours.
The organization of the various points into a more easily understood format “is not very subtle,” Richardson said. “That’s a short-term assignment that someone with Lee’s experience should turn around in a couple of days.”
Regular selectboard meeting
At the board’s regularly scheduled meeting on June 12, the board’s intention to hire Krohn nearly derailed altogether when Morrison stood up to announce that he might reverse course and file the withheld petition after all.
“In order to stay current with all the work you’ve done,” he said, “I think the timing is right to release the petition,”
Morrison envisioned a special town meeting at the end of July, following the conclusion of Krohn’s research. But Tenney argued that, if Morrison chose to “force the issue” instead of waiting for the selectboard to decide whether to bring the question to the voters, it wouldn’t make sense for the town to contract Krohn to study the pros and cons between the different forms of government for the purpose of informing that decision.
“I thought we had a plan,” Faulkner added. “What bothers me the most is that you don’t trust us. You don’t trust that we will follow through with what we’re saying.”
Morrison relented, and the board executed a contract with Krohn for $2,500, with the expectation that he would deliver a report by July 20 for review at the board’s July 24 meeting. The extra time will give Krohn a chance to consult the town attorney during his analysis of the “opportunities, constraints, requirements, and/or limitations that may flow from state statutes regarding town administrators and town manager,” as the contract puts it.
“I’m not doubting your ability to interpret state statutes,” Mudge said. “It’s just that I think there’s different ways of reading state statutes amongst different people, and I think at the end of the day we’re going to want a lawyer to decide it.”
The board also finalized its help wanted ad, which it’ll publish later this week, as well as a longer job description to accompany it on the town website. The ad will solicit candidates for a “town administrator/town manager,” with a deadline of July 14.
The town of Hinesburg presented a model for the hiring process ahead. When that town was recruiting and interviewing candidates to fill its town administrator position, it was also considering a switch to a town manager. It hired a person willing to be an administrator but able to step into the town manager role. Ultimately, the residents voted to change to a town manager.
Amid ongoing editing, the board tabled a draft solicitation for a search committee, where, according to the current language, three members of the public will help two selectboard members interview applicants.
Board member Kelly Devine said the selectboard should look for volunteers in the town with experience in developing “rubrics” or guidelines for evaluating job candidates.
“We think that’s a real resource that we can we can tap into to make this process less expensive, more local, more engaging for our community, and hopefully, get us to a position where, whoever we hire, it’s somebody that everybody’s happy with,” Devine said.