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Taking up the reins

John O’Connor steps in as Brattleboro Finance Director

BRATTLEBORO—John O’Connor took over the Municipal Finance Director position from John Leisenring this week.

O’Connor comes to Brattleboro by way of Rockingham, where he served five years as Finance Director.

“He did a remarkable job in Rockingham,” said Town Manager Barbara Sondag.

O’Connor arrives equipped with a combination of municipal and private-sector financial experience.

Sondag said that O’Connor will build on the now-retired Leisenring’s financial foundation, but that he will also integrate his project management and project budgeting experience into the town’s financial processes.

O’Connor said that he’s excited to work with Sondag and the other town officials.

“I’ll be building off a very good foundation,” he said, complimenting the Leisenring’s work.

O’Connor shares his predecessor’s philosophy that the finance department is a service organization, and that the department serves its colleagues by helping them do their jobs within budget.

“We provide the best information, in a timely manner, to all parties, as accurately as possible,” he said.

The financial constraints facing Brattleboro during tough economic times are also on O’Connor’s mind.

The value of the homes on the Grand List — from which the total of the town’s tax base is derived — has shrunk by $1.4 million.

“When you don’t have growth in the tax base, it’s harder to fund an increasing budget,” he said.

The challenge facing the town, he noted, entails figuring out how to keep the tax rate low. Whether that strategy will translate into a reduction of services or in new opportunities to help the Grand List grow remains unknown, said O’Connor.

From the Caribbean to Vermont

O’Connor inherited his penchant for accounting from his father, who worked for the U.S. Department of State and later as chief financial officer at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, Mich.

O’Connor, who lives in Brattleboro, came to New England in 1987 after 10 years in St. Thomas on the U.S. Virgin Islands, where he worked as the Chief Financial Officer for IT&T.

When new owners took over the telecommunications and technology company, O’Connor took the position as controller of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon after responding to an ad in The Wall Street Journal.

In the middle of February, he and wife, Peg,and their two sons, Andrew and Kevin, moved from the sunny Caribbean to frigid Vermont.

“It was a change,” said O’Connor with a laugh, adding that his sons had never seen snow before.

O’Connor “parted ways” with Entergy Corp. about six years ago, after the company asked him to relocate to White Plains, N.Y.

After a year at C&S Wholesale Grocers, O’Connor applied for the financial director job in Rockingham.

“They took a chance on me,” he said.

O’Connor said that, although accounting and reporting regulations differ between the municipal and private sectors, the management and principles remain the same.

“There’s an awful lot going on in Brattleboro,” said O’Connor. “It’s a big job, and I’ve got some big shoes to fill.”

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Originally published in The Commons issue #110 (Wednesday, July 20, 2011).

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