Hartford Town Manager Leo Pullar Announces Retirement

  • Hartford’s new Town Manager Leo Pullar stands for a portrait in his office on Monday, July 11, 2016, in White River Junction, Vt. (Valley News - Mac Snyder) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • New Town Manager Leo Pullar addresses the audience during Hartford Community Day at the Hartford High School gym Saturday. Rob Strong photographs

Valley News Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Hartford — Two years after taking the helm as town manager, Leo Pullar has announced that he is retiring, citing health concerns.

“I have been humbled by the support of you and the community as I worked through my cancer treatment,” Pullar wrote in a letter to the Selectboard that he read aloud during Tuesday night’s meeting. “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 that I believe you, the citizens of the town, and the great staff deserve.”

Pullar, an Army colonel who retired from the Pentagon, moved with his family to Quechee in early 2016 as a replacement for longtime former Town Manager Hunter Rieseberg, and officially began his job that summer. In July 2017, after his first performance review, Pullar declined an offer from the Selectboard to increase his $130,000 salary. Later that summer, Pullar took five weeks off to receive cancer treatment, during which time Hartford Fire Chief Scott Cooney filled in as acting town manager.

Pullar, who turned 53 in May, now plans to leave at the end of November, roughly seven months before his three-year contract expires. He publicly announced his decision after a closed-door executive session with the Selectboard.

Selectboard Chairman Simon Dennis and Vice Chairman Dick Grassi released a response on behalf of the Selectboard on Wednesday afternoon.

“Despite our profound sense of loss, which is both personal and organizational, we are grateful that Leo is able to prioritize his health and well-being over his work life. We are also grateful that the Town has had the benefit of Leo’s remarkable leadership over the past two years,” they said. “We also deeply appreciate Leo’s willingness to guide the Town through what we hope will be a smooth leadership transition.”

Over the past two years, Pullar has been credited with crafting a flat municipal budget in 2017, promoting a flurry of development, hiring an energy coordinator and revamping the town’s accounting procedures. But his greatest contribution, according to current and former town officials, may be a culture of transparency and accountability that inspired trust between the town government and its residents.

“Since the beginning, Leo has been very open and transparent to everyone he interacts with. ... His leadership was, in my opinion, the reason we had that culture change,” Selectwoman Rebecca White said. “I don’t think our honeymoon period ever ended.”

“He’s brought this town so far,” said Mike Morris, whose term on the Selectboard ended in March. “He developed a lot of citizen confidence in what the town is doing.”

Morris said many in town had been personally impacted by Pullar.

“The day after my daughter was diagnosed with cancer, that man was at my door telling me about his health issues and to help me keep my spirits up,” Morris said. “That’s the type of guy he is. He’s a real person.”

Community members said on Wednesday they were stunned to learn the news.

“You kind of ruined my day,” Tim Fariel said when he was told the news of Pullar’s retirement. Fariel, a former member of the Hartford School Board, has managed and developed several commercial properties in downtown White River Junction over the past 10 years.

“Leo was a breath of fresh air,” he said. “I’m pretty active in the community. I’ve brought 10 or 15 issues to him. Every issue that I ever had, he always took care of it. He was a problem-solver. He would figure out a way to get it done.”

Grassi, who served as board chairman through March, said late Wednesday morning that he was still numb from the news.

“He was a security blanket for the town,” Grassi said. “I used to kid with him all the time, (and say) ‘I think I found something that maybe you didn’t know about,’ groundwater or filtration or something, and you bring it up and he just goes on and on. There’s nothing that man didn’t know.”

Grassi said the Selectboard’s intent is to replicate the hiring process that led to Pullar’s contract — a citizen-led committee that will use a professional search firm to identify and screen candidates for consideration.

When Rieseberg resigned unexpectedly in 2015, a series of interim and acting town managers filled the void while the committee took five months to settle on a recommendation to hire Pullar.

Grassi said he hopes that Pullar’s six-month notice period will ensure a smooth transition.

“It’s a tremendous loss,” Grassi said. “Trying to find someone to fill his shoes may be impossible, I don’t know. But more important than that is Leo’s health. For health reasons, we totally understand that he needs to move on.”

He and Dennis, the chairman, indicated that the Selectboard would ratify a charge for a new Town Manager Selection Committee on July 3.

Pullar earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from West Point Military Academy in 1989; he also holds three master’s degrees from Troy State University in Alabama, Naval War College in Rhode Island and United States Army War College in Pennsylvania.

During a two-year stint as garrison commander at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico that ended in 2013, Pullar oversaw a $110 million budget and led more than 1,000 civilian employees to provide community services such as public works, police, fire, ambulance, transportation, parks and recreation, and a library, among others.

Prior to taking the helm in Hartford, he most recently worked as deputy director of the Installation Services Directorate at the Army’s Pentagon headquarters.

After being diagnosed with multiple myeloma at the age of 43, Pullar underwent two bone marrow transplants, which sent the cancer into remission in 2010. The disease resurfaced in 2016, and Pullar has received chemotherapy at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center while continuing to work for the town.

In his letter, Pullar said he intends to make a full recovery, in time.

“In a life of service, there comes a point when one must put themselves, their health, and their family first for a change,” he wrote. “It is my hope to work through this current challenge over the next few years and re-enter public service in the future.”

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling can be reached at mhonghet@vnews.com or 603-727-3211.