New RRPC director likes what he sees
By Gordon Dritschilo
Staff Writer | February 18,2013
Albert J. Marro / Staff Photo
Kris Hughes is the new executive director of the Rutland Regional Planning Commission.
Kris Hughes said he has found a lot he can work with in Rutland County.
“There seems to be a really strong passion for making some good stuff happen,” said Hughes, who took over in January as executive director of the Rutland Regional Planning Commission. “I haven't been in a single town yet where that isn't present. There's extraordinary passion for Vermont and for the particular town that I'm in.”
It's not just the passion that impresses him, but the organization.
“This is different from a lot of communities I've been in,” he said. “There are groups of people in every town. There are a lot of very effective and hardworking groups trying to make things happen. I think a lot of what we can do to help — I guess you'd call it a support role, a coordinating role. ... This isn't about redoing anything. This is about coming in and strengthening the ongoing efforts. That's unusual.”
Hughes' career includes time at various levels of government as well as a stint with a Maryland entity similar to the Vermont League of Cities and Towns. For the last 11 years, Hughes worked as director of planning for the Ontario County government in New York.
“It's a very different environment in New York,” he said. “The county governments serve as a regional planning agency. ... The projects we're engaged with are more county government-focused and less municipal.”
RRPC is a more accessible resource for municipalities, he said.
Hughes said he enjoys working with those municipalities. He described attending a Select Board meeting in Tinmouth during the recent cold spell, on an evening when the temperature was compounded by poor driving conditions.
“In walk seven or eight different residents, from different walks of life, totally focused on doing something positive for their town,” he said. “It's just a declaration of how American democracy works really, really well. I'm honored just to be around it.”
Even before he started working with its local governments, Hughes said, he was drawn to Vermont
“Look around you,” the 56-year-old said. “I've come to Vermont since I was a little boy. This is the story of most flatlanders — we grow to love Vermont from afar and a few of us get the opportunity to join the folks. ... I'm at the stage of my career where I was looking for — I call it a 'capstone experience.' I was looking around for a couple of years.”
Hughes said his appreciation of Vermont was cemented during a vacation with his wife on Lake Champlain, when they toured the state, including a pass through Rutland County.
“I have a geology background and I'm very appreciative of rocks,” he said. “When you ride down the road and see a tailing pile of slate, I tend to jump out and play with the rocks. ... Everywhere you go here is extraordinarily special.”
Hughes said it was an honor to follow his predecessor, the late Mark Blucher.
“He was clearly a remarkable person,” he said. “I only wish I had time to sit down with him and talk some things over.”
Hughes never met Blucher, but he said he has formed an impression through his files and letters.
“He left an indelible mark,” Hughes said. “He's been described to me as just a consummate gentleman. He was deeply respected in regard to his knowledge, his historical knowledge and his sense of what makes Vermont special.”
Hughes said he values getting to know the Rutland area and talking to the people in it.
“I'm really privileged to get to go to each Select Board and get to know the people who are trying to make their town a better place,” he said.