MONTICELLO – The seeds of Heather Brown’s success were planted inside a particularly famous Kauneonga Lake store. Known simply as Vassmer’s, it was the heart of the lakeside hamlet for nearly 100 years, offering assorted goods and sundries atop its well-trodden wooden floors – including to thousands of passing young people one fateful August 1969.
Brown wasn’t yet born when those hot, crowded, rainy days made history in nearby Bethel, but she can tell you most every tale associated with her late grandfather and store proprietor, Art “Mr. Woodstock” Vassmer. After all, she worked under his gentle gaze in the years that followed.
“I was raised running a small business with my family,” she nods with a warm smile reminiscent of his.
The insights gained from that memorable childhood remain with her today, as she takes on the duties of Sullivan County’s Commissioner of the Division of Planning.
“I love my home, first and foremost,” Brown acknowledges. “And I think I can do a good job in this role. I have a pretty universal view of the County, considering all the roles I’ve already been in.”
She’s talking about far more than sweeping floors and stocking shelves at Vassmer’s. In her 19 years in Sullivan County government, Brown has served as a research analyst in both Planning and Management & Budget, as a junior planner and environmental specialist in Planning, as the first and only director of the groundbreaking Office of Sustainable Energy, and most recently as deputy commissioner of Planning.
Such work has brought her into contact with the vast majority of municipal officials serving Sullivan County, keeping her at the cutting edge of local governance, development, sustainability and the challenges thereof. Indeed, she considers one of her primary skills to be her listening ability, particularly when it comes to the 14 coworkers she supervises (not to mention dozens of seasonal employees).
“I can put myself in their shoes because I’ve been there,” Brown says.
The Office of Sustainable Energy is just one of four agencies she now oversees. As Commissioner, she’s also in charge of the departments of Planning, Grants and Parks.
“All four of these offices have seen an incredible increase in not just their workload but the public’s focus on their workloads,” she notes. “While I will continue to oversee the Office of Sustainable Energy, I’ll work closely with the directors of the other offices.”
That includes a to-be-hired Director of Planning, a new position that will be filled by a certified planner.
Brown, a graduate of Monticello High School, possesses a bachelor’s in biology from SUNY Binghamton, and her two decades of County government experience have led her to identify three priorities on which she’d like to focus: the buildout of the O&W Rail Trail and other recreational opportunities, the housing crisis, and the judicious use of local water resources.
“I’m talking about the quality, location and infrastructure to support development while at the same time protecting the environment,” she explains. “That’s critically important, as Sullivan County is currently facing a lot of development pressure.”
Brown lives in one of the County’s original developments, Smallwood in the Town of Bethel, where her family has long been active in government and community service. She shares her home with her partner Stephen, his son/her stepson Stephen, their daughter Emilia and the family cat, Astrid.
“I’ve known Heather her entire life, and she has always had the heart and mind to serve her neighbors throughout Sullivan County,” remarks Legislature Chairman Robert A. Doherty. “I am very glad – but not at all surprised – that the rest of the Legislature agrees with me that this is the perfect ‘next step’ in what has already been her distinguished career in public service.”
“It’s been my pleasure to watch Heather rise through the ranks of County government and help us initiate innovative, notable projects along the way,” County Manager Josh Potosek adds. “We are recognized Statewide for her work on our sustainability initiatives, and I fully expect that Heather, in this leadership role, will continue to make an impact far beyond Sullivan County.”