Like Alex Northern, the new Norwich fire chief, Planning and Zoning Director Rod Francis began work in early July. It's been about two months. He's got his feet down. I figured it was a good time to ask him a few questions.
I told him I'd only ask three questions, actually. This turned out to be nearly true. I'm tricky that way. His answers are lightly edited, for tightening.
Describe your job to me in a sentence.
I am responsible for maintaining planning policy for land use and community development in the town of Norwich. That’s the planning side. The regulatory side is I’m the zoning administrator, which means I enforce the zoning and subdivision regulations of the town.
Tell me the story of what brought you here to Norwich.
I’ve been a planner in Vermont for about 15 years, and I was previously the planning director for the town of Brattleboro. I moved a year or so ago to Hartland. So I was open to the opportunity of working in the Upper Valley as well as living in the Upper Valley. When this position came up … I applied and was very happy to get it.
I’m sneaking in another question here. What is it about the Upper Valley and working in Norwich in particular that appealed to you?
I particularly like the landscape. One way or the other, I've been within almost walking distance of the Connecticut River since 1998. Which is quite a while. I think Norwich, the settlement pattern is really interesting to me. I like old New England mill towns and farm towns. I think the landscape is really attractive. And I like that Norwich has a very strong sense of historic preservation.
Tell me something about yourself that people here may not know.
I have two border collies. I really like border collies. I like dogs. Farm dogs, working dogs. That’s kind of a connection back to the landscape to some extent. So yes, I’m a dog person.
What are their names?
Cameron and Fiona.
Your accent is not that of a New Englander.
Would you care to fill in a little more of your backstory?
Right. So I’m from Australia. I came to the U.S. in 1993 to do a year of post-grad research and ended up staying. I have a degree in geography, which is an overlap with planning, and I’ve either taught geography or taught planning or done it for a long time.