Town Meeting: Longtime Norwich town clerk retiring after 30 years

By JIM KENYON

Valley News Columnist

Published: 03-07-2023 8:18 PM

For nearly 30 years, Norwich Town Clerk Bonnie Munday has issued dog licenses, recorded property transactions, handled election preparations and performed the other daily duties that come with the high-profile public office.

As Munday, 65, heads into retirement — her final Town Meeting Day was Tuesday — something else she did comes to mind. And you won’t find it in any Vermont Town Clerk handbook.

In 2012, Judy Trussell, a single mom with a 6-year-old son, was working three part-time town jobs in Norwich and struggling to make ends meet.

Trussell was a school crossing guard. She worked at the town’s transfer station, which is open on Wednesdays and Saturdays. What she enjoyed most, though, was helping Munday at the Town Clerk office in the basement of Tracy Hall.

Trussell started out small — answering the phone, filing and sorting the mail — before Munday began giving her more responsibilities. Eventually she was running the office on her own when Munday needed time off to recover from hand surgery.

“I’d never worked in an office setting before,” Trussell said. “Bonnie gave me an opportunity to try something different.”

Between the three jobs, Trussell often put in an average of 48 hours a week, town records showed. But under Norwich’s employment policies at the time, which required workers to clock 40 hours a week year-round in a single department, Trussell wasn’t eligible for health insurance benefits.

Enter Munday.

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She didn’t think it was right that one of Vermont’s wealthiest communities was getting away with saving a few bucks at the expense of Trussell and her son, Tanner.

Munday’s solution: Hire Trussell as full-time assistant town clerk.

But Norwich’s powers that be balked, claiming there was only enough money in the $4 million town budget for Trussell to work on a part-time basis.

Munday didn’t buy it. On a Saturday morning in December 2012, she stood at the transfer station with a petition that could potentially add $25,000 to the budget so Trussell could have a full-time job — with benefits — in her office.

Within a couple of hours, Munday had collected the 165 signatures needed to get the item on the ballot.

But even after residents voted on Town Meeting Day in March 2013, Trussell’s position was far from secure.

“More than one person” Munday said, told her that Trussell wasn’t cut out for the job.

“I was always known as the ‘Dump Girl,’ ” said Trussell, who started working at the transfer station in 1995.

A resident once suggested Trussell, who lives in White River Junction, use “Dump Girl” as her car’s license plate. After hearing comments like that, “my self-esteem was way down,” Trussell told me.

Munday took the time to learn about Trussell’s hardscrabble childhood. Trussell was one of six children in a single-parent family. She grew up in Templeton Court, a low-income apartment complex in White River Junction, known at the time as a rough-and-tumble part of Hartford.

Other Norwich officials either didn’t know — or didn’t care — to hear what Trussell had overcome. They just saw her as a young woman who operated a trash compactor and sorted recyclables.

There’s a stigma attached to working at the transfer station that “never should be,” Munday said.

In the three years she’d worked part time in the Town Clerk’s office, Trussell displayed strong organizational skills and the ability to “change gears in a minute,” Munday added.

Pam Mullen, who has worked in the town’s planning and zoning department for more than 15 years, watched the two become a team. “There’s definitely a bond there,” Mullen said.

Munday looks for ways for Trussell to advance her career, encouraging her to attend training sessions offered by the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to learn more about the ins and outs of local government.

“She’s pushed me out of my comfort zone,” Trussell said.

While some people in town thought Munday was taking a chance by hiring Trussell, she never hesitated to put her in the position that now pays almost $50,000 a year.

“I saw such potential in her,” Munday said. “There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that she could do the job.”

When Munday was starting out decades ago, some Norwich residents doubted whether she was town clerk material herself, she recalled.

She came from Connecticut, where her parents owned a restaurant. After her parents bought the Norwich Inn in the late 1970s, Munday moved to the Upper Valley to help them out. When she wasn’t waitressing or bartending, she was changing bedsheets and cleaning rooms.

After her family sold the inn, Munday moved to Texas for a while before returning to Norwich. She applied to be the part-time assistant town clerk, but didn’t get the job.

When the position came open again in 1992, Town Clerk Karen Porter hired her. In 1994, Porter retired before her term was up to care for her aging parents. Munday was named interim town clerk.

At the next year’s Town Meeting, Munday won a contested race by about 100 votes. She hasn’t been challenged since.

In a town that chews up and spits out public officials with regularity (Norwich has had eight town managers in the last 20 years), Munday has been the one constant.

Munday’s command of a town clerk’s role in local government is “surefooted and entirely modest, always steering clear of politics, always focusing on the task at hand, always instructing us with respect,” Suzanne Lupien, a former Selectboard member, wrote in a tribute that appeared in this year’s Town Report.

“Bonnie genuinely wants to help everybody who comes into her office,” Mullen said. “If she doesn’t know the answer, she’ll find out.”

For Munday it’s never been a 9-to-5 job, either. Last Sunday morning, she was at her office, handling last-minute details for Tuesday’s election. She also worked Saturday, which meant missing her regular poker game in Claremont.

Like any good poker player, Munday is careful not to tip her hand.

“If you start to use this office as a platform, you’re going to lose the respect of residents,” she said. “It’s an elected position, but it can’t be politically driven.”

A sense of humor also comes in handy. When I noted that this year’s Town Meeting ballot included 40 articles, Munday quipped that any more and “we’re going to run out of ink” in the voting booths.

During her 10 years as assistant town clerk, Trussell never forgot the difference her now former boss made in her life.

“Without Bonnie, I wouldn’t be in this job,” Trussell said. “I’d still be working outside, freezing at the transfer station.”

Jim Kenyon can be reached at jkenyon@vnews.com.

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