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Hawley returns as Vergennes city manager

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By ANDY KIRKALDY

VERGENNES — Late last week Vergennes interim city manager Mel Hawley had one word removed from his title — interim.

Mayor Michael Daniels said Hawley, 55, who previously served from 1981 to 1998 as the city’s manager, was the unanimous pick as the city’s new manager by a hiring committee that included Vergennes aldermen, City Clerk Joan Devine, planning commission chairman Neil Curtis, and city resident and American Legion Post 14 official Henry Broughton.

Aldermen accepted the committee’s recommendation at a Nov. 18 executive session, and Daniels made the choice of Hawley official on Thursday, after Hawley’s employer since he left the city’s employ in 1998 — Vergennes outdoor equipment manufacturer Country Home Products — had been notified.

Daniels said there were several strong candidates for the post, including one other finalist besides Hawley. Hawley’s familiarity with the city’s operations and his track record made him stand out, the mayor said.

“With Mel’s knowledge of the city’s working operations as it is, he was the better fit of the two,” he said. “We feel that the transition ... will be smoother and a lot faster because he is so near to the pulse of our city.”

Daniels said the committee was also impressed with Hawley’s responses to a series of questions that were formulated not only by committee members, but also by the city’s department heads.

Specifically, the mayor said, committee members believed Hawley would give city employees latitude to perform their jobs, while still insisting they get their work done right.

“He’s going to hold department heads accountable ... but yet with a little bit of free rein,” Daniels said.

Hawley said he has enjoyed his decade at CHP as its facilities and special events coordinator, but that he couldn’t resist the lure of City Hall.

“I miss that position, to tell you the truth,” Hawley said. “It’s not that it hasn’t been fun here at CHP, because it’s a fun place to work. But working for the city, it’s got to be in my blood.”

When pressed, Hawley admitted he liked the constant action and multi-tasking of being city manager, comparing the job to the circus act in which several plates are kept spinning on the tops of poles.

“I guess, for some reason, I really enjoy juggling a lot of things at the same time,” he said.

Hawley had been working 25 hours a week (for $200 a day) for the city and three hours a day for CHP since late September, when he took the manager’s job on an interim basis. That arrangement will continue until Dec. 12, when Hawley will come aboard fulltime as the city manager.

Hawley has also been the city’s zoning administrator since 2002, and will remain in that post. He is a longtime city auditor and lister, but must resign from those elective posts now that he is the city manager.

Hawley will be paid $62,500 a year as the manager and $8,442 as the zoning administrator. He will also retain a $1,500-a-year contract to help the board of listers perform administrative and statistical work related to Act 68 and the state’s Current Use program.  

Hawley replaces Renny Perry, a Vergennes resident who resigned in July and left the position in September after five years of earning high marks from aldermen. Perry was recruited by the Vermont court system, for which he previously worked, to serve as its director of trial court operations.

Hawley, a lifelong Vergennes resident, served as city clerk and treasurer for four years before taking over as city manager for 17 years. He stepped down in August 1998 to work for CHP.   

He is a University of Vermont graduate who has also been a city planner, delinquent tax collector, health officer, and the Vergennes delegate to the county’s planning commission, solid waste management district and economic development corporation, among other organizations. 

During his tenure as city manager, Hawley was credited with:

• Helping to found the Vermont League of Cities and Towns’ insurance branch, known as PACIF, and serving as its first president.

• Helping to open the city’s recycling center.

• Getting the successful effort to restore the Vergennes Opera House rolling, including obtaining the first grant for its restoration. Former Mayor Dick Adams said Hawley was instrumental in convincing aldermen to support bringing life back to the once-abandoned city hall theater.

• Working to establish Vergennes Day and the Little City 5K Race that kicks off that annual citywide celebration.

• Spearheading the effort to rebuild the city docks at Falls Park and to upgrade the park. 

• Serving as the chairman of the Vermont Municipal Retirement System.

• Beginning the work to better develop and use the Otter Creek basin area and restore the former city pump house in the falls.

Hawley said his highest priority in his second City Hall tenure will be figuring out how to continue providing services to Vergennes residents in what he called “the toughest time” economically that he has seen.

“Given the economy and given the high level of (tax) delinquency that we have, to me that’s a message that we really need to take a good hard look at our expenses,” Hawley said. “I think that next year when I start putting that budget together that we’re going to really have to have some restraint. But at the same time we don’t want to let our roads and sidewalks deteriorate. It’s going to be tough to balance that. But I’m comfortable working on those kinds of challenges.”

Hawley expects to be dealing with the city’s challenges for a while, noting he had been with CHP for a decade after his 21-year tenure at City Hall.

“I don’t change jobs very often,” he said.

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