MILTON — Cymone Haiju, Milton’s new planning director, sees herself as a genuine listener and advocate for the people.
“I really see my role here as a true, true public servant,” she said. “I plan to focus on the genuine needs of those around me, and to listen to what they are sharing with me.”
Haiju’s first day of work was June 15, and in the weeks since, she’s already attended multiple town meetings and worked collaboratively with the Planning Commission.
Though Haiju moved with her husband to Milton from Atlanta, she’s very familiar with the northeast; she grew up in upstate New York and completed her Masters degree at Cornell University.
“I feel like I am home now,” she said.
After a few weeks of settling into her new job and office in the municipal building, Haiju sat down with the Independent to talk about her past experience as well as what skills and passions she’ll bring to the planning department.
Q: Where did you work before you started this position?
A: I was a planner at a regional commission just outside of Atlanta. I was there for a couple of years and worked on regional transportation programs, mostly in rural areas.
I also did a bit of grant administration work for community service programs.
Q: How did you get into planning? What first interested you about the field?
A: I have my Bachelor's Degree in human rights and development, so I've always sort of been interested in the human aspect of development. I lived and worked in Mumbai, India for some time, and that got me thinking it'd be great if I worked on this sort of stuff at home, to build those connections.
I decided I could either become a human rights lawyer or I could become a planner, and I chose to become a planner, because I just felt like I could be advocating for great communities or I could be the facilitator of all the moving parts that actually make great communities.
Q: What was it like to look for a new job, and then to start it, during a pandemic?
A: I had my interview via a phone conference call. I spoke with John Bartlett, director of human resources and administration, people in the planning department and Town Manager Don Turner.
The very first question that I got was, “Are you planning to stay, if we give you this opportunity?” And I thought to myself and said, that was going to be my question, because my husband and I have been planning on moving to Vermont for five years now. Our intention is to place permanent roots here, and I wanted to know what the longevity of the position was if I were to take it. So it was an instant match from then on.
It was definitely new for everyone in the COVID-era to figure things out. I hadn't met anyone in person obviously until I got here, but those connections I made over the phone really helped solidify things early on.
Q: What does a typical day for you look like? Who do you talk to? What do you work on?
A: As a planner, most of my work is very long-term, so on a day-to-day basis, I'm physically doing a lot of research of data and constituents of different kinds for various issues, pulling it all together and coming up with recommendations for the Planning Commission to consider for updates to our Unified Development Regulations. It’s a lot of reading and deep thinking and writing.
I'd say underneath all of that is just a whole bunch of great listening skills and coordination skills — I'm on the phone, I'm emailing people and helping residents with their zoning permit application questions or attending pre-application meetings with developers who are looking to do a project in town.
Q: What have you been doing to familiarize yourself with Milton?
A: My husband and I have started going on the weekends to different parts of Miltonto learn in the real, physical space what the zoning districts are, what they look like and what the history of development is in the area. I'm learning the area's landmarks and its history.
Last week I actually had a really fun adventure. I borrowed some history books from the library, and I read about the 1927 flood and saw pictures of what the Lamoille River looked like before there was a dam. I’m just getting as richly acquainted with the physical space as I can. Since so much of my work is very cerebral, I really enjoy just getting out there and seeing what's happening.
Q: How can you bring your background in human rights studies to the position of Planning Director?
A: I'm able to bring that in by reaching out to constituents who I think would be impacted or interested in the issues. We've got some great Planning Commission members who really do represent different sectors of thought and interest across Milton. We've also incorporated data and feedback from people who don't attend the meetings to, sort of, allow that to be a part of the deliberation process.
I really am quite passionate about ensuring that the community's goals are achieved in a way that allows them to feel heard, and that includes everyone, so not just the disenfranchised, but truly everyone, as a way of really embodying unity and a shared future.
I'm always thinking about how we can turn the strengths of these broad sectors of people who live here into something that makes Milton unique and attractive to people who would want to move here or invest here.
For example, Milton has amazing recreation facilities. I think it'd be wonderful to promote those things even more than they already are, to maybe attract people to retire here.