Lanesborough's New Administrator Brings Federal Experience to Small Town
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — Lanesborough's new town administrator brings nearly two decades of worldly experience to the small Berkshire community.
Gina Dario came into the position about a month ago — in time for the town's anticipated public safety complex vote and budget season — and has jumped right into municipal government.
The Adams native is a former state manager with the Australian Electoral Commission in Perth, Western Australia, and before that, she worked as an assistant commissioner with the Australian Electoral Commission in Canberra, the county's capital.
"Obviously municipal government is very special to New England, to Massachusetts, and every town as I'm learning sort of has its own character," Dario said.
"So I think some of the skills that I developed working in previous roles has really allowed me to step in and have some of the, I suppose I call them tools, in my belt to be able to jump into the role."
She is currently hard at work learning the ins and outs of municipal legislation and the unique needs of Lanesborough.
Dario grew up in the Berkshires before attending Mount Holyoke College in South Hadley and obtaining a master's degree in international public affairs from Columbia University in New York City.
This kickstarted her career in international work, public administration, and government. Dario was employed by the United Nations in New York City and then began election work with assignments in Southeast Asia, Kosovo, and Russia, and has some proficiency in several languages.
Her return to the area was fueled by a wish to be in closer proximity to family.
"The town administrator became available and I saw all of the kind of connections with the work I've been doing at the federal government in Australia," Dario explained.
Former Town Administrator Joshua Lang resigned over the summer to relocate back to Pennsylvania after less than a year in the post. The Select Board formed a steering committee to fill the position in October and the town hired Dario in November.
For her, the return has been very exciting.
"I'm from a small town so, to me, the Berkshires has never stopped being my home," she said. "I've always had the connection here. I've always come home as much as I could."
One of the first things that Dario noticed is that residents are very engaged and have roots in the community.
She observed that Lanesborough's people love the town and appreciate its uniqueness. With a population of about 3,000, it is larger than some hilltowns but smaller than the county's two cities.
"It really has its unique needs. It has some opportunities with its downtown area, which I know is something that the town sort of grapples with. It doesn't have a traditional downtown so how do we make Lanesborough more accessible? How do we draw people in? How do we keep them from just driving straight through?" Dario said.
"And so that's certainly something that people have commented on but a lot of amazing families have been in the town for multiple generations and certainly they feel that connection and they want what's best for the future."
Last week, voters rejected a nearly $6 million public safety complex proposal for police and ambulance at a special town meeting. The proposal had been in the works for about a year.
Dario said a record-breaking number of voters, around 360, attended the special town meeting and that she found the process fascinating.
"Obviously, people felt very passionate about this project," she said.
The first order of business was getting the mechanics in place for the meeting. With around 20 years of experience with elections, Dario wanted to make sure that there was space for everyone willing to cast a vote.
She said it was unique in terms of the volume but everyone who showed up was able to participate. The article failed in a 139-214 vote.
"I'm feeling like we will be prepared for the annual town meeting but again, it's the big question mark [of] who comes and whose voice wants to be heard," Dario said. "I think capital projects tend to definitely always draw bigger crowds and we saw that in Williamstown with the vote on the fire station."
Last month, more than 500 Williamstown voters came out in favor of the $22.5 million project on Main Street.
The administrator is proud to say the Town Hall is fully staffed at the moment. Municipal staffing issues have been a hot topic among organizations like Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, which recently surveyed Berkshire towns and found that most respondents have some vacant positions, and more than 62 percent have had vacancies for 60 days or more.
"I think we're at least on firm footing in having all of those positions filled," she said. "I think all municipal governments and towns are having challenges. I think the workforce has changed. People aren't staying in their roles for 20, 30 years anymore."
Dario said people seem to be looking for a bit more variety in their professional careers and because of this, municipalities have to evolve and have a bit more agility in terms of finding employees and building their capability to serve in the role.
This was a trend that she saw in Australia.
"And that's changed the way we need to train people, the way that we need to hire and I guess how you become an employer that people want to work with," Dario said.
"And I think that's one thing I would like to see is that municipal government, it can be a great career and I would love to see younger people have a better understanding of where are those pathways as well."
No two days are alike for the administrator and she feels that an open-door policy is important.
"I seek to have a completely open door policy. I think Town Hall should be accessible to people. I think local government needs to be transparent and I encourage people to be involved," Dario explained, adding that seeing Town Hall and its governmental bodies could plant the seed for people who were considering getting involved.
"Building that culture for Lanesborough and for the governance more broadly I think is part of getting that increased engagement and participation," she said.
"So I would just say please see how you can become involved. I've loved jumping in and I love meeting people in the town so far and I look forward to serving in the years to come."
Tags: town administrator,