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Town of Shaftsbury, VT
PO Box 409
61 Buck Hill Road
Shaftsbury, Vermont 05262

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New Shaftsbury Administrator Iken Returns to her New England Roots

Posted: June 6, 2024

SHAFTSBURY - Town Administrator Paula Iken sees her new position as an opportunity to listen and learn and improve people's lives. Before being hired by the Select Board paula ikenand starting in May, she worked as a professor of English at a community college in Ohio. This is her first job in government. 'I've been in management for most of my career, (including) managing a classroom,' she said in an interview on Tuesday at her office at Cole Hall. 'My first degree is a business degree. So, I've managed hotels, departments of corporations, and the skills transfer over.'

"I know my way around a budget and I have all the management skills and people skills,' she added. "I think it's sometimes not a good idea to stay in the same industry or field your whole life, because I'm not sure how much you're going to learn. I’m looking forward to learning. I’m enjoying learning. And it’s all recognizable. I think it’s a good fit.'

Iken expressed appreciation for both the position and her fellow town employees. 'It's just very interesting to me, and I love working with people and seeing their abilities,' she said. 'And Cole Hall has impressed me with the heart and the brain power here. This town is in very good hands with these people. They are dedicated and they love this town.' After 18 years in the Midwest, Iken has returned home to New England. 'I am a New Englander. I grew up in Plymouth, Massachusetts,' she said. 'So, born and bred, Boston-area, Cape Cod.' Her hometown still has a five-member select board. 'They should be a city because of their population, but they chose not to incorporate themselves as a city, because they still like that form of government,' she said. 'And it makes sense because it's more democratic with the lowercase ‘d.’ There's not just one person making all the decisions. And that's really neat to see.'

Iken takes over from David Kiernan, who worked for Shaftsbury for 11 years, 10 of them as administrator. At retirement age, he wanted more of a part-time position. He overlapped with Iken on a part-time basis for a few weeks to help the transition to a new administrator, officially leaving at the end of May. 'He's given me a lot of training, I guess you would say, and advice. And you know, there are things I'll know off the top of my head pretty soon that he just knows because they're rote memory,' she said. 'He’s still available to me by text, email. He’s lovely, he gets right back to me. I think he’s still the town zoning administrator in Sunderland.' Contacted for this article, Shaftsbury Select Board Chair Naomi Miller had praise for both Kiernan and Iken. Miller mentioned federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds the town has received, some of which are earmarked for community-oriented improvements around Cole Hall.

"The contributions of our previous town administrator built a framework for the emergence of new possibilities and visions in Shaftsbury, inspired by a wave of new young voices on town committees and boards paired with the infusion of ARPA money,' Miller wrote in an email. 'In our search for a new town administrator we looked for someone who would engage with the excitement of that new visioning process while maintaining the coherence and professionalism David had built. Paula Iken is all that, and more: a diligent, creative team player, an engaged and supportive co-worker, a born leader – and crazy smart. We are so lucky to have her!"

The town held a potluck dinner to welcome Iken before the May 20 Select Board meeting. 'I have had occasion to meet a lot of people. They had the open house and a lovely potluck. We had the Memorial Day parade, I met more people and I’m kind of a de facto member of a lot of the committees, so I sit in on the meetings,' she said. 'And I’ve met more people than I can remember the names of and I’m sure I will know them really well pretty soon.'

What qualities does she bring to the job?
'Patience and the ability to see different perspectives and stay neutral. When I was an English professor, I had to teach English 1020, which is research and argument writing. So, I actually taught students how to argue academically, right,' she said. 'And in that process, they learned that there are not just two sides of every debate. It's more like a gemstone, there are facets to it. It's not black and white. Many things, most things are not black and white. 'So, the ability to sit in a room and immediately see, okay, there are a bunch of people who seem to be disagreeing, and they're disagreeing on some really main points. But what points do they agree on? That's where you start,' she said. 'Everyone wants what's best for the town. That's where the table is. Get everyone to sit down at the table and say, ‘we can figure it out.’ There are very few problems that can't be solved.'

She takes a similar approach to the task of personnel management. 'I listen to them. People just want to be heard, I might not be able to do everything they want me to do for them. I'm going to do my best and give credit where it's due,' Iken said. 'And like I said before, there's a treasure trove of talent, of heart, in Cole Hall. And these people love their jobs, love the town. And they go above and beyond in ways that the town will never know. And that’s how it should be.

'And I think just creating a healthy work environment as far as people like coming to work. And it's pleasant, and you hear laughter, and it's a pleasant place to work,' she said. 'And that will trickle down to it's a pleasant place to come in and pay your water bill, it's a pleasant place to come to the Memorial Day Parade.'


Iken said that the effort to develop a community center in the area of Cole Hall, roads — a perennial issue in Shaftsbury — and economically growing the center of town are her top three priorities. 'I think Shaftsbury is at a very interesting and exciting growth period. We’re about to have a growth spurt as far as things in town for people," she said. "Not so much the population, but amenities in town for the people – somewhere to go, somewhere to gather, somewhere to bring their family and their grandkids. And tend to seniors more. This town is aging.' Never having lived in a town with fewer than 20,000 people, she welcomes the slower pace of rural life in a town of about 3,600 people. "It's an adjustment. But I'm at an age: I'm not a spring chicken anymore. I like the slower pace of life," she said. "This is this is appropriate for me in this phase of my journey.'

In her spare time she likes to read and go for walks. 'I like spending time with friends and family," she said. "I have a nice dog. She's a little crazy, but she's nice.'

Compliments of: The Bennington Banner
Posted/Author: Mark Rondeau

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