South Burlington’s incoming city manager, Jessie Baker, marked her first official week in the office at an in-person city council meeting Monday night. She will take full reins from Kevin Dorn, who has helmed the leadership position for eight years and plans to retire at the end of the month.
Between a management transition, a move to new offices and the city’s ongoing COVID-19 recovery, Baker feels like this is a major moment of transition for South Burlington.
“I’m feeling the need to really do as much work as I personally can do to help support the team through all those transitions,” she said.
City council chair Helen Riehle echoed similar sentiments Monday, when councilors met in person for the first time in over a year.
“We have a lot going on so you’re coming into a full book of business as they say,” said Riehle.
Returning to in-person or virtual hybrid meetings is another transition the city is undergoing, Baker added, and staff will also have to adjust to an open office concept in the new building.
She’s especially thankful to the time she’ll share with Dorn and deputy city manager Tom Hubbard to ensure smooth transitions across the board.
“It’s just such a privilege to be able to overlap with Tom and Kevin for a month, and really listen and learn and get up to speed,” said Baker. “I personally am so honored to kind of stand on their shoulders and continue their legacy.”
Hubbard, announced his retirement around the same time as Dorn, leaving Baker one of her first tasks — hire a second.
According to Baker, the interview process is underway with six potential candidates. A deputy should be announced by next city council meeting, she said.
Baker’s office on Dorset Street isn’t yet filled to the brim with plants — which is how she likes it — since staff will soon move to the new building at City Center.
City hall 2.0, which has been under construction for about a year but in the works for decades, is set to open sometime in July. It will house city offices, the public library, an auditorium and a senior center.
As vaccination rates rise across the county, city infrastructure projects get back on track and the city financial forecast remains (tentatively) sunny, Baker feels confident about South Burlington’s COVID recovery. “Certainly, we’re not out of it yet,” she said.
Seeing people eating out and perusing businesses adds to her optimism.
“I think South Burlington, and Vermont generally, has weathered the pandemic really well. Really, my hope is that the business community is kind of shored up in the next couple of months as people feel more comfortable getting out and about,” she said.
In March, the federal American Rescue Plan granted South Burlington $5.7 million in relief funds for any COVID-19-related expenses, including for water, sewer and broadband. Dorn has expressed interest in using some funds for regionalizing emergency dispatch, a project he’s been working on for years. However, the rules and timeline for funding use remain somewhat up in the air, staff have said.
Before Baker jumps into South Burlington’s COVID recovery road, she said she’s focused on successfully moving into the new city hall building. With the entire team back in the building, and committee introductions lined up, she intends to create as stress-free a move as possible by staying in touch with staff.
“Right now, I’m really focused on ... ensuring that our team is as knowledgeable about what’s going to happen and is set up to be as effective and efficient for residents and businesses as they can be,” said Baker.
Prior to joining South Burlington, Baker served as city manager in Winooski. The search process for Dorn’s successor began late last year and involved a nine-person committee and rigorous job description requiring past city or town manager experience, a minimum of five years in municipal government and experience working or living in Vermont.