While that is certainly asking a lot of any one person, they are characteristics we think are needed.
Why? Because running even a small municipality like Wilmington is becoming ever more complex. It is more and more difficult for a mostly-volunteer board to set policies and execute them. There has to be some strong leadership at the top, and someone to carry out that vision. On top of that, a strong manager has have a good working relationship with the board and make sure town government runs as efficiently as possible.
Wilmington has made some big strides with its infrastructure in the past few years, such as new sidewalks along West Main Street and an expanded recreation trail network. Much of that has come in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene’s flooding in 2011. But there have been some missteps along the way that have cost the town time and money.
One example is the ongoing tinkering with Readon’s Bridge over the North Branch of the Deerfield River. The bridge was placed four years ago and was a welcome addition to the Valley Trail network of walking and biking trails. But there were mistakes made in the siting of the bridge, which led to the bridge having to be reset on higher abutments. A new handicap access ramp had to be designed to accommodate the raised bridge, and as of this writing has yet to be built.
That is certainly not an efficient way to run a public works project, and a lot of the backtracking has to be owned by the previous town manager. We hope whoever steps into that role can avoid similar mistakes.
Another area that needs some stronger oversight is the management of Memorial Hall. Currently a number of groups are using that facility, and staging a variety of wonderful events from concerts to lectures to youth theater. The problem is there is no overall plan for the marketing and integration of the various acts and events at the hall. That can lead to some confusion in the use of the facility, as when a local youth theater group recently had about two hours notice to pick up and move its equipment so the hall could be ready for a benefit concert planned for later in the evening. That is not efficient, and it says that there is no one entity that oversees the flow of use in the building, let alone can market everything effectively.
On top of that, while the public space in the hall is a wonderful space, the backstage areas and downstairs rooms need upgrading. Wilmington has resources, including the local option tax revenues, to accomplish these things. What it doesn’t have is a comprehensive plan for Memorial Hall that includes ongoing facility upgrades and overall marketing strategy. That could be done, with some foresight and planning, by a town manager.
These are just a couple of examples, and we don’t really want to bash anyone for past actions or scare off anyone who might be sitting in the corner office in the future.
We just want to point out that vision and leadership are necessities in running any enterprise, from small municipalities to multinational companies. Sometimes that gets forgotten in the day-to-day crisis management that comes with the territory. It’s important to have someone who can take a step back and take a look from above, to have that view from 30,000 feet, and help everyone work towards the same goal.
That see-the-big-picture ability is one we hope will be part of the makeup of Wilmington’s new town manager, whoever he or she might turn out to be.