WILMINGTON—Bob Rusten will leave his post of 4½ years as town manager in five weeks to take up the mantle of assistant town manager for the city of South Burlington.
Rusten and the Selectboard are in the early stages of determining which of his duties he will “close out” before leaving and which duties, like budgeting, will be delegated.
Rusten said Tuesday he’s prepared a “stream of consciousness list” of everything he is involved with for the Wilmington Selectboard.
“Obviously, it’s very busy,” he said.
The conversation about the next town manager he’s leaving up to the Selectboard.
In his new position, Rusten will be responsible for the finance department and the city has some “big projects” like a proposed downtown community center on the horizon.
“Sounds exciting. It’s an opportunity to work in a larger environment and implement some of the things we’ve done [in Wilmington],” Rusten says, referring to collaborative economic development projects taking root in the Deerfield Valley.
“Collaboration” sums up Rusten’s management style, and he plans to replicate the collaborative approach in South Burlington that led to successful teamwork in the Deerfield Valley, such as the Tri-Town Economic Development committee.
Rusten said there’s value in tapping into others’ strengths, and he always aims to build teamwork and facilitate discussions while relying on and trusting people’s skills.
“Sometimes it takes longer, but the collaborative approach tends to get better results,” he says.
He doesn’t see the sense for neighboring towns to compete with one another for projects like individual industrial parks.
In addition to the Tri-Town Economic Development plan, Wilmington and Dover collaborate through joint bidding.
Or why, in the Deerfield Valley, should one community plan one festival in one town for one weekend, when a larger, multiple-town festival can last a week? Rusten asked rhetorically.
One result of that questioning: the Deerfield Valley hosted its third annual Blueberry Festival last summer, with activities taking place in Wilmington, Dover and Whitingham over a week.
The road to South Burlington
Rusten says he heard about South Burlington’s assistant town manager vacancy and, after a few conversations, applied for the job.
He has known the city’s town manager, Sanford “Sandy” Miller, for many years and served with him on the board of directors of the Vermont League of Cities and Towns (VLCT).
South Burlington offered Rusten the job on Sept. 18. According to Miller, the job had been posted for a matter of weeks.
“It [the process] did go quickly,” he says.
Miller described the assistant town manager position as his “right hand man” and said as he and staff members reviewed the applications, Rusten’s name consistently rose to the top of everyone’s list.
“We feel very fortunate,” Miller said, adding he appreciates Rusten’s “keen insights,” analytical abilities and collaboration ethos.
“The whole package makes Bob [Rusten] an attractive city manager,” Miller said.
Although projects assignments won’t be finalized until Rusten begins work on Oct. 25, Miller said he will be working on large projects like the updating budget procedures, developing a capital improvement plan, and the downtown city center.
Thanks to his background in the legislature, Rusten will also assist with “legislative relations” between the city and the Statehouse.
“Our gain is Wilmington’s loss, but I thank them. He is a great addition to our team,” said Miller.
Rusten plans to stay in the South Burlington area during the work week and return to Wilmington, where he and wife Sue have their home. He hopes this will give him time to do things in Wilmington on the weekend.
Rusten took the town manager position in 2006 after retiring from the state House of Representatives, where he served beginning in 1997.
“One could call it [the Legislature] a 10-year sentence, but we’ll leave it at that,” he says with a laugh.
Rusten ran his own business, 21st Century Consulting, from 1991 to 2006, where he facilitated team building and designed human-resources-related trainings.
He previously worked as a senior project associate with New Directions Management Services, Inc., and as a recruitment and training supervisor for Mount Snow.
Rusten doesn’t see Wilmington’s successes and strides in economic development as his alone; instead, he places laurels at the feet of his colleagues and the Selectboard.
He says the board set the vision for Wilmington, involving the community in the process. He simply implemented the board’s vision, he points out.
Rusten advises Wilmington’s next town manager to reach out to town employees and involve them rather than striking out alone.
“The staff are incredibly committed to this town, way beyond what most understand,” he says.
Selectboard Vice-Chair Bruce Mullen says Rusten “has done a tremendous job” and brought a lot of skill to his position.
Speaking for himself and for the entire board, Mullen describes Rusten’s economic development efforts as a “tremendous step forward” for the area. He says Rusten’s ability to facilitate meetings and summarize issues has helped the Selectboard make better decisions.
He also credits Rusten’s streamlining of municipal government processes and procedures, as well as his work on the budget with helping Wilmington through the recession.
Moving forward, the Selectboard is preparing for the interim between Rusten’s departure and successor. Mullen says the Selectboard will divvy up the 80 tasks on Rusten’s “stream of consciousness list” between the Selectboard, department heads and, even, citizens.
“All the department heads are very capable, and I really don’t see [Rusten’s departure] slowing down anything,” Mullen says.
The Selectboard will also work with the VLCT on the job search, said Mullen.
Prior to Rusten’s hire in 2006, the town manager’s position stood vacant for six months, but Rusten told the Selectboard in a special meeting on Tuesday that he anticipates a shorter search, based on current hiring trends for town managers.
“Bob [Rusten] will be sorely missed, but with the Selectboard, department heads and citizens, we’ll get through,” Mullen says.
“I will miss him, but I wish him the best,” says Nona Monis, Dover town administrator.
Monis says she appreciates how Rusten always kept the lines of communication open between Wilmington and Dover and facilitated the towns’ joint bidding and the Tri-Town group.
“Our loss is someone else’s gain,” she says.
But, she adds, noting that the Deerfield Valley isn’t losing him as a citizen, “I’ll rope him in. He’ll be on every committee we can find.”