By MADELINE HUGHES
A year ago, Lee Krohn was filling in as a zoning administrator at the Charlotte town offices, on loan from his job at the Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission where he was a senior planner.
Today, he’s settling in after nearly two months as Shelburne’s new town manager, seven months as the interim manager behind him. He’s already worked through putting together the first new budget with all of the department heads.
“Next year we will be refining the process and timing of the budget,” Krohn said, looking ahead already to the next go-round.
“None of these things can be done alone – it’s teamwork,” he said. Krohn has been working closely with Director of Finance Peter Frankenberg and individual department heads to fine tune the budget in this tight year.
In his second-floor office, Krohn took some time recently to reflect on his first weeks on the job.
The budget work was fresh on his mind. Since December, more of his photography hangs on the walls. The firefighter of the year trophy he received while volunteering for the Manchester, Vt., fire department sits nearby.
“Department heads deserve more time when it comes to discussing budget cuts,” he said, offering an example of cuts to the stormwater budget.
The Selectboard wanted to cut $10,000 from a line item in the stormwater department’s budget. However, that item was a mandatory expense for the town, so Water Quality Superintendent Chris Robinson was able to cut $10,000 from other line items in his budget.
Krohn said more time could make those cuts go more smoothly. That is part of Krohn’s approach to management – Krohn says he likes to look at the big picture, rather than fix one individual problem at a time.
“I take a systems approach – solving one issue with interrelationships with other issues,” he said. “Just like now, we are rethinking the Director of Administration position (previously held by Ann Janda). We have an opportunity to ask what works best in an efficient and effective way to serve the community.”
Currently, Krohn is soliciting ideas from town employees on what works best to craft the job description for the town government’s number-two management position.
Krohn will rely on this process as he continues his work as manager tackling a growing list of issues in the town. The Selectboard is continuing to make changes to a five-page list of goals and objectives for Krohn, giving him a timeline of tasks to complete.
For example, the document from the Dec. 11 Selectboard meeting charges Krohn with creating a stormwater ordinance, an economic and community development initiative, a facility management program, and an energy conservation initiative.
While Krohn may be responsible for making these things happen, he said he is eager to enlist the help of town employees and volunteers. He added it won’t happen overnight.
“Also, all of this can’t happen at once,” he said. “We need to have the hard conversations of what are front-burner issues. It can’t be random. It can’t be who talks the loudest. It has to be a balance of prioritizing.”
He paused, then added with a smile: “Balance comes naturally to me, I’m a Libra.”
A new balancing act
Prioritizing will mean focusing on necessities such as stormwater management, identifying the issues that need collaboration such as figuring out the administrative position, and knowing the issues or problems that can be resolved quickly.
Krohn offered the school resource officer contract with the school district as an example of the latter. He helped broker the deal last fall that is expected to be finalized in the coming weeks.
“We came up with an agreement, and got it done, though it’s not just about tasks,” Krohn said. “It’s about a tone and management style of trying to do the best possible for the community.”
The Selectboard is happy with Krohn’s management style, board Chair Jerry Storey said.
“I was always impressed by how he took on the interim position as if it was permanent,” Storey said. He added Krohn’s vision beyond reaction to events helped the town not to miss a beat after a hectic few years.
One pressing issue for Krohn is reining in the town’s legal spending after a tumultuous few years between Shelburne and Vermont Railway Inc. The town spent nearly $500,000 prior to filing its most recent appeal a year ago with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York City, according to town officials. The case revolves around the railroad’s road-salt storage facility built without going through the customary local and state development review processes.
Krohn noted that legal expenses have not piled up in the past year. “We are still getting legal advice when needed. However, it’s about budget management and keeping people accountable for knowing things.”
For better or worse, Krohn recently found himself mediating interpersonal conflicts in a public way. At a recent Ethics Committee hearing, he spoke up about volunteer service as it factored into the committee’s consideration of a complaint filed against the Development Review Board chair.
“I was speaking with trepidation” of the ethics case, Krohn said. “However, there are very real concerns of much broader ramifications for our volunteers than what may transpire after this immediate case.”
Noting the list of two dozen committees and boards that volunteers sit on in Shelburne, he wouldn’t comment further, leaving it at: “Vermont towns rely heavily on volunteers.”
A volunteer’s volunteer
Along those lines, in 2014 Krohn moved to South Burlington from Manchester where he had spent 24 years in a variety of roles including planning and zoning directors, tree warden and interim manager. His new job with the regional planning commission brought him to Chittenden County and he was looking to volunteer as a firefighter.
However, since South Burlington’s department is professional, Krohn decided to join Shelburne’s volunteer department. Krohn recently moved to Charlotte where he lives with his partner Carol Talley.
In his spare time, Krohn, 61, is an avid cyclist, runner and photographer – often biking or running with his camera in hand. His favorite travel excursion was a 10-week, 25,000 mile bike ride from Missoula, Mont. to Anchorage, Alaska, one summer in the 1980s when he was working for a Montana-based biking company.
Krohn’s photos often appear in the Shelburne News and The Citizen which he provides pro bono along with sharing his images widely on social media. His shoots races and events he attends, along with local scenery and wildlife.
Those who follow his photography online might not guess that he has a desk job.
Krohn said he consciously carves out time to get outside every day. He said he’s never forgotten when he worked in Manchester, Vt., and his young daughter, Alexandra, pointed to the town offices and called it his “home.”
He spends lots of time at his desk, but Krohn said he enjoys getting out of the office, talking with town residents.
“I hope to be helpful in this community, make a difference and leave it a better place,” Krohn said.