“The best advice I’ve received from managers who have retired,” said outgoing Purcellville Town Manager Rob Lohr, “is not to make any immediate commitment … take some time, and just look at what your opportunities and options are.”
Lohr’s last day leading Purcellville’s town staff will be June 30. His retirement was announced during a contentious April 25 meeting of the town council, where many members of the public and a few councilmembers criticized the council majority, saying Lohr was being forced out, and praised Lohr’s 24 years of service to the town.
But Lohr said he has plenty of opportunities ahead—after some time off.
“I’ve received a couple of overtures and opportunities, and I’m going to be exploring that,” Lohr said. “I’d like to take maybe a month or two off and get caught up on some projects I’ve been meaning to do for my wife and for my family around the house for probably 15 years.”
Mayor Kwasi Fraser said the town’s separation agreement with Lohr was “equitable and fair.” Lohr agreed: “All the items that I asked for were identified and approved by council, and I think it was a very positive thing.”
Lohr, as a town employee eligible for retirement, will begin collecting benefits under the Virginia Retirement System. The town will also pay $10,000 into Lohr’s deferred compensation plan; buy out 25 percent of Lohr’s unused sick leave, vacation, and personal leave; increase his annual salary by 6.6 percent to $144,935 as of April 25, slightly increasing his retirement benefit; and to credit Lohr with a full 25 years of service for purposes of health insurance, a few months longer than his actual employment, so that Lohr and his wife can continue to participate in the town’s health insurance plan at no cost.
He said that shortly after his last day, he’ll be leaving for a vacation. When he’s back and ready to start up again, Lohr said, he’ll be looking to help out part-time with other governments.
“There’s a lot of need in smaller and medium-sized communities for part-time employees that have extensive experience in local government,” Lohr said. He said Purcellville has done the same successfully, and found it’s a good deal for both sides: retirees don’t have to work full time or endanger their retirement benefits by taking on full-time jobs, and the community gets the benefit of years of experience without having to pay full-time salaries or benefits.
Lohr said he and his family want to stay in Purcellville, and that the town is strategically located for him with a great number of communities, counties, towns, and small cities nearby “that may need help from time to time.”
A Show of Support
During last week’s council meeting, when Lohr’s retirement was announced and separation agreement approved, the town council saw a long line of Purcellville residents, business owners, and former council members speak up in support of Lohr. Many of them were harshly critical of the majority on council who were seen as pushing Lohr out.
Former council member Beverly MacDonald-Chiasson said her proudest accomplishment was “without a doubt” serving on the council that hired Lohr.
As to the praise for his work, Lohr said it was appreciated, but awkward for a humble person like him.
“It was very heartwarming, but if you know me, it was very uncomfortable, because I’m the type of person who says thank you and moves onto the next job,” Lohr said.
The announcement followed hours of closed-session performance reviews. He said that is in keeping with best practices around the region, where government bodies including the county and other towns customarily hold performance reviews for their senior staff behind closed doors. At the April 25 meeting, council member Kelli Grim said other council members had discussed what happened in those closed sessions in public.
“Do what you need to do, but I’m not going to violate [Freedom of Information Act] laws,” Grim said—an incorrect description of the Virginia Freedom of Information Act, which allows public bodies to lock the public out of meetings in certain circumstances, but in no case requires it. No Virginia law prohibits discussing the contents of a closed session.
In Good Hands
Lohr said he is leaving the town in the hands of capable town staff.
“People ask me what is probably one of the biggest successes or accomplishments that I’ve obtained here, and you know, over the years, I’ve always said, I’ve been so blessed to have a phenomenal staff,” Lohr said.
Because of his long tenure with the town, most of that team was hired by Lohr. At this point, he is the second-longest tenured employee of the town, second only to wastewater treatment plant Superintendent Scott House.
“That is a great opportunity, because you can really build a wonderful organization, and as I said … any type of success that we may have achieved in my tenure here, I owe to that group of employees,” Lohr said.
The separation agreement says the council will work to appoint an interim town manager before Lohr’s retirement. Failing that, his highest ranking deputy is Assistant Town Manager Daniel C. Davis, who joined Purcellville in September after serving as chief of staff for Loudoun County.
“As busy as we are, I don’t know that there’s ever a good time to go,” Lohr said. “But at some point, your mind and your body starts telling you that it’s time.”