Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Town administrator offered Amherst job

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
January 31, 2006

VERNON - Town Administrator Laurence R. Shaffer is the choice of Amherst, Mass., leaders to become that community's next town manager.

On Monday night, Amherst's five-member governing board, the Select Board, unanimously chose Shaffer, 57, to become the town's fourth manager, according the Daily Hampshire Gazette of Northampton, Mass.

Shaffer, who came to Vernon in April 1999, was one of three finalists vying to replace Barry Del Castilho, who is retiring this spring after serving as Amherst's town manager for the past 23 years.

In selecting Shaffer, the board cited a track record of winning grants, a "modest" demeanor, and his sense of humor, according to the Gazette.

"He is known by his references as a doer, a can-do guy, a hard worker, a manager with vision, imaginative, broad thinking, and a really nice guy," said Gerald Weiss, an Amherst Select Board member, in a prepared statement, quoted in the Gazette.

Despite the board's selection, there are still a number of steps that need to be completed before Shaffer is cleared to take over the town manager's office.

First, the town will run a criminal background check, which will be followed by an investigation into any civil complaints brought against Shaffer.

Once those steps are completed, the two parties will negotiate a salary and benefits package, according to the Gazette.

Castilho earns $125,421 a year in the town manager's position, while Shaffer makes $106,597 in Vernon.

Shaffer's contract in Vernon expires at the end of March, though Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said she would like him to stay on until July 1, which would get the town through the 2006-07 budget approval process.

Shaffer said today that he was excited about the opportunity and is looking forward to completing negotiations with Amherst.

But Shaffer added he has enjoyed working in Vernon.
"This has been a great place for me," Shaffer said. "Vernon has given me every opportunity and for that, I'm greatly appreciative."

Shaffer's interest in the Amherst position was revealed in December, when he was chosen as one of three finalists for the job.

Among the finalists were the former town manager of Lexington, Mass., and Amherst's finance director.

All three candidates visited the town this month for a series of interviews with local officials and a tour of the community, which hosts a number of academic institutions including the University of Massachusetts and Amherst College.

Amherst's population is roughly 35,000, while Vernon's is just under 30,000.

Having previously worked in communities with college campuses, Shaffer said he was attracted to Amherst because of its academic lifestyle.

"They provide a certain level of cultural, educational, and social profile you might not find in other communities," Shaffer said. "I missed the kind of character a university or college provides to a community."

Marmer said today that she was happy for Shaffer and was prepared to start a search for a new administrator, if needed.

"I think it's a feather in his cap," said Marmer, who added that Shaffer's offer also reflects positively on Vernon. "It's a kudos both for him and for the town he has worked with."

Marmer said the town already has offered Shaffer a long-term contract, which would take effect after the expiration of the present deal.

But, Marmer said, the town has no intentions of trying to match whatever deal is offered in Amherst.

Saying he would never pit the two communities against each other for his services, Shaffer said his intention is to complete contract negotiations with Amherst.

Assuming Shaffer reaches an agreement with Amherst, Marmer said, she would begin a search process that would allow the town to have a new administrator in place by the time Shaffer leaves.

If an interim administrator was needed, Marmer said, Finance Officer James M. Luddecke would handle those duties.

Reacting to news of the Amherst board's decision, Republican Deputy Mayor Jason L. McCoy said Shaffer's decision should be based on what's best for him.

"We'd certainly like it if he stayed here, but it's a business and he has to make the best choice for his family and his career," McCoy said.

Before coming to Vernon, Shaffer served as town administrator in Durham, N.H., beginning in April 1996.

Prior to working in Durham, Shaffer was assistant city manager/city assessor in Keene, N.H., from 1992 to 1996.
Shaffer, a native of Herkimer, N.Y., also worked as a city assessor and housing rehabilitation specialist in Oneonta, N.Y., home of State University of New York-Oneonta, from which he graduated in 1975 with a degree in social science education.

He earned his master's degree in public administration from the Nelson A. Rockefeller School of Public Administration and Policy from SUNY-Albany in 1986.

The Amherst position was not the first job that Shaffer has sought since coming to Vernon.

Shaffer's name surfaced as a candidate for the city manager position in Auburn, N.Y., in February 2000, less than a year after he was hired in Vernon.

Soon after, Shaffer withdrew his name from the running.

Shaffer also survived an April 2000 no-confidence vote by unionized Vernon Town Hall employees.

©Journal Inquirer 2006