Our new town manager—who is he, what is his history, and how does he aim to help Thetford grow its economy but keep its small town character?
Bryan Gazda, our Town Manager, grew up on a large farm in Hopewell Township, New Jersey, a town steeped in history where General George Washington crossed the Delaware River during the Battle of Trenton. He grew up like a lot of rural children: fishing, ice skating, and trekking through the woods and corn fields. It is there that he came to love rural character and all it encompasses.
His mother and his grandmother were the guiding lights in his life. His single mother, who had a strong work ethic, worked 70-plus hours a week to provide a good life for them. His grandmother stressed the very important idea “to think of others before you think of yourself.”
After high school he joined the service because college was not an option. He watched his friends going off to college and working in their parents’ businesses and decided he needed to take a different path from the one he was taking. His family had a history of military service: Bryan’s father was a World War II and Korean War veteran, and his two older brothers served in the military.
He joined the Air Force in 1978 and served two tours of duty in the Middle East during the Iran-Iraq War in the 1980s. He was stationed in Hanscom Air Force Base in Massachusetts, two different bases in Germany— Pruem and Hessisch-Oldendorf — Pease Air Force Base in New Hampshire, and Griffiss Air Force Base in Rome, New York. He was a noncommissioned officer working in telecommunications. In Germany he was assigned to a mobile radar unit with primary responsibility as the first line of radar defense against the Warsaw pact forces. In 1992 his hopes of serving for twenty years came to an end when there was a large reduction of forces. This happened just after the end of the Cold War, and the rationale given for the involuntary discharge of the enlisted men and officers was “we had won the Cold War and the first Gulf War and the men and women were living too long.”
After his discharge, he and his family decided not to go back to New Jersey but to stay in Central New York. He tried real estate and appraising but finding them not to his liking, he started working in the non-profit sector for community action and development agencies. He assisted low and moderate income individuals with housing-related issues while he also administered capital projects.
As Executive Director of Canastota Canal Corporation, a community development corporation in the Village of Canastota, New York, he assisted the Boxing Hall of Fame in obtaining a $250,000 grant to build a new hall. The hall originally was located in Graziano’s Restaurant but is now found at the exit of the Thruway. It was created to honor two of Canastota’s residents, boxing greats Carmen Basilio and his nephew Billy Backus. Muhammad Ali and other great boxers have visited the site and are honored in the hall. Another of his hats was to help create the Village Administrator position.
He assumed the job of Village Administrator where he enjoyed the multi-faceted jobs. On any given day he could be dealing with personnel, budget, attorneys, or the state/federal agencies while learning how public policy is formed and implemented.
He lived in Central New York for twenty years before moving to Western New York to assume the Village Administrator job in East Aurora. It is here that he attended Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Business. He finished his studies last fall and started looking for a new position where he could put newly found skills and knowledge to use. The Gazda family chose to stay in New England because they found it a great place to live and raise children.
Bryan arrived in Thetford as the town was in turmoil, and he provided steady leadership on all the different issues that his initial first weeks threw at him. He says he has been welcomed by everyone, and the reception he has received from the townspeople has made the move worth it. It is taking him a bit to get used to “mud season,” as in most of New York the term means mud in your yard or the mud the dog brings into the house.
He is still feeling out the town’s character and how best to help it grow but retain its “ruralness.” Because of his economic background, Bryan realizes that Thetford lacks basic public infrastructure, such as water and sewer, which will be needed for moderate development. The recent Village Center Designation for all the villages will help the town deal with the state. It will help ease the way for existing businesses to use the historic and code improvement tax credit programs for commercial and non-profits. This will also allow the town to apply for state grants to help with economic development initiatives. He also stresses what is equally important to him is hearing from the townspeople on what types of economic development they want while keeping the rural character.
Last but not least, what drives him crazy and what surprises him about his life? What drives him crazy? Individuals who are not respectful of others and being late. His greatest blessing is having children later in life where there is never a dull moment and the surprises just keep coming!
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