New Hartford town manager settles in
|Published: 10-31-2023 7:15 AM
WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — One month into his tenure, Hartford’s new Town Manager John Haverstock equated his transition to his new town to “riding a bicycle on training wheels.”
That analogy, Haverstock said, was not implying a lack of experience. Rather it referred to the support he has received from town staff and Selectboard members to familiarize him with the community.
“I don’t want to give the impression that I don’t know how to ride a bicycle,” Haverstock explained in an interview. “But there are lots of things unique to Hartford that (staff and residents) have been helpful with in terms of history and town policies and procedures that I need to know to do my job as well as I can. … And I certainly appreciate the support that they have given me along those lines.”
Haverstock, a former trial attorney, spent 14 years as town manager of Pittsford, Vt., with a population of 2,860 people, prior to accepting the position of Hartford’s top administrator.
Town department heads said that Haverstock’s experience in municipal government is evident in their discussions with him so far, including about the next municipal budget, which is being formulated now.
“My conversations with him have been very productive,” said Police Chief Gregory Sheldon. “His prior experience is very helpful (to our discussions). He is open to suggestions and is interested in learning more about what we do.”
Haverstock was hired in August to replace former Town Manager Tracy Yarlott Davis, who parted ways with the town late last year after being placed on administrative leave by the Selectboard “to consider her future as town manager.”
Haverstock is making an annual salary of $150,000.
Haverstock, who recently purchased a condominium at Quechee Lakes, said it is important for a town manager to be stakeholder, not just an employee.
“I’m a member of the community and a taxpayer here, so I have skin in the game personally,” Haverstock said. “So I want, for many reasons, for Hartford to succeed, to continue on its current path of getting better and creating better services for the townspeople.”
Haverstock spent his first three weeks in Hartford meeting one-on-one with Selectboard members and department heads, as well with state representatives and community partners, including Michael Redmond, executive director of the Upper Valley Haven.
“I want to build relationships around the town, sort of a town manager support network that I can call on to help me with information history and to let me know what they think the more pressing issues are in town,” Haverstock said.
The most commonly expressed concerns, according to Haverstock, have been the regional housing shortage and the opioid epidemic.
Redmond said in a phone interview that Haverstock recently visited the Upper Valley Haven for a tour of the shelter, food pantry and community services and outreach offices.
“I found him to be very serious and interested in the role we play in the community,” Redmond said. “He really wants to understand how the community works — not just the government but all the organizations (and groups) that come together.”
Haverstock said his meetings with Selectboard members have helped him get a feel for their individual personalities, their interest in public service and their vision for the town.
“I thought it was a good way for me to get past my interview notes and get to know the people in greater depth that I’ll be working with so closely,” Haverstock said.
Selectboard member Lannie Collins said he is so far impressed with Haverstock based on their conversations.
“He was receptive to what I shared for concerns and for goals and he was very open to what I had to say,” according to Collins, who said he discussed the need to examine “underutilized revenue sources,” such as a permit fee for restaurants who use public sidewalks for outdoor seating.
Haverstock said he also plans to propose the creation of a public information officer position to facilitate public communication with residents, community stakeholders and the media.
He has drafted a job description based on models used in other Vermont towns, which will help jumpstart a conversation with the Selectboard regarding its interest in funding a position and what duties and responsibilities board members wish to see in the job description.
On Tuesday Haverstock will make his first budget presentation to the Selectboard — a broad overview to begin the budget process that will take up the next few months.
Haverstock said he has been working alongside Finance Director Gail Ostrout, who is providing onboarding support to Haverstock through the end of November.
Ostrout served as the town’s acting manager following Davis’ departure until Haverstock arrived on Oct. 2.
Haverstock began meeting individually with department heads two weeks ago to discuss their operating needs and a proposed budget.
“We will be having budget sessions into at least mid-December,” Haverstock said. “At those sessions each of the department heads will come before the board to advocate for their budgets and provide answers to any questions that the Selectboard may have.”
Patrick Adrian may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3216.