PLAINVILLE – Town Manager Robert E. Lee said he plans to retire in January after serving the town since 2004, seeking to spend more time with friends and family in Florida.
“I had a great run, but at this stage of my life, it’s time for me and my wife to be doing something different and for me that means retirement,” Lee said. “I enjoyed coming to work each and every day. I will miss Plainville – the town and the staff. We have a great group of people working here. I have mixed emotions about retiring. If the council ever needs my assistance I am still beyond willing to help if it is requested.”
Although Lee will be moving to Florida, he said he plans to come up to visit in the summer.
“I guess I’ll be becoming a snow-bird,” he joked.
Lee’s last day as Town Manager will be Jan. 5. He is the longest serving of Plainville’s town managers and has served for 42 years in local government.
Prior to becoming Plainville’s town manager, he was Hebron’s town manager from 1990 to 2004. Prior to that, he was assistant town manager in East Hampton from 1978 to 1990.
“Working in local government you can make a positive difference and you can see the process through from beginning to end,” he said. “I worked with many council members over the years, without exception, to do what was in the best interests of the community. That and our ability to attract good staff in Plainville is what kept me in town as long as I was here. I also feel like we changed the culture of the way that we responded to citizens’ concerns. We became more responsive and focused on solving problems.”
During his time in Plainville, Lee is proud to have helped to secure the purchase of Robertson Airport in 2009. He also cited as an accomplishment the consolidation of the town and school district’s finances and HR departments, which he says encouraged town and education leaders to work together.
During Lee’s time as town manager, renovations and improvements were made to Plainville High School, Wheeler and Toffolon Schools. He also saw the town’s Water Pollution Control facility upgrade through to completion and worked with the town council to initiate a road repair bonding program.
Lee said he is also proud to be leaving Plainville on “very solid financial footing.”
“We have had very minimal tax increases over the last three years, keeping less than or at the rate of inflation,” he said.
During Lee’s time as manager, the town upgraded all traffic lights twice which, since 2006, saved the town approximately $1 million on energy costs.
Lee said the town was also proactive in buying homes and relocating residents from flood plain areas such as Robert Street extension. This, he said, prevented what could have been a “disaster” when the area flooded again following Hurricane Ida.
Before his last day, Lee said he hopes to continue to work to advance the redevelopment of the White Oak property, move forward with the Farmington Canal Heritage Trail gap closure and move ahead on renovations to the Middle School of Plainville. He also wants to help put a plan into place for how to use American Rescue Plan funding.
“Next Tuesday I will recommend that the town council create a committee with town staff and council members to determine how best to spend that money,” he said.
Lee’s wife, Peggy, became the organizer of the Wings & Wheels Festival after former town council member Scott Saunders and his wife, Andrea, who formerly chaired the Board of Education, also moved to Florida in 2018. Lee said he hopes someone will take over and carry on the tradition.
Lee also imparted some words of advice for whoever is hired to succeed him as town manager.
“Trust the town staff and engage with the public as much as possible,” he said. “Get out, walk around and familiarize yourself with the town. The people that you meet as part of your day will help you to understand what people are looking for. By and large, the people were very supportive of myself and town staff and supported us.”
Town Council Chair Kathy Pugliese was on the Town Council when Lee was hired. She said his “insight and leadership will be truly missed.”
“I recall his answer when asked what he thought was the most important aspects to any community – his response was ‘education and public safety,’” Pugliese said. “To this day both are critical to any successful community.”
She too cited the combination of the Board of Education and town’s financial departments, human resources and technology as a major accomplishment.
“This is a model of synergy many other towns have looked to Plainville as a basis for change in their operational structure,” she said. “Most recently he was in command during the overwhelming issues related to covid-19.”
Pugliese said Lee’s care for the community and “determination for excellence” set Plainville apart as a model for other towns in Connecticut.
“We are also rated at AA+ by Moody's rating agency as a result of outstanding financial management,” she said. “He has created a legacy of innovation and progress for Plainville which sets us apart from many other communities.”
Councilor Deb Tompkins said Lee is a “24/7 town manager.” She pointed out he was very responsive on social media, frequently answering residents’ questions on Plainville Talks.
“When people need their questions answered, he’s always there to do it,” she said. “He has been a very good town manager and is always great with the budget. His retirement will be a loss for us. It will be hard to replace him.”
Town Councilor David Underwood said Lee was “outstanding” as town manager.
“He will really be missed,” Underwood said. “It will be very hard for the council the replace Robert. I wish him all the luck in the world. He deserves it. He worked really hard all of the years he has been in Plainville.”
Town Councilor Rosemary Morante said it has been a pleasure to work with Lee.
“Robert's breadth of knowledge, competence, ability to manage many things at once, and his responsiveness to town residents are among the many attributes that have had a positive impact on Plainville,” she said. “It will be a challenge to replace Robert. I certainly wish that he was not leaving but hope that he has a wonderful, well-earned retirement.”
Town Councilor Jesse Gnazzo also had positive things to say about Lee.
"I think Robert was a tremendous asset to Plainville and to the council. His level of understanding of municipal government is unmatched by many."
Gnazzo said one of the things he respected most about Lee is how he delivered answers to questions that people were either not looking for or didn't like.
"He was always professional even though he got beat up a lot by some people," Gnazzo said.
Superintendent of Schools Steve LePage said Lee has been a “unique” town manager who has done a lot for the town.
“We've had a very positive working relationship together from the time I became superintendent and before, when I had his son as my student while I was principal at the high school,” LePage said. “We have always had a respectful, supportive relationship and he was good to work with. I hope he enjoys his retirement; he deserves it.”
Brian M. Johnson can be reached at 860-973-1806 or email@example.com.