Longtime Town Manager Ron Van Winkle said Wednesday that he plans to retire next June.
A West Hartford native, Van Winkle, 69, has worked for the town since the mid-1980s, first as an economic development consultant for the town. In 1987, former Town Manager Barry Feldman hired Van Winkle as director of community services.
In September 2008, Van Winkle was appointed to the town manager position.
While working for the town, Van Winkle oversaw the development of Blue Back Square, worked on zoning language to allow for outdoor dining and balanced a budget after the 2008 economic collapse by merging all town and board of education services under the same departments – financial services, facilities management, information technology, public works and human resources.
Van Winkle also oversaw the opening of an Emergency Response Center on at least three occasions, including the 2011 ice storm and two hurricanes.
Now, the town is overseeing development of a new hotel outside Blue Back Square. Van Winkle, an economist, said the town has continuously run on surplus budgets since his appointment.
Former Mayor Scott Slifka said Wednesday that Van Winkle is "an interesting combination" of a well-known economist and a "hometown guy," making him "perfect" for the job.
"For all the high-level things he was involved in, at his heart this is a guy who was born and bred in West Hartford and has West Hartford in his bones," Slifka said. "He brought that to every decision he made — the perspective of, 'How is this going to impact my hometown?'"
Van Winkle's work during the 2008 economic collapse, Slifka said, helped "calm fears" in people concerned about a negative impact to the budget. Slifka said nearly $35 million in capital improvement projects were removed from the budget.
Slifka said trust was another factor in Van Winkle's success, especially when working with the education system.
"He had been a partner for so many years," Slifka said. "He wasn't just some town manager that, in their minds, may have just been concerned about the bottom line on the budget, but a person who worked with them for decades that thought of things in the most economical way possible, but help produce them in ways that best impacted the lives of children."
"The people of our community simply have no idea how lucky we have been to have a man of this caliber in the role of town manager and how integral he has been to the success of the community as a whole," Slifka said.
Corporation Counsel Attorney Patrick Alair said in a message that Van Winkle "has been the most enjoyable part" of working for the town. The two have worked together for nearly 30 years.
"Our discussions of town issues are always been challenging and entertaining," Alair said. "He's simply the best there is at what he does."
Current Mayor Shari Cantor said Wednesday that the town has been lucky to have Van Winkle oversee the town on a day-to-day basis.
"He's been such a big part of the success of our town," Cantor said. "We are better because of his service to the town."
Cantor said Van Winkle has assisted with changes in management in nearly every department through the course of his tenure.
"He's so responsive, so practical, kind, thoughtful, considerate," Cantor said. "He's so respectful of everyone he works with, he's a great listener and a wonderful leader. He's West Hartford's biggest cheerleader."
Cantor also noted the town's Triple A bond rating, attributing that to Van Winkle's leadership.
Cantor also noted Van Winkle's leadership in developing "every corner of town," including Blue Back Square, the "rebirth and vibrancy" of Park Road, New Britain Avenue and Bishops Corner.
Van Winkle said he takes pride in the great team of people he works with everyday.
"Everyone comes to West Hartford and wants to know how we do this," Van Winkle said. "I'm proud of the community West Hartford is today."
Van Winkle was born and raised in West Hartford. He lives in town with his wife, Ruth. Van Winkle has two grown sons, Matt and Daniel.
At next Wednesday's town council meeting, the council will review a resolution to allocate $35,000 to hire a search firm for a new town manager. Van Winkle said a request for proposals could go out in December.