What's Hartford need in its next town manager? Leo says: Thick skin, open ears and a public spirit
What qualities should Hartford look for in its new town manager? The town has formed a hiring committee and asked citizens for their ideas. What says the man who's doing the job now?
"They need somebody that's thick-skinned, somebody that's outgoing and responsive, somebody that can listen," says Leo G. Pullar, 53, who plans to vacate the job in late November.
By all accounts, Pullar's wish list matches his performance in the job he's held for two years. The West Point graduate was a career Army man, retiring after 33 years as a colonel and bringing a resume that included running garrisons (the military's version of a town) and working in the Pentagon.
He and his wife settled in Quechee and he had expected to stay in the job longer. But the bone marrow transplants and chemotherapy required to treat his blood cancer — which is incurable but treatable — have taken their toll on a man who considers a 12-hour day a light one. In June, he told the Selectboard he would need to step aside to attend to his health.
Pullar succeeded longtime manager Hunter Rieseburg and won praise for fostering a fiscally sound, responsive culture at Town Hall.
"Leo was a breath of fresh air," Tim Fariel, a developer and former School Board member told the Valley News. "Every issue that I ever had, he always took care of it. He was a problem-solver."
Pullar said he has made transparency a priority — not only for himself but also for his staff, which he overhauled.
"We don't keep secrets up here," Pullar says in an interview in his second-floor office at Town Hall. "We ought to let people know what the heck we are doing."
"Folks just want to be listened to," he says.
The feedback isn't often positive. Few residents call to say, "Hey, my road is paved just right!' or 'I want to commend your truck driver for driving slowly and wearing his seat belt!"
That, of course, is where the thick skin comes in. Pullar said his successor would do well to see residents who bring tough questions and criticisms not only as the taxpayers who are paying the bills, but also people who can show the way to better government.
"The citizens are our eyes and ears," he says. "We can't fix it if we don't know."
That kind of responsiveness takes time. He and his staff assemble a detailed report on town doings every two weeks and post it to the web, town departments maintain active Facebook pages, and staffers are required to respond promptly to phone calls and emails. The lanky former Army man makes it a point to walk down Main Street and drive the roads of the town's five villages on the regular.
He began by logging weeks as long as 90 hours, a schedule that has dropped down to about 72 as his health issues took their toll. But that, Pullar says, is about the minimum workweek his replacement can expect.
"It's not a 9 to 5 job."