by Doug McClure
HARDWICK – Town Manager Shaun Fielder took time to reflect on his experiences in the nearly-two-and-a-half years on the job.
The select board hired Fielder in December 2018. He announced earlier this month he is not going to renew his employment contract with Hardwick when it is up on May 31. Between now and then, Fielder said he was continuing to work hard, which this week and next includes working with community development coordinator Geoff Sewake to get critical grant applications submitted for the pedestrian bridge.
Fielder said that he knew the position would be very “broad” in terms of what he would be dealing with at the beginning and to always “be prepared for unpredictable things.” Unfortunately, one of those things ended up being a pandemic. But he said that almost “right out of the gate” two very different events proved to be tests of his office.
On February 19, 2019, decades-long police department employee and dispatcher Lisa Fecteau passed away. Fielder was just into his third month as town manager and said “I think it was interesting to me, being new to the role, it was impressive how significant an impact Lisa [Fecteau] had on the community and in the department. And that’s something that wasn’t a surprise, but it re-opens your eyes to how important and respected certain members of the community are for their good work.”
Fielder said this event required a different sort of job for him. “when somebody passes away, you can’t resolve that [like an] issue. You’ve got to do your best to console people around and say ‘Hey, we’re going to work through this, and let’s support each other.’ And the community did that and that was a very rewarding experience to be involved in.”
The second challenge was not as bad as he at first expected: the Bridgman Reservoir’s roof collapse. All Fielder said he knew that morning was that for some reason Fire Chief Tom Fadden and another department member were in his office in full turnout gear.
“I immediately went to, ‘oh no, we’ve got something going on involving human life,’ because they’re right here in the office in full turnout gear as it was an emergency response situation. And that’s the first thing I said, actually, is ‘who’s dead?’ And Tom said ‘no, it’s not like that, we’ve just got a cave-in of the reservoir roof.’”
Fielder described dealing with the collapsed roof as “pretty challenging,” but this situation was different than Fecteau’s passing in terms of his role in response. “Compared to the loss of somebody, the infrastructure issue in the big picture is not a big deal. It’s just, work the problem.” As it would turn out, Fielder’s time in office would deal with several water-related projects, the largest of which, the wastewater treatment plant’s multimillion-dollar upgrades and repairs, is just getting underway.
The pandemic was the big challenge, he said. “We’ve had to put our best foot forward, we’ve had to adjust, had to do for our office operations per the state guidance.” Fielder said. “The way we’ve conducted business has changed, but we’ve still had to do our best to provide town services for the community. Change and the adaptability factors have been exponential these past thirteen months.”
He credited the town’s “great group of people, dedicated public servants” for their commitment over these months and managing to keep work going despite all the roadblocks, such as the construction stoppage last summer due to lockdown.
When Fielder started the position in 2018, he said “I want people to know I’m vested in seeing continued positives for this town. That’s what I’m excited about.” He now said that the board has continued capital planning and done its work well.
“In the next one to two years, I’d like to think the pressure cooker of trying to operate in a pandemic will be off. So, it’s going to make it a little bit smoother, but the main point is this: the board’s looking out for the interests of the community. So, it’ll be okay.”
Fielder said he had just become eligible and signed up for a COVID vaccination. He encouraged others to do so, as well, and wanted “just to remind folks to keep following the recommended standards. That includes social distancing measures, that includes masking. We’ve got a little ways to go before we’re back to normal.”