by Geoff Fox
After a search by town officials that included 120 candidates, Hancock finally has their new town manager in Joe Gilbert. Gilbert officially started three weeks ago, he said.
Gilbert replaces former Town Manager David Smith who resigned earlier this year during the January town meeting.
Gilbert, who was born and raised in New York, was in the Army for 24 years and has since lived all over the United States and world while holding various positions from squad leader to battalion commander and “everything in between.”
When he first came to Hancock, Gilbert said, he fell in love with it. He has a fondness for the area from when he was stationed in Maryland during his Army days.
“When I saw this job come available, I just had to apply. I had to see if I could get here,” Gilbert said.
One thing Gilbert has is the experience to do the job as town manager.
He’s been a business owner and business manager in consulting and retail businesses. He’s also been a county director of emergency services.
In that capacity, Gilbert dealt with grant writing, writing and passing resolutions, presentations, and almost every function of government.
While he was in Iraq during his Army service, he held a job similar to his new job in Hancock — only it was as a camp manager.
At the time, he had a population of 18,000 to 30,000 people in that camp.
He dealt with construction, contractors, rehabilitations, power generation, wastewater and freshwater treatments, building housing, and municipal planning.
He also had soldiers from three different countries at his camp. There were also different branches of U.S. military and other military machinery stationed there.
While it was a military camp, Gilbert said it was a fully functional city, “with, of course, the added benefit of right outside the town lines, everybody out there wants to kill you.”
“Thankfully there are no mortar rounds or rockets landing in Hancock and there never will be,” he said.
Gilbert is looking forward to the job and “revving up the engines” to get things moving.
There are three things the job entails, he said.
The first is day-to-day operations and problem solving.
The second is to “plant your vegetable garden” – projects where you’ll reap the benefits soon and see immediate results.
The third is the one Gilbert is most excited about — what he calls planting the oak tree, where the “fruit” won’t be seen until further down the road.
“As they say, ‘the best time to plant an oak tree is 40 years ago. The second best time is today,’ so we have to do all three at once,” he said.
The term town manager means Gilbert would be keeping the status quo for the everyday things such as parks, parking issues, water leaks, basically his daily “to-do list.”
He also said there has to be vision. Gilbert is looking five to ten years down the road with his goals.
Gilbert said one goal is economic development without sacrificing the small town charm that drew him and others to Hancock, as well as those who have lived in Hancock for years.
Another goal is life safety — an area he has a background in.
Hancock has had a number of floods – 1936, 1985, and 1996 – and with his background in emergency services, Gilbert said it could lend itself to hazard mitigation and resiliency in preparation.
He also noted that Hancock has a lot to offer and pointed to the C&O Canal as an example.
Recently, Gilbert met a National Park Service official who was checking a traffic-monitoring box at one of the parking lots.
Gilbert said that over a six-week period, more than 6,000 vehicles came out of that parking lot. While it wasn’t exactly 6,000 unique vehicles, as one vehicle could have been counted multiple times, that is something the town could capitalize on.
Being in this tri-state area, Gilbert said there are a lot of other towns Hancock could partner with for different events and festivals. These effforts could highlight all of the uniqueness of Hancock and the entire area.
One thing Gilbert has started in Hancock is getting the town involved with the organization Main Street America.
Main Street America is a non-profit organization that helps small communities recruit and retain businesses with the purpose of rehabilitating Main Street.
With a number of empty storefronts in Hancock, Gilbert has created a subset of the organization called Main Street Hancock.
Recruiting and building the organization will take place over the coming weeks.
Training would come from Main Street America and would put Hancock in a position to recruit and retain businesses.
Gilbert said he’s also looking at incentives that could bring those jobs to town.
“The bulk of our business here is not going to create 50 jobs,” he said. “We’re grateful when that happens, but they’re going to create two, three, four jobs in retail, part-time, and to me, that’s just as vital a part of our economy as the 50 jobs.”
So far, Gilbert loves Hancock and the reception he’s gotten has been receptive.
Since he wasn’t a town resident before getting the job, Gilbert said he doesn’t have the mindset of “that’s how we’ve always done it” and gives a fresh set of eyes and perspective to the issues Hancock has.
Gilbert has a philosophy that town government is government close to home.
“Ninety percent of your governance should happen from two people you know by name,” he said. “That’s one of the appeals of being in a small town as opposed to a large municipality.”
Gilbert said his door is always open if someone has an issue that needs his attention.
If there’s an issue and people need to get in touch with Gilbert, the can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling Town Hall at 301-678-5622 or stopping in at the office.