Turner signs manager contract

Don Turner — Milton’s fire and rescue chief, state legislator, realtor and developer — has just signed a contract as town manager. (File photo by Abby Ledoux)

After being named the selectboard’s only candidate for the job, Don Turner Jr. is officially Milton’s new town manager. His contract became official September 18.

As per the town charter, the contract is indefinite but includes a provision to reassess compensation at Turner’s hire date, listed as June 20, or when the board identified him as the preferred and only candidate.

The contract provides a $105,000 annual salary, the amount former manager Donna Barlow Casey would have made this fiscal year had she stayed, selectboard chairman Darren Adams confirmed.

As expected, the contract addresses what Adams called “the hat question” – or, how many of his other roles Turner can simultaneously hold.

Turner is still technically Milton’s fire and rescue chief but has not collected his $54,000 salary for those roles since March, when he was appointed interim manager, Adams said.

Turner will hang up those hats on Jan. 1, 2018, the 14th anniversary of his joining the fire department, but he can continue to serve in a volunteer capacity, the contract provides.

The agreement also allows Turner to continue serving in the Vermont legislature, where he’s currently House minority leader of the Republican party.

Turner has previously indicated he’ll fulfill his term until January 2019 and will not seek re-election, but the contract gives room should he change his mind.

“We wanted him to be able to finish out his term and make a decision from there,” Adams said. “This coming session will be the biggest question of can you balance the roles of being the town manager and staying in the legislature at the same time?”

Turner already has some practice, since he was appointed acting manager in March when the session was at its midpoint. The legislature convenes four days a week from January to mid-May.

Turner anticipates no issues in fulfilling both commitments come January.

“Milton has always been first when I was the fire and rescue chief,” he said. “I have an obligation [in Montpelier] for sure, but I have a responsibility here. Milton is where my allegiance is.”

Multiple vacancies from March are now filled, giving Turner more support when he’s away. He plans to come in early and return at night once his daily legislative duties are done, just as he’s done for the last 12 years.

Besides, Adams said, the arrangement might actually help the town.

“A lot of the town’s issues, whether it’s taxation or [tax increment financing] or unfunded mandates, all come out of Montpelier,” he said. “Having him in a role as town manager and a legislator might be a great thing for Milton.”

Turner’s contract also addresses his hats as part-owner of Don Turner Construction and a realtor through Century 21. The agreement does not require Turner to divest from his personal assets, noting the town’s conflict of interest policies may require Turner’s recusal should he stand to benefit from any town business.

Turner drew distinction from his arrangement to Gov. Phil Scott’s decision to sell off his 50 percent share of Dubois Construction, which does business with the state.

“There was no way I could sell everything I had in one year and take this role,” he said. “I had to be very clear with the board, up front on Day One.”

Turner is “very aware” of possible conflicts of interest but said he wouldn’t make decisions that jeopardize the trust he’s gained over the years working in the community.

“It’s out of my character,” he said. “I’m not going to do that.”

Turner said as fire/rescue chief, he recused himself from the town’s technical advisory committee, which reviews site plans for developments, to avoid any conflicts of interest.

Adams added the town attorney “spent considerable time” vetting that part of the contract and found no conflicts with the town charter.

“If he was forced to sell, [it would have] kind of shorted his own family’s interest, but I don’t really see any major conflict,” Adams said. “His family has always had a good reputation as far as following the rules, and I don’t see why that isn’t going to continue.”

In the end, Turner’s roots are what made him the best candidate, Adams added.

“You’ve got someone who was born and raised in Milton and intends to die in Milton and doesn’t have any aspirations outside of Milton,” he said. “We don’t have to worry about him going to a larger town to be a town manager. He wants to be the manager of Milton and Milton only.”

Turner said he took the job because he deeply cares about his hometown and felt he could provide stability to a town that’s been rocked by frequent department head turnover.

Besides, Turner said, though he ran for office to make a difference, his daily actions in Milton town government have a more immediate and obvious impact.

“Every day I show up here, I have an ability to help somebody or make a difference in someone’s life,” he said, also noting his chance to further long-term town goals.

“Those things really excite me and challenge me and make me want to come to work every day.”

Adams noted Turner has already made strides in his new motto “getting stuff done,” whether it’s creating a team of new hires or advancing Milton’s TIF program.

“[Hiring Don] is the perfect scenario and the perfect timing for Milton,” he said.

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