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Two hours before making his debut in Brattleboro, the town’s choice for Town Manager declines the job

BRATTLEBORO—“I’m all right,” Selectboard Chair David Gartenstein said with a shrug and wave of his hand in response to a question from Town Manager Secretary Jan Anderson.

Board member John Allen, munching from a bag of microwave popcorn, said, “We need Prozac.”

Members of the public entered the room, dressed in their Vermont-casual professional best, anticipating the introduction of the new town manager at Tuesday night’s special Selectboard meeting

Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland entered the board room quietly. He didn’t take his customary seat next to Gartenstein but instead sat next to Anderson at a separate table.

Board member David Schoales, fresh from the People’s Climate March in New York City, was the last to join the group.

“He’s not coming today?” Schoales asked Gartenstein.

“He’s not coming at all,” Gartenstein answered.

And so the news that Brattleboro was yet again without a town manager because the candidate changed his mind filtered through the small room in whispers and in “What?” and in “Oh, really?”

The official special Selectboard meeting lasted just over five minutes.

“Unfortunately, two hours ago the town manager candidate called us up and said that he wasn’t coming to Brattleboro,” Gartenstein said.

The town has lacked a permanent town manager since Barbara Sondag stepped down last year to take a new job. Sondag had held Brattleboro’s top municipal job for nearly a decade.

Moreland, the town’s interim manager, joined the town as assistant town manager in August 2011. He was greeted with a trial by water days later when the flood waters from Tropical Storm Irene rampaged through Brattleboro.

The town has held three rounds of job searches and interviews, and has made offers to no avail.

The board offered the position to a candidate this May, but he chose instead to take a job in his hometown.

On July 18 the board announced it would start the third town manager search. The town has contracted with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to gather candidates and conduct initial screenings.

Moreland has expressed an interest in taking over permanently. In July he said, “I fully anticipate participating in the third round as well.”

Of his phone call with the candidate, which arrived two hours before the Sept. 23 meeting, Gartenstein said, “I spoke with him today and my understanding is that he didn’t want to leave the town he was living in,” said Gartenstein.

The board had opened good-faith contract negotiations with the candidate and had developed an extensive final draft of the contract to offer the candidate in the night’s meeting, said Gartenstein.

Under Vermont’s open meeting law, the board would have had to make the official contract offer in a public meeting.

Gartenstein explained the board will not reopen the manager search. Instead it will reach out to candidates who had submitted applications.

“So we’ve already begun our process of going back through the applications we have received at the end of August, contacting those candidates, and asking whether they remain interested in the position,” he continued.

The board anticipates starting the interview process within the next 10 days. It had received 40 to 50 applications at the close of the most recent search in August.

Gartenstein thanked everyone involved in the search process.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #273 (Wednesday, September 24, 2014). This story appeared on page A1.

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