By Virginia Dean
For future Town Manager William Howard Kerbin, Jr., Woodstock is the perfect fit. For a small town, he said, it is vibrant and progressive. He was captivated by the friendliness and hospitality of its residents and was impressed by the fact that they want to maintain its character but at the same time realize that some change is necessary to continue to be a lively and inviting community to visitors and residents alike. Kerbin will assume the role on March 25. He is currently the town manager in Onancock, Virginia, having assumed that role in 2016.
His qualifications and current position are “what made him a good fit,” according to Woodstock Select Board Chair L.D. “Butch” Sutherland. Board of Trustees chair Jeffrey Kahn said he was impressed with Kerbin’s love for Woodstock and a desire to be part of the community. Kahn also respected Kerbin’s knowledge of socioeconomic and political issues not unlike those Kerbin has experienced in Onancock.
From 2015-16, Kerbin was the director of dommunity development in Oneonta, New York, and Housing Planner in Chestertown, Maryland, from 2006-2015. He holds a bachelor of arts in history from Washington College in Maryland and a master of arts in political science from American University in Washington, D.C. He also earned his Juris Doctor from the Thomas M. Cooley Law School in 2002.
Kerbin was chosen from a field of 44 applicants and four finalists for the position, according to the Woodstock Select Board and Village Trustees. He replaces interim Town Manager Frank Heald, who succeeded the late Phil Swanson, who served as town manager for 34 years. Kerbin will earn an annual starting salary of $105,000, according to Sutherland.
Q&A with Howard Kerbin
Mountain Times: The move from Virginia to Vermont seems like a long way. Why Woodstock? Please give us your first impression of the town and why you think you would be a good fit as its manager.
William Kerbin: My wife and I have wanted to relocate to New England for a long time. We’ve been looking for a way to move there and continue my career as town manager. Woodstock is the perfect place to start a business, to raise a family or to retire. This is exactly the type of town I am looking to offer my experience as a professional manager. I actually had the opportunity to meet one of the Select Board members in one of the downtown restaurants the day before my first interview. Her friendliness put me at ease for the interview scheduled for the next day and made me realize right away that this position is a perfect fit for me.
MT: Please describe what you perceive the town manager’s role to be, including your mission and/or vision.
Kerbin: The Select Board/village/manager form of government allows the manager to take an active role in strategic planning and forming a town vision. But, it is important to recognize that the primary responsibility for setting policy and strategies for the town’s future is the Select Board and the village trustees. I’m not an elected official so my job is to follow their lead. And, of course, in Vermont, that also includes the residents’ lead. I can recommend policy but must respect the final decision of the Select Board or Board of Trustees. Woodstock has a bright future with all of its amenities. My core goals will be to implement policies and programs that will focus on promoting existing and future businesses, to develop strategies to continue to make Woodstock an attractive place to visit and live, and to improve and maintain adequate infrastructure.
MT: What kind of approach will you take to address the desires of community members who want to keep the town as it is and those who want change?
Kerbin: I must listen to all of the residents and consider all of their concerns. That does not always mean a specific idea can be implemented, but it is essential the resident is heard. Even though I don’t set policies, I can certainly recommend potential policies, ideas and innovative practices. You also want to make sure the town can find ways to strike a balance between the two competing points of view. This is not always easy but I look forward to the challenge. The town has a great small-town quality that is becoming quite rare in the country including New England. I do believe innovation is the key. We can look at a new type of business that may be unique to the area, but still fits with the historic and small-town character. We can explore new festivals and events that still reflect Woodstock’s traditions and values. Along the way, building consensus is how you keep community members engaged.
MT: How will you keep yourself informed of the activities of your staff? Select Board? Board of Trustees? How will you promote a positive work environment?
Kerbin: I have an open-door policy philosophy. Of course, I will hold department head staff meetings but I encourage any of the staff to meet with me if there is a concern or idea they wish to share. I will have regular meetings with Select Board and Board of Trustees members as well. This is not a job where you meet with the board on their regular meeting nights once a month and don’t see them again for another month. There must be constant communication. For staff, I want to encourage employees to establish a balance between your work and your personal life. We are all here to serve the residents of Woodstock, but if morale is low, we can’t provide the most efficient and competent service residents deserve. There are small things that promote a positive work environment. First, the manager needs to treat all employees with respect and dignity. Again, and not to sound redundant, listening is essential. Employees need to know that they can come to me and share their concerns. Even if nothing cannot be done, I want to listen to the concern. I consider my staff as an extended family. Of course, deadlines must be met, policies followed and residents’ issues addressed, but, at the same time, we can find some time to maybe have a potluck lunch or maybe celebrate a birthday. Again, building relationships is essential in all parts of local government.
MT: What are your interests, hobbies and/or pastimes?
Kerbin: I enjoy running, reading and golf. We enjoy vacationing in Maine each year (another great reason to be in Woodstock). I have been married to my wife, Karen, for 20 years, and we have a dog named Otto.