Mayor Michael Doenges’ first day in office opened and closed with swearings-in.
Doenges took the oath of office at 8 a.m. Wednesday. Friends, family and associates crowded into the aldermanic chambers and his wife, School Commissioner Sara Atkins-Doenges, stood next to him as Alderman Joseph Barbagallo — who doubles as a justice of the peace — administered the oath of office. Once that was done, Doenges said he was going to keep his remarks brief.
Doenges thanked those in the room who had supported him, and the said he hoped those who had not would find him a good person to work with.
“I’m not going to talk a lot today,” he said. “We’ve got a lot to do, a lot to get started on.”
He retired to the upstairs conference room, where his wife presented him with a pair of wooden whiskey tumblers and his children with a framed copy of the front page of the Rutland Herald reporting his election victory. Doenges has pledged to move his office to the first floor, but worked out of the conference room as Human Resources Director Judy Frazier moves her office to the mayor’s former space — a process they touched base on briefly after the swearing in.
“My biggest concern is getting my computer up there,” Frazier said after they agreed each office’s large wooden desk could stay put.
“I can help with that because I’m an IT guy,” he said.
In addition to having an office right by the Washington Street entrance, Doenges said he plans to get that entry a much-needed paint job and to reopen the long-dormant reception window, perhaps with staffing from the Retired Seniors Volunteer Program.
Doenges has said the move is meant in part to send a message about availability. Doenges said he was also thinking about optics when he selected his outfit for the swearing in: a dress shirt and a jacket, but no tie.
“I wanted to set a general tone,” he said. “Rutland, Vermont, is a mix of all sorts of people, and I want to represent all sorts of people. I feel like no tie but dressing nice covers a lot of different types.”
Some of his early meetings were informal. “There’s a box downstairs for board president stuff,” Doenges told Alderman Michael Talbott, grabbing him in the hallway.
“I’m not board president yet,” replied Talbott, who is the only declared candidate for Doenges’ former post.
“I know,” Doenges said. “I’m just telling you.”
A much longer and involved meeting regarding personnel took place behind closed doors before Doenges departed for the Rutland Regional Planning Commission office, where Executive Director Devon Neary — who briefly served alongside Doenges on the Board of Aldermen — briefed him about the organization’s wide variety of involvements in the city.
“I will say, we’re doing more in the city now than we’ve ever done,” Neary said. “I want to be strategic about where we’re pushing in or pulling out.”
Work at and around the Rutland Amtrak station was at the top of a long agenda.
“The big piece of this project from a mayoral standpoint and a city standpoint is there’s a lot of moving pieces with surrounding properties,” Neary said, telling Doenges he could help by engaging with the owners of the downtown shopping plaza.
That was already on Doenges’ to-do list. Earlier in the day, the new mayor said he was in touch with two movie theater companies about reopening the city’s cinema.
“Both of them want to remain quiet for now,” he said. “They’re interested in bringing a movie theater to Rutland, and they run theaters elsewhere.”
The two covered upcoming traffic studies on routes 4 and 7, discussed whether this summer was the time to try out making Center Street one-way (the conclusion amounted to a maybe), the restructuring Doenges hopes to accomplish in the planning and zoning office, the analysis of bus routes in the city, and a number of grants for which the city would likely be eligible.
The latter was another area where Doenges had already offered thoughts earlier in the day.
“We currently don’t qualify for flood mitigation grants from the state and there’s millions of dollars sitting up at the state,” he said. “There’s not enough applicants.”
The reason the city can’t get any of that money, at least not yet, brought Doenges to one of the central themes of his campaign: planning. The city could be qualified, he said, if it had a hazard mitigation plan. Doenges wants to add another employee to the Building and Zoning office and free up zoning administrator Andrew Strniste to do more planning, but he said Wednesday he still needs to square the way he wants to structure the office with the city charter.
Doenges said he was willing — should the incoming board president so decide — to take up his predecessor’s role of representing the city on the RRPC board but resisted a suggestion he also serve as treasurer until Neary explained his only duty would be providing a second signature on large checks. Neary said having the mayor serve in that capacity made operations easier because of how close the RRPC office is to City Hall.
From there, Doenges popped down to The Hub and grabbed StartUp Rutland head Scott Graves for a working lunch at Tokyo House.
“The Hub is in a good place,” Graves said. “We’ll be able to accelerate a lot of things once we finish the process of a couple new hires.
While the meeting with Neary was about a long list of specific tasks, Doenges’ conversation with Graves was more of a big-picture exercise, covering the opportunities and pitfalls for development in the city.
Back at City Hall, Doenges again had to cover a lot of ground with Rutland Redevelopment Authority grant administrator Barbara Spaulding, starting with a request by an autism awareness group to hang art from its students in City Hall during April for Autism Awareness Month.
“Sounds good,” Doenges said. “Done.”
Spaulding also told Doenges they needed to get him registered on an online grant reporting system and that he needed to sign paperwork for a state grant the city endorsed for the 121 Maple St. project. Spaulding said that process involves a number of other hoops for the city to jump through, including a meeting the mayor must attend regarding wages for workers on the project.
“I’d love to, at some point — not today — draw up the structure of how all this works,” Doenges said. “We can whiteboard it. I’m a big visual guy.”
Spaulding asked if Doenges wanted to continue with the weekly department head meetings, particularly the one scheduled for the next morning. Doenges said he didn’t know about the Thursday meeting, so he would cancel it “for now.” He said he was leaning more toward meeting with department heads one-on-one and convening larger meetings as needed when issues crossed department lines.
City Clerk Henry Heck interrupted the discussion with some papers for Doenges to sign later and suggested the mayor have a signature stamp made.
Doenges’ first official act as mayor came at the end of the City Hall workday, when he administered the oath of office to City Treasurer Mary Markowski and City Assessor Katie Langlois, who both just won reelection. The building closed at 4 p.m., but he said he was hanging around to answer some emails for his former day job, from which he has not yet fully departed, and to work after-hours on moving offices.
Does anyone remember Edward Dubeau showing up at city hall??? I ran into him up in Burlington around 1990-91!!! Hanging out with the homeless street people. He was still doing crazy things like target practice with his pellet rifle with the Coast Guard station in the background. Yup police cars everywhere.
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