John O'Keefe is heading to Williams College as associate athletic director for budget and finance. 

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.  

MANCHESTER — Town Manager John O’Keefe is leaving the position later this month for a job in higher education, he announced Saturday.

“I am looking forward to transitioning to private life and spending more time with my family,” O’Keefe said. He did not announce his new position, saying he’s waiting on approval from the institution to make that news public. But O’Keefe and his family plan to remain in Manchester, which he called “the greatest place to live, by far” of the communities he’s called home.

“I’ve been in the public sector for 27 years, mostly in high profile positions,” O’Keefe said. “We have one kid transitioning to college and another one starting to look at that — now is the best time [to make a change].”

O’Keefe said he informed the Select Board of the decision during executive session on Tuesday. A press release was issued by the town Saturday. O’Keefe’s effective last day will be Friday, Aug. 26.

It’s anticipated that the Select Board will appoint human resources and operations director Leslie Perra as interim town manager, according to the press release. “We are very fortunate to have Leslie and her experience as the Board goes through this transition. She will provide a high degree of consistency for residents and Town employees,” Select Board chair Ivan C. Beattie said in the release.

O’Keefe said the new job is the first he’s sought since taking the helm in Manchester in January of 2007, and likens it to starting a third career. He’s confident that Perra, accounting and finance director Michael DeCubellis and the rest of the town’s employees will handle the transition well.

“In all modesty after 16 years you would have accomplished something or you wouldn’t have the job,” he said.

“I’m proud of what we accomplished together,” he said. “Town manager is a conduit between people who do all the work and the board elected to oversee the town. We have benefited from very best employees for a very long time. And our boards have been very stable. You see some towns’ boards are unstable and have turnover every other year. Some people might like term limits but that doesn’t help you accomplish things — every two years you’re starting over.”

Support our journalism. Subscribe today. →

O’Keefe, 50, has served as town manager since January of 2007. He was at the helm when the town replaced its infamous “malfunction junction” downtown intersection with a roundabout and also oversaw improvements to its downtown streetscapes. He also oversaw the town’s response to Tropical Storm Irene — “I think I worked 100 hours that week,” he recalled — and the construction of the Park House.

O’Keefe also promoted the development of assets helping Manchester market itself as a family recreation destination in addition to mountain resort town and retail shopping hub. That emphasis on active sports included the addition of facilities at Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park, including Applejack Stadium — now regarded among the finest natural grass facilities of its size in the Northeast — and the Manchester Skatepark, which announced this past week it has funding to complete its second phase and grow to nearly 16,000 square feet.

That process, he said, is “not like the roundabout where you cut a ribbon and it’s over.” Rather, it’s been a process of incremental improvements that he said have been “a win-win for the business community and for residents.”

“A lot of stuff we did in the park system benefited local residents and increased quality of life. But it also attracted people to town for tournaments and games. We put in the track with BBA ... if you calculated the total miles used on the track in a year, most would not have track uniforms on. They’re mostly walkers and joggers. Not people running the 3,000 meters.”

He’s also proud that Manchester’s municipal property tax rate is still among the lowest tax rates in the state.

An upstate New York native, O’Keefe previously worked in Massachusetts state government under the administrations of Gov. Paul Cellucci, Acting Gov. Jane Swift and Gov. Mitt Romney. He served as Romney’s executive director for legislative affairs from 2003-07 and was co-author and strategist for Melanie’s Law, a comprehensive overall of the Commonwealth’s drunk driving laws.

A graduate of the State University of New York at Potsdam, O’Keefe holds a masters in public administration from SUNY-Brockport. He was an intern at the New York State Assembly and worked for the New York State Division of the Budget before moving to Boston to work in the Massachusetts Legislature. He served as director of legislative affairs in the Massachusetts Highway Department from 2000-03.

O’Keefe also served on the Vermont Board of Education from 2017-2020.

Reach Greg Sukiennik at gsukiennik@manchesterjournal.com or at 802-447-7567, ext. 119.

Greg Sukiennik has worked at all three Vermont News & Media newspapers and was their managing editor from 2017-19. He previously worked for ESPN.com, for the AP in Boston, and at The Berkshire Eagle in Pittsfield, Mass.


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us.
We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.