Asst. town manager earns municipal award for dispatch work

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Colchester’s assistant town manager and chief financial officer Aaron Frank works in his Blakely Rd. office last Friday. Frank was recently awarded the Frances B. Elwell award for outstanding achievement. (Photo by Michaela Halnon)

Colchester’s assistant town manager and chief financial officer Aaron Frank stays tightlipped on the amount of hours he logs at town hall each week. A man with many hats, it seems he can be found dashing through the Blakely Rd. building’s halls at almost any time of day.

“Were the town to lose Frank, [you] would probably have to replace him with three people,” town manager Dawn Francis quipped, breaking the silence as Frank mentally tallied up his working hours.

“Every day is interesting and engaging,” Frank added, smiling. “To be honest, sometimes overwhelming. But I like it, and I come back every day and I enjoy it.”

There’s no typical day for Frank, but last Friday went something like this: He headed to Montpelier early in the morning for a meeting with the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to engage in a “long and considerate” discussion about whether to keep insuring one of their members.

Frank then came back to Colchester to discuss capital and operating budgets, deal with a personnel issue, help the rescue department improve its electronic networks, craft the upcoming selectboard agendas in accordance with state statutes and worked with leaders from area towns to perfect a presentation on the regionalized emergency services dispatch plan for Chittenden County, a project Frank is heading up.

And, sometime around 3:30 p.m., he made time to sit down with the Sun.

Francis said she was approached by members of the Joint Survey Committee, the governing body in charge of the regionalized dispatch effort, requesting she  nominate Frank for the annual Frances B. Elwell Award for outstanding achievement.
“That is a tribute to Aaron,” Francis said. “[The committee members] have recognized him for his leadership, his initiative, his attention to detail, his ability to herd the cats.”

Frank is notoriously modest, often attempting to soften the praise leveled by residents, Francis and selectboard members with a list of other folks who also contributed to the topic in question.

That quality is especially prevalent when he talks about the dispatch project, which is attempting to bring the services currently provided by eight area towns under one roof. Consultants planning the project say the model could shorten emergency response times by 60 to 90 seconds, among other benefits.

The undertaking has been attempted multiple times over the past 50 years. Frank’s role in this effort expanded quickly when a smaller regionalization plan with South Burlington turned into a countywide endeavor. But originally, he just got involved to learn more about public safety.

“It just seemed like something we could do better, collectively,” Frank said of the dispatch talks. “Eventually, my role became a little more formal.”

Formerly the assistant general manager at Green Mountain Transit (previously known as CCTA) Frank is a Colchester resident and Florida native. In his free time, he sails, works with the Scout program in town and spends time with his two sons. Francis hired him when she took over about four years ago.

“I had been at CCTA about 11 years when this opportunity came up,” Frank said. “I live here, and I thought, you know, this could be an interesting way to serve your own community and do something different and valuable. And it has been.”

Francis said her political savvy and Frank’s analytic nature makes them a complementary team. The duo regularly debate challenges facing the town by purposely picking opposing sides and firing back and forth.

“I can throw a whole bunch of spaghetti at the wall,” Francis said. “[Aaron] can work as a sounding board to take that spaghetti and put it into some type of orderly chaos and sort through how we get the resources to get that done.”

In many ways, Frank said he’s become a jack-of-all-trades. He and the other town department leaders are often working rapidly to bring themselves up to speed on topics that arise unexpectedly.

“He’s one of the smartest people I’ve ever worked with,” Francis said. “Aaron is the complete package.”

Asked why he doesn’t just head home after clocking his 40 hours a week, Frank shrugged sheepishly as he struggled to come up with a reason.

“It’s just not me,” he said.