WOONSOCKET — City Planner Jane Talbot is trading her seat behind a desk at City Hall for one on a farm tractor in the Great Plains.
Talbot, who got married on July 4, is quitting her city job at the end of the month to join her husband, who runs a big cattle and grain spread in Oklahoma.
“I'm going to miss a lot of people around here,” she says. “This was my childhood home.”
City planner since September 2009, Talbot had lived in California for about 15 years before she was hired. But she grew up in North Smithfield and has been living in the family homestead since she returned to the area.
Talbot's departure will leave a sizable hole in the city's planning department, already slammed by budget-minded personnel cuts. When longtime Planning Director Joel Mathews retired earlier this year, Mayor Leo T. Fontaine consolidated the director's job with that of Paulette Miller, deputy director of planning and community development, to save money. Officially, Miller is now interim planning director.
But Fontaine acknowledges that the $58,900-a-year planner's job is a critical post that must be filled in short order. He said the city expects to launch a round of help wanted ads by the end of the week.
The city planner serves as an ex-officio member of the Planning Board and helps develop most of the land use goals for the city, whether they be recreational, industrial of residential.
The planner also plays a key role in securing grants from myriad sources to obtain the necessary funding to bring those goals to fruition.
“The city planner will be replaced,” said Fontaine. “We've set up the processes for advertising locally and nationally for someone to fill the position.”
Talbot, who has a master gardener's certificate from the University of Rhode Island Cooperative Extension, says she's always been drawn to the agrarian life, and now it looks like she'll be jumping in with both feet.
And she actually can drive a farm tractor. Some schools may require freshmen to take English, but one of the core requirements for her bachelor's regimen in landscape architecture at University of California-Davis was to learn how to operate a farm tractor.
She's not quite sure yet where she'll find her niche on the farm, but Talbot has a track record for flexibility. She worked as a letter carrier for over 18 years and did a stint as postmaster in North Kingstown before embarking on her studies in California.
Talbot, who has a 14-year-old daughter, also served as a design intern for the California Department of Transportation and worked as a senior planner for the northern California city of Folsom for eight years before she began working in Woonsocket.
During her relatively brief tenure with the city, Talbot points to her work in updating a sometimes-controversial Comprehensive Plan, advancing the study of commuter rail service, and promoting safe alternatives to motor vehicle travel as a few of her major accomplishments.
“It would be great if the funding could be found to make these projects happen,” said Talbot.
Tight budgets and thin resources may continue to be barriers to progress for the foreseeable future, but Talbot says Woonsocket enjoys at at least one major advantage over other communities that can help in reaching its goals, and that's a passionate group of committed activists.
They populate a number of pivotal boards and commissions with a track record for successful cooperation, according to Talbot, including the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission, Neighborworks Blackstone River Valley, the Main Street/Riverfront Initiative, RiverzEdge Arts Project and the Northern Rhode Island Chamber of Commerce.
“There are so many community groups that are willing to work together to make the city better, and I'm not sure that's something other communities have,” she says.
Talbot is scheduled to work only through July 29, but she could stay a bit longer to sit with planners to approve the new Comprehensive Plan next month.