Colchester town manager Dawn Francis will retire on April 30, she announced at Tuesday’s selectboard meeting, resolving to travel and take on new adventures with her family.
“It has been a privilege to serve Colchester, and I have enjoyed working with a remarkable, well-functioning team of boards and commissions, employees and community members,” Francis wrote in a public letter.
The town manager’s contract was set to expire at the end of April, according to the letter. The selectboard did not discuss plans to hire a replacement at the Jan. 9 meeting.
“You have lived up to everything that we envisioned for a town official,” board chairwoman Nadine Scibek told Francis on Tuesday, choking back tears. “We have come a long way in five years. It has been a pleasure.”
Francis was hired for the town’s top spot in 2013, bringing with her eight years of experience at the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce. She spent the prior two decades as an administrator in the town of Essex.
Francis hit the ground running in Colchester, tasked with choosing a new police chief to lead the town. She bucked the expected choices and recommended the board hire someone from outside the department — current Chief Jennifer Morrison.
Under Francis’ leadership, Colchester voters approved the proposed town budget on the first go in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
More recently, she’s spearheaded regionalized emergency service dispatch efforts, helped moderate a highly contentious debate about private road plowing in town and focused on town-wide branding and marketing.
“When we interviewed for Dawn’s job five years ago, we had quality applicants,” selectman Herb Downing said at the meeting. “But what turned me was you said, ‘I was born for this job’ … I have to say that you are.”
Downing’s only gripe? Francis is fiercely loyal to and protective of her staff, he said.
“We won’t be able to replace you,” Downing said. “We won’t even try.”
“I was simply the conductor of the orchestra, and it was already a finely tuned orchestra,” Francis replied. “I don’t want to take all the credit for this.”
Late last year, Colchester Rescue Chief Amy Akerlind announced she would also step down from her post in 2018 but stay on as a per diem member.
“Thank you for this incredible experience,” Francis wrote at the conclusion of her letter. “I have been lucky to have been part of this special place for the last five years.”