By STEVEN JUPITER
The Brandon Selectboard announced after its executive session on Monday that it intended to offer the position of town manager to current Board Chair Seth Hopkins. After a search process that netted 14 applications, from as far afield as Tennessee, the Board winnowed down the field to four candidates and then to two finalists: Mr. Hopkins and Bill Moore, who has been acting as interim town manager ever since Dave Atherton’s resignation. The Board has not yet made public its reasons for choosing Mr. Hopkins instead of Mr. Moore, but Bill will still be part of the “town management team” in some capacity that has not been fully fleshed out yet.
The choice of Mr. Hopkins is sure to irk some folks in town, not because he isn’t qualified for the position, but rather because his candidacy has always seemed the most obvious and, perhaps, preordained. There was a lot of discussion during the initial public meetings about the need to look outside the Brandon community for candidates who might represent a more diverse pool than what is locally available. We have yet to hear from members of the citizen advisory committee about whether their assessments of the candidates aligned with those of the Board, but the selection of Mr. Hopkins, as well as the retention of Mr. Moore, points to something that matters in a small town: familiarity.
Board member Tim Guiles said it himself: at the end of the day, a primary criterion was “local knowledge of our community.” No one can argue that Seth and Bill don’t know Brandon. They’ve both been involved in town affairs in myriad ways for years. It’s certainly possible for someone from outside the community, even someone from Tennessee, to come to Brandon and do a top-rate job as town manager in many respects, but what takes years to build is the network of personal relationships that allow us to defuse tense situations, to de-escalate conflicts, and to resolve seemingly intractable problems. That network of relationships is one of the things that made Dave Atherton, another “in-house hire,” such a successful town manager. Seth and Bill come equipped with relationships and knowledge that would take a new resident years to develop. I recall a resident of Pittsford expressing something close to contempt for their last town manager because she consistently mispronounced Lothrop as Laythrop. She was also a terrible town manager, so no one was willing to cut her any slack, but these things matter.
The creation of a new management position for Mr. Moore is a creative way to tap into his strengths, and he himself seems satisfied with the outcome. It remains to be seen how the Board defines his role, and the more specific they can be, the better. The new position would create more problems than it solves if it’s unclear to town residents and employees whom to approach in what situation. Not to mention that many an optimistic partnership turns contentious if boundaries are not drawn and respected.
Seth and Bill are smart men with a wide range of talents and skills. Having both at our disposal, rather than only one or the other, should be seen as a boon. As with anyone learning a new job, there will surely be stumbles as well as triumphs. Whichever of the two men we may have backed initially, we owe them both our support. Brandon is in a good place in many ways and our town manager(s) will be no small part of maintaining that success.
The selection of Mr. Hopkins also leaves a vacancy on the Board that will be filled by an appointment by the remaining members. I doubt anyone wants to relive the experience we had after Mike Markowski resigned last year, when the Board’s opacity created a lot of unnecessary resentment and public conflict. The Board needs to approach this appointment with utmost transparency and open communication. Whoever they choose will be on the Board for the greater part of Mr. Hopkins’s elected term—it’s not a “temporary” patch. The same is true for the selection by the Board of a new Chair. The public may not have any input into that process, but the Board should keep in mind that Mr. Hopkins was quite adept at leading meetings and whoever takes his place should aspire to maintain that standard.
Congratulations to both Mr. Hopkins and Mr. Moore. We look forward to seeing where this team takes us.