By Lee J. Kahrs, The Reporter
BRANDON — Selectman Dave Atherton was hired by his colleagues as the new Brandon town manager this week. Atherton, a long-time resident and a member of the selectboard for three years, takes over from Robin Bennett, who was put on leave last month and ultimately resigned.
The Brandon selectboard announced its decision to hire Atherton at a busy selectboard meeting Monday night, April 13.
Heeding input from voters, the selectboard chose a local candidate to fill the position.
Atherton’s town manager contract took effect April 20.
Brandon selectboard Chair Doug Bailey said that the board has heard from several community members in recent weeks, urging the town to hire a Vermonter, or better yet, someone local.
Atherton was the first candidate to apply, Bailey said. There were 13 applicants for the position, many of whom had prior town management experience.
“It was a unanimous decision by the board,” Bailey said. “Dave is the best person to get the job done and we know his pedigree. We feel really good about this choice.”
The move comes just a month after Bennett was put on administrative leave by the board following a performance review. The board, town attorney, Bennett and her legal counsel came to a resignation agreement two weeks later. The town agreed to pay Bennett $12,578 as a settlement in return for her resignation, which was effective March 9, the day she was put on leave.
Bennett, 44, a native of Maine, was hired in August 2013 following the resignation of former town manager Keith Arlund in March of that year.
Atherton, 43, is a self-employed paralegal. Originally from Bristol, he is married to Heather Norton, owner/operator of the Village Spa in Brandon. They have two children, Benjamin, 11, and Elizabeth, 8. The family resides in Forest Dale.
Atherton graduated from Woodbury College in 1996, but chose to turn his pre-law degree into a paralegal career. He and his wife owned West Street Market in Proctor for two years before moving back to Brandon in 2007.
Bailey said the fact that Atherton has been self-employed for so long spoke volumes to the board.
“Dave has a strong work ethic,” Bailey said. “He has strong ties to the community and we’re sure he’ll impress us all. He comes knowing what goes on in our town, our problems, and he knows our staff.”
Atherton said he applied for the job of town manager based on his experience as a selectman over the last three years. He was unopposed in March when he ran for re-election to another three-year term.
“After being so active in town projects over the last two and a half years, the board knew we had to keep the ball rolling,” he said. “When the ad for town manager went out, I thought, ‘Jeez, I could do this.’”
For Atherton, the new job is bittersweet. He said he has enjoyed being on the current selectboard and will miss it.
“I think we’ve got really level-headed folks on the board,” he added. “There’s no agenda, they just want what’s best for the town. I don’t have to worry about the direction the board is going in because we’ve set that course.”
Some citizens had questioned Bennett’s $85,000 salary, although it is in line with what town managers around Vermont are making in towns of comparable size to Brandon.
Atherton has been contracted at a lower salary, $69,000 a year, plus an up-to-$5,000 incentive plan based on performance.
Brandon is facing a host of large-scale infrastructure projects over the next three years, including the upgrade of Route 7/Segment 6 through downtown Brandon; ongoing flood repair projects; the renovation of the town office building; the rehabilitation of Bridge 114 in the downtown; the design and construction of the overflow culvert under Center Street; and road upgrades on Union Street, Wheeler Road and others. Atherton said he is prepared for the long haul.
“I’ve got a lot ahead of me,” he said. “I can see five years of being pretty busy.”
Atherton said he is certain that the town of Brandon will be able to accomplish much in the years to come.
“With the quality of people in the town office, we can get it done,” he said.