Woodward hits ground running

Deb Woodward, Georgia’s town administrator, has settled in to her new position. (Photo by Jacqueline Cain)

A month into her new role as Georgia town administrator, Deb Woodward has been very busy, she said, but nothing has taken her by surprise – at least not yet.

As a longtime member of the Selectboard and most recently its chairwoman, Woodward entered the corner office on Town Common Road with a good working knowledge of the municipal system. She also served an eight-month stint as the Selectboard assistant before her board tenure.

“I know who reports to whom … how things move through the office [and] how to do most of the tasks,” she said.

Woodward hasn’t had to ask a lot of questions, she said, which is good, because there’s important work to be done. The town was on the brink of developing its capital and municipal budgets when former Administrator Carrie Johnson resigned in mid-September.

“There’s probably not any good time to start a public position, but I had a working knowledge coming into it,” she said.

Part of that was asking the same three questions before every decision: Is it safe, legal and under the town’s purview?

“Now I’m preparing the Selectboard report, and I’m looking at the things coming across my desk, and I can ask those questions going into it,” she said.

Selectboard Chairman Paul Jansen, who led the interview process in October, said Woodward’s local cred was a good selling point. On paper, the five finalists were all qualified, he said.

“Deb became the choice because she had the experience everybody else had in different areas, but they didn’t have it specific to Georgia,” he said.

Woodward’s biggest challenge so far is reviewing the documents Johnson left behind. Since starting full-time on October 29, Woodward spends her mornings diving into various spreadsheets. She arrives more than an hour before the municipal offices open to spend quiet time learning the ropes.

Though she worked on the town’s last six-year capital budget – a document outlining the town’s large-item spending plan – she wasn’t privy to the steps taken before the elected body adds its input.

“I’m doing the research to know how we arrive at all the calculations so I know where they’re coming from,” Woodward said.

So far, the Selectboard is impressed with the administrator’s attention to detail. During her first week on the job, Woodward worked with Treasurer Amber Baker to bring the town’s active asset list up-to-date by cross-referencing the document with the town’s insurance plan and its grand list, Jansen said.

The active asset list, which includes categories of town equipment worth at least $5,000, is an important tool the Selectboard uses to develop an informed capital budget.

“Deb recognized it wasn’t where it should be in order to help us, and she jumped right on it and worked with Amber,” Jansen said. “Showing that initiative, [and] research [skill], is just one example.”

Woodward’s former private sector career also helped: She honed her research skills over 13 years as office manager at Green Mountain Engineering, Inc., a Williston-based consulting firm specializing in private and municipal water, wastewater, stormwater and sitework projects.

There, Woodward took charge of similar tasks as a town administrator: She did GME’s filing and employee administration, handled its accounts receivable and payable and prepared Act 250 permits, among other tasks.

“Keeping everybody on the same page with the same amount of information” was her goal there, and it’s the same as town administrator, she said.

The Selectboard chairman said he appreciated the effort.

“Knowledge is power. When we’re trying to make a decision, it’s very helpful if there’s preliminary work that’s been done,” Jansen said.

The job opened at an unexpected time. Woodward was finishing out a three-year term and had already informed the Selectboard she wouldn’t seek another seat this Town Meeting Day. Next year would mark her 10th on the board.

“I was ready to go, I just didn’t know where,” she said. “But a lot of things were going to change in 2013.”

Woodword didn’t expect to become town administrator, specifically, but she knew she wanted a position closer to home, she added.

Woodward’s family moved to Georgia when she was 3 years old. She went to Georgia Elementary and Middle School, BFA- St. Albans and Champlain College. After she married fellow Georgian Joe Woodward, the couple made their home in the Franklin County town.

“This is where I want to live and wanted our kids to grow up,” she said.

The Woodwards have two teenage daughters, and the couple also runs small businesses in Georgia. Joe owns Precision Engines, and Woodward is a second-degree Reiki practitioner and also edits résumés and cover letters on a freelance basis, she said. With her civic and professional duties becoming one, she has time to focus on those personal responsibilities.

Woodward, like all employees hired by the town of Georgia, started with a six-month probationary period. Her $22 hourly rate is locked in until 2014, and she and receives a health and dental benefits, Treasurer Baker said.

So far, Woodward relishes her new opportunity.

“I love coming here, who I work with and who I work for,” Woodward said.

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