We took some time to ask Brattleboro’s new Town Manager, John Potter, a few questions about his return to New England and thoughts about the town and his new job.
Welcome to Brattleboro! It’s always fun to catalog initial impressions. When you look around Brattleboro, what do you see and how does it look to you?
The last time I was in Brattleboro before interviewing for the Town Manager position was around thirty years ago when I came to town to buy a couple of draft horses for a woodlot operation I was running in Massachusetts. When returning this winter, the town looks very similar to what I remembered from years ago — a classic Vermont river town with kind and welcoming people who really care about their community.
How do other people usually describe you? Are they accurate? : )
Last month when I left my previous job in Colorado as a land manager, my teammates did a really nice thing and went around the table telling me what they appreciated about working with me. The descriptions that stood out were that I came across as really caring about public service and championing it for people in the community and that I take difficult challenges in stride and stay calm when faced with stressful situations.
What should people know about your style of work and the way you approach problem solving?
My strongest values are fairness and collaboration. These come across in my style of work and approach to problems. I love it when we can find where the opportunities are within the problems we are facing, then build an approach to solving them that works for as many people as possible.
You have a lifetime of experience with land and parks, and Brattleboro is about to embark on a major upgrade to our Living Memorial Park. Are there any principles that should be applied or adhered to when planning on a public park project? How should we approach this?
The other day Recreation and Parks Director Carol Lalotte took me up to see Living Memorial Park and to meet Paul Ethier, the Parks Supervisor. My immediate impression of the place was that it was really cool like a 1970 Plymouth Barracuda; and Carol, Paul, and their team have somehow managed to put over 700,000 miles on this “vehicle” with very little maintenance cost and still deliver a really great experience to the public. The major maintenance project proposed for Living Memorial Park seems well past due if the town wants to continue providing good recreation services to the community. I was pleased to see the Selectboard’s interest in considering a thoughtful planning and engagement approach to figure out what the town would like to see happen at the pool in the future.
Have you taken a look at any of Brattleboro’s other public parks/spaces? Any early, initial thoughts about them?
Just starting to do this and very excited to explore all of the public spaces in Brattleboro. The Gibson Aiken Center sure has a lot to offer, and I loved seeing the 1957 Robert Chace painting of Living Memorial Park that is hanging in the Senior Center.
Brattleboro has had many of the oldest shade trees (planted by a Shade Tree Association in the 1800’s!) cut down in the last 20 years. How healthy do our trees look? Should there be rules about removing old trees, or replacing them if they are cut?
It is often very sad to lose an older tree, and the lost shade can contribute to urban heat in the summer months. In general, the trees look pretty healthy to me in Brattleboro, but I’m used to seeing significant drought stress in Colorado which is not an issue here. It’s good practice to have a diversity of age classes in the urban forest so that you don’t lose all of your shade and other ecosystem benefits all at once.
You’ve been out west for a while.. do you consider the Green Mountains to be “mountains” or are they just little speed bump hills? 🙂
The Rocky Mountains are striking for sure, and I had the opportunity to climb quite a few 14’ers, but it’s not really a mountain to me unless draped in northern hardwoods with a shift to boreal forest as you go up.
The town has been considering installation of downtown public restrooms for a while and has experimented with temporary seasonal facilities. Is this a service a town should provide?
This is a good question for the Selectboard and the town. If it is the will of the town, I know we can figure out how to do it.
What would you like to accomplish as Town Manager?
I would like to help make Brattleboro an even better place than it already is. My immediate priorities from the Selectboard are the FY24 budget, community safety, emergency warming, and EMS services among other important things, like getting to know the town issues and the town staff.
Should a municipal water supply have fluoride in it?
If people in town and the Selectboard think that there is a benefit greater than the cost to adding fluoridated compounds to their drinking water, then by all means. I stand ready to find and provide whatever information the community might need to review an issue like this, if a priority.
What did your friends and family say when you told them you were moving to Vermont?
My family was happy we were moving back to New England so that we could start hosting Thanksgiving.
What do you like to do to unwind and relieve stress?
Guess this is where I talk about running — I like to get out on the trails and roads and run a few races every year. Last year I managed over 2,000 miles, according to Strava, and I’m looking forward to having a bit more oxygen to breathe on those 20-milers.
Can you recommend any good books?
Sure, talk to me anytime about good books! As Library Director Starr Latronica knows, my first official act as a Brattleboro resident was to get a library card. Over the weekend, a Brattleboro Union High School student recommended “Between the World and Me” by Ta-Nehisi Coates, so I got a copy at one of the bookstores downtown. I’ve also been reading through Donal Ryan’s work and sent a copy of “Strange Flowers” to my daughter because I liked it so much.
What’s a musical group everyone should know about?
I’ve been spending a lot of time with WVEW 107.7 FM, and really appreciate the depth and range of interesting music on this local station.
Is there anything you’d like to answer that we didn’t ask you about?
I don’t know: he/him/his? or maybe Patriots, Bruins, Red Sox, Celtics?
Thanks for spending time with iBrattleboro.com!