As privatization talk heats up, Sanbornton DPW chief leaves for Northfield

SANBORNTON — Johnny VanTassel is resigning his position as the Director of Public Works and will be taking a similar position in the town of Northfield. His last day on the job here is November 22.

Northfield Town Administrator Glenn Smith said yesterday that VanTassel will be the highway superintendent, with supervisory responsibilities over highways and sanitation, roads, the transfer station, the parks, and the cemeteries.

VanTassel said yesterday that he will continue to live in Sanbornton and will continue to contribute to the community. He said he was very grateful to the town for the opportunities it has given him and enjoyed his time working there.

Van Tassel started with the town as a part-time employee at the transfer station and worked on weekends as a backhoe operator, becoming the operations managers. Under previous Public Wroks Director John Thayer, VanTassel became the highway foreman and he took over as director when Thayer left about 18 months ago.

In the 10 or so years since Gene Auger retired as the elected road agent and the position went from being elected to being an appointment by selectmen, the town has had five directors: Ralph Carter, Lenny Boudrias, John Hubbard, John Thayer, and VanTassel.

Over the same period of time, selectman's meetings have often been dominated by people who have come to the board to complain about the work being done by the Highway Department and its employees.

That, plus the ability of trained heavy equipment operators to earn more money in larger communities, has led to a reasonably high turnover rate.

The town has also completed a nearly $1 million DPW building.

Within the past month, Sanbornton selectmen have decided to seek information about whether or not it would make sense to privatize the Highway Department. To that end, they created a committee to examine all of the possibilities.
On October 15, Selectmen named Jeff Jenkins of the Budget Committee, Fire Chief Paul Dexter, retired finance director Curt McGee, Andy Sanborn, Mark Thurston, and Ralph Rathjen to the Highway Privatization Committee.

Draft minutes of last week's meeting say that Planning Board member Bill Whalen declined to serve on the committee and selectmen, by a 2-to-1 vote, added Evelyn Auger as the seventh member. Selectman Karen Ober voted against Auger's appointment.

According to the draft minutes of the October 23 meeting, VanTassel said he will still serve as a non-voting adviser to the recently created committee.

The committee is tasked with exploring all possibilities for the future of the DPW and is expected to take as much as a year to complete its work. Selectmen have said that the earliest any possible change to the DPW structure would be the 2015 annual Town Meeting.