WILMINGTON—Fred Ventresco always preferred public service to businesses seeking to increase their shareholders’ stock value.
Fifteen years ago, the desire to help “build communities” drew Wilmington’s new Town Manager from the private sector, where he had worked in banking and travel/tourism, to the public sector.
Wilmington is Ventresco’s third community. Seven years ago, he stepped up to the job of Town Administrator. Now, he is the new Town Manager.
It’s week one on the job, and Ventresco, 48, checks his calendar. He has just finished one meeting and must attend a second within the hour.
He has yet to memorize his office telephone number, or find where the pens and paper are kept, but he said he’s glad to be serving Wilmington.
The Wilmington Selectboard hired Ventresco earlier this year to fill the post vacated by former Town Manager Bob Rusten, who took the Assistant Town Manager position for the city of South Burlington.
“We’re happy he accepted the [job] offer,” said Meg Streeter, Wilmington’s Selectboard clerk.
She said that Ventresco’s experience with a variety of different sized towns impressed the board, adding that he has a nice, low-key personality.
Streeter said that the town had been “very fortunate” to have Fire Chief Ken March as the Interim Town Manager.
“He went above and beyond,” she said.
But March has the fire department to attend to, said Streeter, while Ventresco’s sole focus will be the Town Manager’s duties.
Ventresco said that the mixture of variety and regimen enticed him to step into the role of Town Manager over positions in other town offices.
According to Ventresco, a good Town Manger must be “well-rounded,” with a strong foundation in the “bread and butter” skills of finance, personnel management, and community relations.
“I’m able to take up issues I’m unfamiliar with and run with them,” Ventresco said, adding that he likes finding the solutions within challenges.
Ventresco found the Wilmington Town Manager help-wanted ad through the website of the International City/County Management Association, a professional association for local government leadership and management.
Wilmington appealed to him, he said.
Ventresco said that he likes to work in “full service” towns. Such towns contain multiple businesses offering services like medical, dental, food shopping, retail shopping, and restaurants.
Wilmington offers enough choices that residents can meet the majority of their needs in a “self-contained area,” said Ventresco.
Wilmington matches the size and complexity of Weare, N.H., where Ventresco formerly served as Town Manager.
“I like working with a variety of people,” said Ventresco, smiling.
Wilmington’s dual populations of year-round and seasonal residents caught Ventresco’s eye and topped his list of criteria.
“You’re not confined to [working with] only people in your state,” he said.
He said that the dual populations can also lead to challenges. Year-round and seasonal communities have different requirements and expectations of their town government.
It can be a juggling act to please each population within the parameters of town services, said Ventresco.
Last November, Wilmington voters took up the question of whether to continue with the Town Manager form of government. Residents voted 527-226 to keep the position, according to numbers from the Town Clerk’s office.
The town originally approved the Town Manager form of government in 1967.
During a fall informational meeting with Jim Barlow, senior staff attorney with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns, concerned voters questioned the potential of a Town Manager to take power away from the elected Selectboard.
“In the end, the elected officials are always in charge,” said Ventresco.
Ventresco said that he feels the relationship between a Town Manager and the Selectboard resembles that of a CEO and board of directors. The Selectboard sets policy, like a board of directors, and the Town Manager implements it.
“You’ve always got to have good communication,” Ventresco said.
And leave the town in a better state than you found it, he added.
Ventresco looks forward to going through the intricate process of learning the culture of a new town.
He doesn’t have any new initiatives on his to-do list but will tackle the pending issues set out by the Selectboard.
One item on his plate is working with Bi-Town Planner Bill Colvin, hired last year, on economic development issues.
We need to get the area “electronically up to snuff,” said Ventresco of the area’s lack of full cellular or highspeed Internet coverage.
The challenges Vermont faces “are definitely different” than those of New Hampshire, he said.
Communities that are located near tax-free states will always struggle against the lure of lower taxes, said Ventresco.
“But if you can optimize [a community’s] positives, hopefully, when you put it on a scale, it’ll tip toward us,” he said.
In addition to New Hampshire, Ventresco has worked in Maine. Maine and Vermont share similar economic challenges, Ventresco said, which differ from those of New Hampshire, because Maine and Vermont are “physically harder to get to,” compared to the rail and highway links between the metropolitan Boston area and southeast New Hampshire.
But Vermont’s location acts as an asset for tourism because “people want to get away from it all,” added Ventresco.
Vermont’s quality of life also appeals to people, he said, adding that, more and more, people want to play and work in the same place.
“That’s why it’s so important to get this technology in place,” he said, referring to attracting more telecommuters to the Wilmington area.
Streeter said that the board will soon schedule a “goal setting session,” with Ventresco to prioritize some of the larger projects on the horizon, like the new town garage.
“It’s such a relief [to have a Town Manager],” said Streeter.
Ventresco checks his phone. Time for the next meeting.