Serving the Five Villages of Hartford: Town Manager Leo Pullar
Leo Pullar has been the Hartford Town Manager since July 11, 2016. Only a few days before on July 8 of 2016, Leo worked his last day of a 30-year career in the Army. Retiring as a Colonel, Leo’s career took him all over the country and much of the world. Originally from Montesano, Washington, Leo was stationed in Virginia working at the Pentagon when he applied for the Town Manager position in Hartford. After talking to him for only a few minutes, it became clear that the town of Hartford gained an incredibly accomplished and capable town manager when they hired Leo Pullar.
His military career
Leo’s Army career when he enlisted in 1983. He subsequently attended the Military Academy prep school, ultimately earning an appointment to West Point where he earned a degree in Sociology, graduating in 1989. This educational arc of Leo’s career led to three different master’s degrees: one in International Relations, another in National Security and Strategic Studies, and the third in Strategic Studies.
Leo was sent to the North and South Korean border from 1994 to 1996. At the time, tensions along the border were high, and he says that this was the closest he was to actual combat. Handing out live ammunition rounds to his fellow infantrymen “gave perspective to my type A personality.” Telling me that the experience had a profound effect on his awareness of leadership and his abilities, he goes on to summarize that there are many ways to lead men, but no matter what “it’s about the people.”
Leo’s education led him to work in the Department of Defense’s Psychological Operations based out of Fort Bragg for 10 years. While Leo regrets that he was not deployed during either Gulf War because of his work at Fort Bragg, he did learn Arabic and was sent to Jordan. His work on the borders with Israel and Syria involved developing and implementing communication strategies between the American’s counter-mine and drug forces and the Jordanian civilian population. Leo briefly describes using all available multimedia tools in Jordan, including web pages, leaflets, comic books, television, and radio to communicate.
Building a strong foundation with community members
Communication and working directly with people are what Leo focuses on most when he talks about his career. From this angle, you can see how the position of town manager makes sense for such a person with his particular experience. Leo seems intrigued by working with community members to accomplish larger, complicated tasks. As town manager, there are many detailed tasks including budget preparation and execution, and in the larger picture as the chief executive officer of the town, a town manager is a publicly accessible person who has a working knowledge of the town budget and how the town needs to spend that budget. Leo considers the citizens of Hartford the most important aspect of his job emphasizing that his door is always open and he hopes to show the town, and its people, justice through his service. Some of his favorite experiences so far include talking to classes of third graders and cub scout troops that visit his office on the second floor of the Hartford Town Hall building – you’re more than welcome to find your way up there as well.
Leo with Dawn and daughter, Kayla
Moving the town forward
For the first-year-and-a-half in Hartford, Leo has focused on learning his position and filling job vacancies. Part of his first year’s learning has been the town budget, or “gaining budgetary awareness” as Leo puts it, and he doesn’t hesitate to state the obvious: one of the town manager’s greatest challenges will always be in reconciling the town’s money with the town’s needs.
Since he began, Leo has hired a new fire chief, information technology director, parks director, and finance director. It was an opportunity for Leo to hire team players as enthusiastic as he is about the communication and community focus of being a town employee. Leo’s overall goal is to get long-standing projects on the move by designating and assigning funds. He explains that fund planning and designation can be a year’s long process as the town sometimes needs to save money per fiscal year to put towards projects or goals. He explains that opportunities to further the town’s interests will be found while working through this process and assessing “second and third order effects” of any town investment or grant opportunity. Another one of Leo’s explicitly stated goals is transparency, referring back to the open door policy and the fact that even his wife, Dawn, carries his card and hands it out whenever it seems relevant.
A retirement certificate framed above the desk of an active town manager says something about the person sitting behind the desk. Listening to Leo relate his education and career experience instead of speaking about his drive or work ethic is enough to answer the question of, “Why didn’t you actually retire?” I ask Leo if he ever looks up at his retirement certificate in moments of stress or difficulty, but he says no. “If I ever need to de-stress a bit I walk around the Town Hall building saying hello to people and stopping to talk.” By the end of the interview, it’s apparent that Leo took this position because of the enjoyment he has in further using his skills and abilities in the service of a community. While Leo has certainly earned a fairer-weather retirement, for now, he prefers to serve the five villages of Hartford instead.