Hiring of Pownal administrator focus of Thursday meeting


POWNAL — Residents who want to know more about town leaders potentially hiring a town administrator will have a chance this week.

An informational meeting is scheduled for Thursday at 7 p.m. in the elementary school gym.

Residents will be able to hear more about the role of a town administrator or manager, and ask questions, according to Select Board members.

Vice Chairman Nelson Brownell said officials are still in an exploratory process and no decision will be made soon.

"We're in the study process to better understand what the position would mean and trying to make sure our questions are answered," Brownell said.

Chairman Ron Bisson encouraged residents to attend. Describing himself as a "representative for the people," he said the decision will ultimately be up to residents.

"If people want to know how this works, now's a good chance," he said.

Brownell said in attendance will be Bill Finger, whom he said he met at a state training conference. Finger, a Lincoln resident, is the Select Board chairman in his town and a retired town manager, having worked in several towns including West Rutland and Middlebury. Finger also volunteers with the City/County Management Association (ICMA) and the Vermont Town and City Management Association (VTCMA).

"I have experience from both sides, in terms of what a manager or administrator can and can't do," Finger told the Banner on Tuesday. "For certain Select Boards and towns, it may work, but may not work. My objective will be to give my own background and see what kind of questions there are in Pownal."

A citizen's petition led to a ballot article being placed on the Town Meeting warrant in March. The article as written asked whether voters should "approve the hiring" of an administrator to work under the direction of the Select Board. Some attendees took issue with the article's wording — at least one voter described it as "vague" — and noted the article didn't mention any scope or cost. The article was ultimately changed on the floor to ask voters "to authorize Selectmen to study and explore possibilities and come up with specific recommendations and figures concerning the hiring of a town manager." The nonbinding proposal was supported by a majority of voters.

Select Board member Suzanne Caraman said she thinks the town does need a part-time town administrator to help advise the board and to manage daily town operations. The employee also could find more grant funding for the town. And towns are facing more responsibilities, she noted.

"There are more and more laws and regulations coming down from the state that we have to be on top of," Caraman said.

Bisson, Brownell and Caraman all said they would want to know the cost of taking on an administrator.

Brownell said one argument in favor of hiring an administrator was that the position's salary could be paid through money saved from cost efficiencies or by grants the employee applies for. But, in an argument against, the town could be required to add the salary into the budget, leaving town leaders to have to come up with the money.

Finger said he thinks it's "illusory to bank on someone being able to pull down enough grant money" to support town operations as well as pay for that position's salary, but that grants could be a component of what the town can accomplish.

He said he doesn't aim to solve any of the town's problems, but will talk about his experiences and let town leaders and residents digest it.

"Everything they do is up to them."

Contact Edward Damon at 413-770-6979


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