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November 16, 2010

The Changing of the Guard – Shumlin’s A Team

Power in the executive branch of Vermont state government radiates from the governor's office on the fifth floor of the Pavilion. Yesterday Governor-elect Peter Shumlin named some very good people to key fifth floor positions. They will replace Governor Jim Douglas' excellent outgoing team, with whom I had the privilege to work over the last eighteen months.

Treasurer Jeb Spaulding is literally moving upstairs from his fourth floor office to become secretary of administration, essentially the chief operating officer of state government. All of the back office of the government is part of the agency of administration including finance and management, tax, information technology, and human resources. The secretary is responsible for developing the proposed budget for the governor, negotiating the budget with the legislature, and administering whatever compromise finally emerges at the end of the legislative session.

Neale Lunderville is outgoing secretary of administration; he is incredibly bright and hard working,. The peaceful and constructive end of the last legislature, despite enormous fiscal pressures, owes much to Neale's diligence and excellent working relationships with Speaker Shap Smith, House Ways and Means Chair Michael Obuchowski, and former Senate Appropriations Chair Susan Bartlett.

Jeb Spaulding has the right background to take over budget responsibility. Jeb, along with Governor Douglas (also a former Treasurer), deserves credit for the state regaining and keeping it triple A bond rating; he has been a credible and persuasive voice talking to Wall Street about Vermont. Jeb is very familiar with the problem of under-funded state employee retirement accounts and helped negotiate higher contributions by teachers to their retirement plan. Before being elected Treasurer, Jeb served eight terms in the state Senate and is well-trusted by legislators; that trust'll serve him well in budget negotiations.

Senator Susan Bartlett, who has served for longer than I can remember as Senate Appropriations Chair, will also be a huge help in putting together and selling a budget for the very tough year to come. Her common sense and willingness to go into all necessary detail – as well as her influence with her colleagues in both the House and Senate – made her extremely effective and a pleasure to work with in the Senate. There was no exact counterpart in the Douglas Administration to the very senior special assistant role that Susan's been appointed to; my guess is the exact role is a work in progress but that she'll be influential and very helpful. I'm personally pleased that she'll be taking responsibility for the administration's efforts on continued broadband rollout in the State. That responsibility needs to be with someone who is both dogged and close to the Governor.

Alexandra MacLean was very effective assisting Shumlin when he was Senate President Pro Tem. She wielded the sharp elbows of Shumlin's gubernatorial campaign, but that was her job as campaign manager. Alex is the new secretary of civil and military affairs and will be responsible for communication

When I was on the fifth floor, communications were handled first by the irrepressible Dennise Casey and then by the unflappable Dave Coriell. Both had a voice in making policy as well as announcing it. I remember Dennise reminding us that policy which can't be explained probably isn't very good policy. Sometimes we came up with better words; sometimes we changed the policy. I'm sure Alex will be similarly assertive; that's a good thing.

I don't know the new chief of staff, Bill Lofy. Tim Hayward has been Jim Douglas' chief of staff for all eight years that Douglas has been governor; he had a similar role in the Snelling administration (in which I was secretary of transportation). Every governor uses his chief differently. In the Douglas Administration, Tim's job has been to assure that staff and cabinet are effectively focused on the governor's priorities for the state, that the governor's time is used well, and to be a high level negotiator with other states and provinces. Tim has the rare gift of being able to assure that politics are used to achieve the goals of government rather than the other way around. We Vermonters owe Tim great thanks for his service.

I also don't know Beth Robinson, who Shumlin designated as his legal counsel. Susanne Young is legal counsel for Jim Douglas and has one of the best legal minds in the state as well as excellent judgment. She can find her way through the Vermont Statutes better than most people can navigate their kitchen garden. Susanne read every word of every bill that came to the governor for his signature and coordinated input from the rest of staff and cabinet on legislation. She's saved us all from both stealthy language and drafting errors. Susanne also serves as liaison from the fifth floor to the public safety community where she's very respected. Tough act to follow.

Shumlin is quoted in the Burlington Free Press as saying "the job of the governor is to find the best people." He's right and he's off to a good start in that regard.

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