Editorial: Hartford Must Build on Leo Pullar’s Legacy of Openness and Fairness

  • Hartford’s new Town Manager Leo Pullar conducts his first meeting with Hartford’s municipal department leaders after being officially sworn in on Monday, July 11, 2016, in White River Junction, Vt. Pullar recently retired from a position at the Pentagon to become the town manager, and believes his experience as a former Army garrison commander will inform his approach to town management. “My jobs is to organize your success … I’m here for you, use me when you need me,” he told the group. (Valley News - Mac Snyder) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Saturday, July 07, 2018

In his first hour on the job as Hartford’s town manager, Leo Pullar convened the town’s top administrators and, as staff writer Matt Hongoltz-Hetling reported at the time, assured them, “I won’t BS you. I won’t lie to you. I won’t keep secrets.”

Two years later, as Pullar prepares to retire in order to recover his health, both staff and the public alike seem to agree that he has largely made good on his promise of transparency.

Indeed, Pullar has been an agent of culture change to whom the town is greatly indebted. His long-serving predecessor in the job, Hunter Rieseberg, had undeniable strengths as an administrator, but he held his cards so close to the vest that it was often hard to know even what game was being played. The result was suspicion and distrust of town government, which Pullar has done much to dispel.

“Since the beginning, Leo has been very open and transparent to everyone he interacts with,” Selectwoman Rebecca White told Hongoltz-Hetling when Pullar informed the Selectboard last month of his plans to depart. “His leadership was, in my opinion, the reason we had that culture change.”

That opinion appears to be widely shared.

This penchant for openness is happily married to considerable management expertise. Pullar, 53, who came to Hartford after an Army career during which he administered several large entities, has been credited with overhauling the town’s financial procedures, thoughtfully nurturing Hartford’s nascent development boom, making energy savings a priority, and, in 2017, crafting a municipal budget in which spending was flat. And, last July, when the Selectboard proposed to reward him by increasing his $130,000 salary, he declined the offer.

Pullar’s refreshing candor extends to even his own health issues: a recurrence of multiple myeloma that required him to step away from work for five weeks in 2017 to receive cancer treatment. Before he did, he granted an interview to Hongoltz-Hetling because he wanted the community to know what was going on. “They’re going to know I’m gone,” Pullar said. “Instead of having the rumors run rampant, it’s better to say what it is.”

And again, in announcing his impending retirement, which will take effect at the end of November, he made reference again to his cancer treatment. “Although the disease has remained at bay, the recovery has been slow. That recovery, coupled with the physically debilitating effects of my service in the military, has led me to feel that I am unable to perform at a level” the community deserves, he wrote.

It is interesting to note that those who commented about his decision praised not only his professional performance but also his personal traits, which is a sure sign that a leader has made an impact. Thankfully, he expects a full recovery over time, and to eventually re-enter public service. We certainly hope that is the case.

The Selectboard is now faced with making a change in leadership that it had hoped would be in place for many years. Although Hartford is headed in the right direction, no shortage of challenges await Pullar’s successor, including the probable need for a massive capital project to shore up Fairview Terrace; figuring out what to do about the now-drained Wright Reservoir and the recently closed town pools; addressing a parking shortage created by the revival of White River Junction; and guiding development there and in the rest of the community. The overarching one, though, will be to build on Pullar’s legacy of governing openly and dealing fairly with all members of the community.