Thomas Leitz's journey to Waterbury’s municipal manager position started with a ski trip. Taking a break from the slopes in Stowe last winter, he came across a local news article: Waterbury’s longtime manager would be retiring.
Leitz at the time was the director of administration for St. Albans and was intrigued. He did some research, attended some Waterbury public meetings, and liked what he saw.
“I wasn't looking for a new job; I didn't need a new job,” said Leitz, 44. “But this was a really good opportunity and in a community really poised to keep doing the good things. [There’s] nothing about Waterbury that in my research needed fixing per se — you have a really competent manager here who's retiring of his own volition. So, it was a perfect scenario to move into.”
Leitz stepped into his new role on January 1, 2023, becoming the town’s first new municipal manager in nearly 35 years. He joined the town staff on October 31, 2022, as deputy manager, working under outgoing municipal manager Bill Shepeluk, who officially retired December 31. Shepeluk has continued his work part-time this month working alongside Leitz to prepare the draft budget that the select board will bring to the voters in March and other details wrapping up 2022 details.
Leitz grew up in New Jersey and Pennsylvania before getting his undergraduate degree in mineral economics at Pennsylvania State University and a master's in public administration at Syracuse University. Shepeluk actually attended Syracuse, too, for the same degree, but 20 years earlier. He and Leitz even had some of the same professors. Between school and his job in St. Albans that he was in for eight years, Leitz worked in New York state as county manager in Franklin County and in the Albany County department of management and budget.
ENSURE SMOOTH TRANSITION
Leitz talked about coming on board in Waterbury and shadowing Shepeluk to ensure a smooth transition.
“I'm not inexperienced in this role, per se,” Leitz said. “And Bill certainly isn't. And I think we've been working well together. And he's also just a really likable guy. I mean, there's a reason he's been here all these years, and there's a reason … there [was] a retirement party and half the town in attendance.”
Shepeluk agreed that the overlapping time working with his successor has been a new experience. “For the first two months, he was my deputy and took the opportunity to learn the ropes in Waterbury. That was good,” he said.
Now seeing Leitz in the role, Shepeluk said he’s confident that a detailed road map as a parting gift wasn’t critical. He spoke highly of Leitz’s experience and know-how around Vermont municipal government.
Waterbury Select Board vice chair Dani Kehlmann said the committee saw Leitz’s strengths during the selection process. “He’s got a lot of personnel management experience, and then something that was a huge highlight was his experience with budgets,” Kehlmann said. “He has a really deep knowledge working with budgets, and that's something that's such an important part of the municipal manager's job and something that I think was top of the list for folks paying attention.”
Leitz said he hopes to maintain stability within the town and to listen to a variety of ideas, for example, around recreation. He pointed to the ongoing work of a recreation study committee formed last year to look at future uses and planning for Hope Davey Park in Waterbury Center and the 40 acres near the Ice Center in downtown Waterbury. The committee is working with a consultant and will be presenting recommendations in the coming weeks, based in part on public input that it has solicited. Topics include making the public park areas more accessible, protecting natural resources, and refining ideas floating around about building new recreational facilities.
He said his job will ultimately be to pursue the community’s vision. “Everyone has their own impressions and their own vision, but it's not my job to tell the community how to spend their money,” he said. “It's my job to listen.”
Leitz said he would like to see improvement in child care and housing in the community.
The first step is getting settled in, getting to know the staff and various people who make up local government. As a municipal manager, Leitz said he wants to prioritize building strong relationships.
“It's developing those relationships with all the staff and maintaining those relationships and making sure that you can have open and honest eyeball-to-eyeball conversations,” he said. “That’s a huge part of any management job — just connecting with the staff and making sure that we’re all rowing the boat in the same direction.”
Leitz lives in Cambridge with his wife Courtney, who teaches at Cambridge Elementary School and serves on the town select board, and their two young sons Henry and Ira.
Community News Service is a collaboration with the University of Vermont’s Reporting and Documentary Storytelling program.