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Taking the helm

Patrick Moreland confirmed as Interim Town Manager

BRATTLEBORO—Assistant Town Manager Patrick Moreland will step in as interim Town Manager at the end of this month.

At its meeting June 2, the Selectboard appointed Moreland to take over for Town Manager Barbara Sondag, who is leaving July 23 to take a new job out of state.

Moreland will take the helm on July 23 at 5 p.m., but says he is not interested in filling the position permanently.

The vote was 5-0, and groundwork for a search for a permanent replacement is under way.

Selectboard chair David Gartenstein said that the board has worked with both Moreland and Sondag to ensure a smooth transition.

He said that Moreland has worked closely with Sondag over the past two years and, given his experience, is well situated to step in as interim town manager.

Moreland started with the town in 2011, days before Tropical Storm Irene unloaded on Vermont, and impressed many observers who saw him work closely, under pressure, with department heads. Selectboard members said the natural disaster showed Moreland at his best — building strong relationships quickly.

“He showed real strength jumping in and helping to marshal our resources in response to [Tropical Storm] Irene and showed really good attention to detail in our work with FEMA,” Gartenstein said.

Moreover, Selectboard members noted, Moreland served as economic development specialist for the town of Dover for two years and was executive director of Community Action Brattleboro Area (CABA) for 12 years.

Sondag met Moreland in 2007 as members of the Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategy (SeVEDS). The two had worked closely on many projects and committees before Moreland took the job of assistant town manager.

The town manager is responsible for the general supervision of affairs of the Town of Brattleboro and for their efficient administration. The office also is responsible for personnel/human resources.

Search for permanent manager under way

At its previous Selectboard meeting, the board voted to contract with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to help advertise and manage Brattleboro’s search for the next town manager.

Regarding that search, Gartenstein said that other towns have taken three to six months to fill such a vacancy. He said he hopes Brattleboro’s search take less time.

Gartenstein said he’s “cautiously optimistic” the board will release a revised job description and job listing later this week.

The updated draft job description better reflects the state’s legal requirements of a town manager and the “fuller reality of the current position,” said Gartenstein.

Gartenstein said the board looks forward to working with Moreland and is sure he’ll be as responsive to the town and its residents as Sondag is.

For his part, Moreland said he was “pleased to see the board is confident having me [as interim town manager],” adding that he looks forward to taking on the role and continuing to serve the public.

He said he expects a seamless transition and that Sondag had primed him on a number of town projects and activities in advance of her leaving, so that he will be able to hit the ground running.

When asked what he has learned from working with Sondag, Moreland responded, “Set your standards higher.”

Sondag always set out to push for better outcomes than she achieved before, he said.

On his to-do list: maintaining a smooth flow of routine municipal tasks, continuing work on capital projects, and preparing for fall budget season.

When asked what kind of learning curves he expected to encounter as interim town manager, Moreland replied, “None.”

He said he prefers to remain in the position of assistant town manager and will not apply for the top position when applications are sought.

“I’ve decided not this time,” he said. He explained that he wants to gain more experience and prepare for the role — an investment in time that he said would “pay dividends” for the residents and for the town.

Moreland said he loves Brattleboro and working for the town. It’s a town he hopes to work for until retirement.

So much of the success in the town manager’s office is influenced by history, he said, adding that building institutional memory would help him become a stronger town manager.

Brattleboro’s loss is Olivette’s gain

Sondag served the town nearly a decade starting as assistant town manager and then town manager. She leaves Brattleboro for a position as city administrator in Olivette, Mo., a city of about 8,000 near the Illinois state line.

She said she is taking the position to move closer to family.

“The town is in good hands,” said Sondag of Moreland’s appointment. She shared with Moreland her plans to depart even before she announced her resignation.

In considering whom he is replacing, Moreland had warm words: “Barbara [Sondag] is leaving the community in better shape than she found it,” he said. “We should all appreciate her efforts.”

As for what he admires about his soon-to-be-former boss, Moreland said the town offices can be a hectic, but that Sondag always has a smile and a sense of humor.

“I hope I can do the same,” he said.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #211 (Wednesday, July 10, 2013).

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