BRATTLEBORO — Town Manager Peter Elwell, a rare unifier in a community known for diversity and debate, has surprised local residents by announcing his retirement at the end of the year.
“I am providing nine months’ notice in the hope that it will help enable a smooth transition of leadership,” Elwell, who’s 58, told the selectboard at its most recent meeting.
Elwell, who was town manager of Palm Beach, Florida, for 14 years, is the second generation of his family to help lead his hometown. His father, Corwin, was the town manager from 1960 to 1989.
“After growing up here in Brattleboro and then living away for almost 35 years, coming home has definitely been part of what has made these past six-plus years special,” Peter Elwell said.
Replacing the town manager won’t be easy. The selectboard invested $15,000 in Brattleboro’s last search, only to have three candidates decline the job before Elwell applied.
During his tenure, Elwell has pushed for more government work on issues of diversity, equity and inclusion. Local leaders hired a human resources director and formed a Community Safety Review Committee to improve how police and other crisis responders interact with marginalized populations.
The committee, in issuing a 224-page report critical of “business as usual, which is hurting people,” nonetheless recognized Elwell for his “kind and very helpful guidance, responsiveness and support.”
The town manager, in turn, recently offered a municipal statement as the first step in a series of coming changes.
“We acknowledge that people here in our community have experienced harm from the existing systems,” it read in part. “We acknowledge that as people in positions of authority today we have an obligation to develop a more complete understanding of the harm that is being experienced and to take action.”
Elwell is the third local leader to announce his retirement; the others are Police Chief Michael Fitzgerald and Fire Chief Michael Bucossi.
The selectboard expects its search for Elwell’s replacement to be a top, if not tough, priority.
“The town of Brattleboro has been so honored and fortunate Peter chose to spend these years with us,” newly elected Selectboard Chair Elizabeth McLoughlin said. “He has strived to maintain a civil society for us that is, in fact, civil.”
Selectman Tim Wessel commended Elwell for announcing his plans after first reminding residents about the town’s spring yard waste pickup April 16 and 30.
“I do want to give kudos to Peter for being able to segue between leaf collection and his own retirement — insanely amazing,” Wessel said. “The tone of kindness you’ve set forward is something we should all strive for.”
Elwell, a 1980 graduate of Brattleboro Union High School, earned degrees in political science from Middlebury College and governmental administration from the University of Pennsylvania.
Elwell and his wife will stay in town, where they live near their two grown children.
“I will continue to contribute to the welfare of our community as a volunteer and supporter of various causes and projects,” he said. “However, after 36 years in local government management, I must admit that I look forward to making my future contributions in a supporting role.”
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