A week into his job as Charlotte’s town administrator and Nate Bareham exudes enthusiasm about his new position — or it may be that Bareham just exudes enthusiasm about life in general.
He has an almost constant smile, a firm but friendly handshake and is clearly excited about taking over for Dean Bloch.
Bloch announced around Halloween last year that he would be retiring from the town where he’s worked for 24 years at the end of October this year.
The selectboard began talking about his replacement right away, but got down to the serious work of finding a new town administrator around three months ago with the formation of a search committee made up of residents and two selectboard members to pare down the applicants.
Enthusiasm is a characteristic several selectboard members alluded to when describing Bareham after unanimously approving his hire on Sept. 11.
“I think we’re really lucky. We got a younger fellow coming in here who’s enthusiastic, intelligent and has got really good public relations skills,” chair Jim Faulkner said at the time.
Bareham, 30, grew up in the Finger Lakes area of New York State. He went to what he describes as small, “rinky dink” Southern Cayuga High. He thinks there were 69 kids in his graduating class.
He went to college at nearby State University of New York Brockport where he got an undergraduate degree in history and military studies.
After college he spent several years as a substitute teacher while he figured out what he wanted to do with his life and earned his certification in paralegal studies. He decided he would like to work in administration, so he went back to school and earned his master’s in public administration.
While going to graduate school he was also working for New York State Parks where he became a water safety coordinator. He found that work really enjoyable, despite being in that position when the COVID pandemic hit.
During the pandemic, he realized he had a knack for, and delight in, juggling lots of different issues and working with people.
“The state really wanted to try and maintain service levels. Even though we had all these new restrictions added on, there wasn’t a ton of guidance on how we should be operating things, so it was a good experience in that you really had to problem solve quite a bit,” Bareham said, sitting in the office he’s sharing with Bloch, while he shares his experience and expertise. Bloch has agreed to stay on the job for at least a month after his announced last day of Oct. 31.
In his position as a water safety coordinator, Bareham was working with 11 different regional management areas in nine counties with about 40 state parks and with about 40 other employees.
A big part of his responsibility was making sure that recreational activities in those state parks were safe. He was overseeing training in that area of the state parks system, so he got certified as a Wilderness Remote First Aid, lifeguard, CPR and AED (automatic external defibrillator) instructor. And it wasn’t just water safety training that he was coordinating: Bareham ran or coordinated trainings on the safe operation of chainsaws and trainings for people doing surveys on endangered or threatened species and critical habitat.
“I was happy that throughout COVID, we maintained our service level for that entire two years,” Bareham said. “And, we were fortunate that not one person came down with COVID.”
Besides being able to figure out ways to continue delivering services and helping people through that difficult time, Bareham was also able to revel in his love of the big lakes.
Ithaca is at the southern end of 39-mile-long Cayuga Lake, one of 11 narrow north-south running lakes in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Not a bad area to be cutting one’s teeth in water safety coordination work.
Also, a great area to set him up for working in a town on the banks of Lake Champlain.
“It’s probably the reason why I love it around here. I always joke, you could blindfold me and stick me in a field, and I wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between a field here and a field back in New York,” Bareham said.
And he is no stranger to Vermont’s charms. While working and studying public administration, he had begun to think of working “on the municipal side of things,” and a good understanding of law seemed like an asset for that kind of work. So, Bareham moved to Vermont for two years to attend Vermont Law School.
In law school he found himself discussing all sorts of different issues, ranging from wildlife management to affordable housing, and his thoughts came back to the idea of his working in a community.
He earned a degree in environmental law and policy in May. Bareham found that he liked the Green Mountain State and began to look for ways to stay. Back home in New York after graduation, he submitted a bunch of applications for municipal government positions, and Charlotte popped up.
The prospect of working here motivated Bareham to make the over five-hour drive twice to meet with town officials. He appreciated the opportunity to make the trip. It confirmed what he’d seen during law school when he made it a point to spend as much of his down time from studying driving around, trying to see as much of Vermont as possible. From his travels he was familiar with Charlotte and had been favorably impressed, an impression he found confirmed on his two visits.
“It was a really great opportunity to meet the board, get to meet the folks here. It seemed like a really good group of people,” Bareham said. It’s a job and a group of people he sees as affording him a great opportunity to work in municipal government.
He said he doesn’t have a strong opinion about whether Charlotte switches to a town manager system of municipal government or sticks with a town administrator, either way it will be the job he is happy to have.
“If a town manager is what folks want to have, that’s fine. And if they want to have a town administrator, that’s also fine,” Bareham said. “As far as I’m concerned, it’s up to the voters.”
Although he’s spent the majority of his life in northwestern New York, when asked where he considers home, Bareham’s response comes without delay, faster than a Jeopardy contestant buzzing in, but his answer does not come in the form of a question — Vermont.
“I love it,” Bareham said. “There’s something about the folks around here.”
During his law school explorations, he was particularly taken with the farm stands in smaller Vermont towns like Charlotte.
“I remember driving up this dirt road and finding three farm stands, stocked to the brim with chickens and beef and all different kinds of vegetables and whatnot. And there’s no one there,” he said, clearly pleased to be living some place where produce is still sold on the honor system.