If you think of Vinton as a sleepy little village stuck in the past, better think again.
Not only is economic development on a major upswing in Vinton, the town is revealing itself to be innovative, progressive, and thinking outside the box on other levels as well.
For instance, in a country where it is estimated that only 8 percent of leadership positions in municipal Public Works Departments are held by women, Vinton has just hired Mary Ann Brenchick as its Deputy Director of Public Works.
She comes to Vinton with 25 years of experience in the Public Works field, having served as Public Works Director in Portland, Kittery, and Old Orchard Beach, Maine. She was the only female Public Works Director in the state of Maine at the time. When she left, there were none.
Those localities described her in various publications as “a visionary manager, an enthusiastic voice, a person with unlimited energy and ideas, a true collaborator, an advocate for the town, and someone who thinks outside the box.” She was known for bringing in projects she was tasked with “ahead of schedule and significantly under budget.”
She moved here with her husband, Jay Brenchick, about three years ago. He is the Economic Development Manager for Roanoke County. They elected to live and work in the Roanoke Valley because “there are so many positive changes happening here.”
The Brenchicks live in Salem. She has three children; the eldest still lives in Maine, the middle one is a student at Roanoke College, and her youngest is a junior at Salem High School.
Brenchick says she grew up in a small town in Maine, similar in size to Vinton, and is most comfortable working in that small town family atmosphere where “you can get your arms around it and come to know it really well.” Public works has always been the focus of her career. She says she grew up “playing with trucks, not Barbies.”
She says that she started out in college studying architecture and civil engineering, but ended up with a Bachelor’s Degree in Applied Technology Leadership and a Master’s in Management.
Her duties in Vinton will center on stormwater issues, but also include the general services of overseeing the fleet, recycling, street sweeping, operational management of two work crews and operational maintenance. She will also manage construction involving water and sewer services, which always have an impact on stormwater, in a town where “our drinking water comes totally from the ground and wells.”
Her first event in town was the Christmas Parade on December 1, followed soon after by cleanup of the first snowfall of the season in January. She rode with the snow removal crews to get a better feel for the town, and also because snow and snow removal heavily impact the stormwater system.
Brenchick says that stormwater regulations are federal regulations for the most part, so what applies in Virginia and Vinton is similar to regulations she dealt with in Maine.
She watches over the streams that pass through Vinton– Tinker, Glade, and Wolf Creeks, the Roanoke River, and smaller tributaries, the infrastructure as is relates to stormwater, and education of the staff, residents, and businesses in regards to stormwater. She will also be involved with capital planning.
Her main focus is on “clean, drinkable water, and keeping all structures maintained, inspected, and improved.”
Public Works has plans to hire an intern to help map the local streams and the water and sewer system, which is quite antiquated in some locations within the town, especially the pipes located on private property. The town has been working for several years to replace the public underground infrastructure as funds are available. Stormwater regulations are making those plans more imperative.
Brenchick says she is very impressed with the town employees, especially those in the Public Works Department. Public Works currently has 32 employees and is led by Director Joey Hiner, who is assisted by Bo Herndon, Mike Faw, and Jill Acker on the administrative level.
She has high praise for Hiner, who demonstrates a vast knowledge of all facets of the Public Works program that serves the town. She believes the town has a distinct advantage in owning its own water system, refuse collection, and recycling programs, unlike most small municipalities.
Brenchick quickly became acquainted with the well-deserved and stellar “reputation Public Works employees have with this town, especially in regards to snow removal, emergency management, and services to citizens.”
“They really care about this town, and would give you the shirt off their backs, for not a lot of recognition,” said Brenchick. “Also, Town Council and the town staff work as such a team.”
Brenchick describes herself as “a people person.” She enjoys mentoring others, especially women. She has worked in the STEM program at Virginia Western Community College, finding mentors for women considering careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. She has served as an advisory board member for the WINGS mentoring program at Virginia Tech. She has volunteered with the Miss Virginia Pageant, working with girls ages 8 and up.
She and her husband are currently taking a financial management class through the HIVE Business Incubation Center in Vinton, founded by The Advancement Foundation’s Annette Patterson. The HIVE offers a wide array of business and finance classes, which Brenchick is encouraging Public Works employees to take advantage of.
In addition, she works as a sales director for Mary Kay Cosmetics on Saturdays and Monday nights— a program she describes as “faith-based” and dear to her heart. She shares their ministering philosophy of ”God first, family second, career third.”