Board of Trustees Hold Meeting Thursday to Appoint Interim City Manager Leslie Perra as Officers’ Offer Thanks to Outgoing Director John O’Keefe | Local News


MANCHESTER — Leslie Perra, the city’s director of human resources and operations, is set to be named interim city manager, succeeding John O’Keefe.

Perra, who has been with the city for eight years, is expected to fill the role as O’Keefe, city manager for nearly 16 years, leaves for a post in higher education; a special meeting of the select committee was convened on Thursday evening on this subject. O’Keefe’s last day is August 26.

O’Keefe announced on Saturday that he would step down from the post he has held since 2007.

Perra came to Manchester from TE Connectivity in North Bennington, where she was head of human resources, head of operations, head of quality and head of environmental health and safety. She previously worked for 12 years at Mack Molding in Arlington in human resources.

“I haven’t known for a long time, but I’m honored by it,” Perra said of the board’s intention to promote her on an interim basis, which was announced in a statement Saturday. “I try to do good work for the employees, which then translates into good work for the people of the city.”

On Monday, city officials and business leaders said O’Keefe has served the city well as a manager, citing the roundabout project, development of the Dana L. Thompson Memorial Park, responses response to Tropical Storm Irene and the COVID pandemic as examples of his ability to manage complicated projects and his willingness to roll up his sleeves.

“John has a really unique blend of a conservative, cautious administrator and a visionary. Normally, those two don’t go together,” state Rep. Seth Bongartz said. “That deserves respect.”

Board Chairman Ivan C. Beattie, a Board member since 1984, has worked with several municipal administrators.

“Each had strengths and weaknesses, but overall [O’Keefe] is as good as any I’ve worked with,” Beattie said.

“The good thing about John was that he had a lot of experience in budget work, but also in public works and dealing with state and federal government,” he said.

Jeff Wilson, who served as city manager for 17 years, said the average stint for the job nationally is four to five years, making O’Keefe an outlier.

“On the face of it, if someone stays in a community and is able to serve the city as a city manager or a city manager for 16 to 17 years, I think that demonstrates that there was good chemistry there. , it’s the least we can say.”

Asked to describe the ideal candidate, Wilson cited experience, excellent credentials, ethics, integrity and a willingness to put in long hours to get the job done.

Wilson and several others agreed that one thing a city manager can’t do is please everyone.

“There are a lot of different people in the world, and they have different points of view, but you have limits as to what you can do depending on the budget, depending on Vermont law, depending on the regulations local and Select Board policy … so you have to stay that way,” Wilson said. “Quite often, I found myself saying nothing more than saying yes.”

Stuart Hurd, whose 30th anniversary as Bennington City Manager will be next month, said O’Keefe was ‘a pleasure to work with’ and had ‘a relaxed approach to cooperation and partnership at our level. college”. He seemed to enjoy the job and had a good sense of humor, a must in my opinion. We worked together to form the Bennington County Solid Waste Alliance. He did a lot to help Manchester become the sporting center it is today. I wish him the best.

With O’Keefe yet to collect his final paycheck, the search for a successor is already on the minds of city leaders.

“It’s huge,” Beattie said. “To some degree, whoever is selected brings their own style to the position, so the position changes slightly.” He said it’s likely the city will turn to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns for help — a step Wilson also endorsed.

“It’s hard work, and it’s hard to find qualified people,” recalled former board vice-chairman Wayne Bell – who was on the board that hired O’Keefe – about this process. “We had candidates who looked ready on paper but didn’t make it when we met them. It is an important task that awaits the select committee to be able to find someone who will take over.

“Having said that,” added Bell, “Leslie Perra will be wonderful in transition. It takes the pressure off the board.

Current vice chairman Greg Cutler said the ability and experience of the current team gives the board the luxury of taking its time finding the right candidate.

“I think we’re going to take our time…and find the person who best suits Manchester’s needs, which are different to John’s early days,” Cutler said. “How long, I don’t know. Personally, I’m in no rush.

Cutler is also confident the city can attract high-quality applicants — recalling that when O’Keefe moved here, he did so with a young family, with an eye on the area’s school system.

“Manchester is unique in the assets we offer to its residents,” he added. “Our ability to attract great candidates is enhanced by this great place we live in.”

Many have pointed to O’Keefe’s advocacy for the development of Thompson Memorial Park as his likely legacy. In an effort to increase usage and attract leisure and sports visitors to the city, O’Keefe oversaw the improvement of playing fields, the construction of Applejack Stadium (and the reuse of its historic grandstand in wood), the construction of the Manchester Skatepark and the construction of a regulation race track in cooperation with Burr and Burton Academy.

“[O’Keefe] saw an opportunity in this park that no one else had really seen,” Bongartz said. “And he made it happen. On top of that, he was willing to get his hands dirty. When the turf collapsed at Eckhardt Field and McClelland Field, John was ready to roll it out. The same thing happened during Irene – when he talked about working 100 hours that week, he wasn’t exaggerating.

Patty Eisenhauer, co-chair of the skatepark committee, cited O’Keefe’s ability to pull together public and private efforts to improve the park. “Whether it’s the stadium, the skate park, the walking path, the football pitches, Applejack Stadium, the pickleball courts or the track, John has been instrumental in developing all those wonderful assets that any city would love to have. “, she said.

Burr and Burton Academy worked with the city on the track, and school principal Mark Tashjian said O’Keefe was “a great partner” in this and other efforts. “John has vision, energy and above all, he cares about people. The community is stronger because of him, and I’m grateful that he continues to live here and be a BBA parent.

Business leaders also said they appreciate O’Keefe’s efforts to balance the city’s needs with those of its merchants, innkeepers and restaurateurs.

“John’s commitment to the community, and his guidance and support for the Manchester Business Association, has kept our community through the COVID crisis,” said John Burnham, Executive Director of the Manchester Business Association. “He’s someone who understood how to build bridges, not tear them down.”

“We’ve always appreciated his willingness to connect with the chamber, especially as we’ve become more regional,” said Matt Harrington, director of the Southwest Vermont Chamber of Commerce. “We will be there for Manchester’s transition to new leadership and either way we can help facilitate that transition.”


Comments are closed.