Written by Sheila Grant: DEXTER – Linda-Jean Briggs, 52, said she has always wanted to be a town manager.
"It was interesting that as I was going through my Verizon career, I found myself, in all my spare time, volunteering for various nonprofits and community-minded organizations," said Briggs during an interview last week. "I have a bunch of activities that have monopolized a lot of my free time, and I realized some time ago that I pride myself on being a leader, and that other people believe I am a leader. I think my activities reflect that other people think of me as a leader, because they elect me into roles with leadership responsibilities. I enjoyed public service and giving back so much that when I retired, I thought it would make a nice transition to a second career, so in 2008 I returned to school yet again for my master's degree in public administration."
Briggs began her duties in Dexter on Nov. 14 at an annual starting salary of $50,000, and she is with the town on a probationary period for the first six months.
"I have rented an apartment," she said. "My family stayed in Rhode Island and will do so at least through the probationary period." Briggs and husband Adam have been married for 23 years. They have two grown sons, Addison, 22, and Taylor, 20.
Briggs earned her master's at the University of Rhode Island and also holds a certificate in nonprofit studies from Rhode Island College. Briggs most recently worked as a legislative liaison for the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island. Before that, Briggs worked for more than 20 years for Verizon, first as an outside plant engineer, then installation and maintenance supervisor, operations specialist, and finally retiring after her last decade there as a network engineering specialist.
Her community activities have included volunteering for Rhode Island Public Broadcasting System, organizing annual Earth Day activities, chairing a Boy Scouts of America committee, being a member of several nonprofit boards of directors, serving as president and board member of the North Smithfield Youth Soccer Association, and as chair of the North Smithfield Sewer Commission.
"I thought I could bring my leadership skills to a community and get paid for it," she said, laughing. "I wanted to continue with my passion and find some way to use it and mold it into a second career, and I think town manager fits that bill. To me, this is the ultimate way to give back to a community, by leading it through challenges, seeking out opportunities for it, and by understanding some of the challenges that people are facing and working through them."
She considered openings in other towns, but decided that Dexter was the right fit.
"By Rhode Island standards, I am from a very small town," she said. "Dexter is a small community, and I wanted small. Also, I thought they were more apt to take a chance on me than a town that had requirements that included formal municipal involvement for a number of years."
Briggs did look in her home state, but said that Rhode Island has the third-highest unemployment rate in the nation, and that many communities have elected city managers.
"I didn't want to walk into a position where, I believe, you are always looking toward the next election," she said. "I don't have to worry about that when being hired as a professional. I only have to worry about meeting my goals and objectives."
Her immediate goals include meeting as many town folk as possible, and becoming familiar with all of the town's operations.
"I want people to know that I intend to be approachable," she said. "I'll be out in the community, not just sitting behind a desk. My role and responsibility is to handle the day-to-day operations of the town, but the town is more than just the town office. There are many more town facilities and properties that I intend to explore and come to understand. If people see me out and about, I hope they stop me and talk to me about the ideas they have going forward to help downtown revitalize and thrive once again."
She's already been busy meeting members of the business community.
"I've been stopping at various shops and thanking them for their continued efforts to bring business to Dexter," she said. "If I haven't hit them yet, I will in the next couple of weeks. The first person I introduced myself to and thanked for their continued business, I don't think they expected that, but especially with so many vacant storefronts, I want them to know that I recognize that they too could have closed their doors, but instead they continued to not only live in, but support the community. It's important that they know the administration is here for them and appreciates their efforts."
Long-term, Briggs wants to see a rebirth of community pride and a revitalized downtown.
"I was hired for economic development," she said. "The comprehensive plan here is significantly outdated, and incomplete in some ways. There is a committee working to update the comprehensive plan. After the conversations, that is one of the first items I hope to have completed. This town has struggled with the loss of major industry over the last decade. I want to help the committee get beyond that, and be able to focus not on what used to be, but what could be, and to help the community determine what it wants to be going forward. I think with completion of the comprehensive plan, and the subsequent education process for the community as to what is in that plan, will be a good start on determining what they want for economic development. Ultimately, my goal is to revitalize Main Street, but first we need to define what direction we want to go in, and that's my initial goal."
There will be an open house from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Dec. 14 in the Dexter Town Council Chambers to provide the public with an opportunity to meet the new town manager. Light refreshments will be served."This content originally appeared as a copyrighted article in the SVWeekly.com and is used here with permission."
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