Harrisville is known for the red-brick facade of its downtown buildings, and R. Bryan Kingsbury knows them intimately.
Kingsbury grew up on the west side of Harrisville in Chesham village, but his maternal grandparents lived in one of many brick homes in the center of town. His father’s father, George Kingsbury, owned a farm at the end of West Street in Keene. Kingsbury fondly remembers summers spent on Silver Lake, his “favorite place in the world,” surrounded by extended family.
Kingsbury and his wife, Bryanne (pronounced bree-ANN), continue that and other traditions as “full-on Harrisville residents.” Sitting in his den Thursday evening, Kingsbury pointed out the window to the half-frozen Harrisville Pond that’s just a hop, skip and a jump from his red-brick home. It’s perfect for ice skating in the winter, he said.
If Kingsbury, 36, were not already sufficiently attached to Harrisville, he became so when he recently took over as town moderator.
And so far, so good.
Kingsbury commutes to Boston and throughout southern New England for work as a safety manager at Consigli Construction Co. He and his wife have a 2-year-old daughter, Pippa, and another on the way.
Aside from playing in a men’s hockey league in Keene on Sundays and wrapping up renovations at home, Kingsbury said he spends the bulk of his time with Bryanne raising Pippa and “trying to be present.”
But with a full schedule and a job outside of the area, Kingsbury found it difficult to be involved in his hometown. So, when the moderator position opened up last year, it seemed like a perfect opportunity to participate in local government.
Kingsbury succeeded his uncle, John “Chick” Colony 3rd — who served as town moderator for four decades. It’s an elected position.
On the heels of his first town meeting as moderator, Kingsbury sees himself hanging on to the gavel for a while.
Raised around so many family members, Kingsbury appreciates the chance to do the same with his daughters. His parents, Bob and Hillary Kingsbury, live a five-minute drive away in Harrisville, when they haven’t migrated to Florida for the winter. Bryanne’s mother and father, Reg and Gail Fleming, are in Spofford.
After finishing Keene middle and high schools, Kingsbury got a bachelor’s degree in safety and occupational health applied sciences at Keene State College in 2006. Kingsbury and Bryanne met in high school, but she went to San Francisco for college, and the couple reconnected post-graduation.
Degree in hand, Kingsbury left Harrisville for Rhode Island to work with a concrete contractor for five years. He moved to Boston when he was hired by Consigli, and there he and Bryanne moved in together.
In 2012, the couple married in the Harrisville Community Church and moved back to Kingsbury’s hometown within about a week — a conscious and purposeful decision, he said.
“In preparation for our wedding, we were coming up here every single weekend from Boston,” he said.
In his capacity as a safety manager for Consigli, Kingsbury commutes to multiple job sites in southern New England inspecting for compliance, looking for hazards and trying to prevent accidents.
Because of the constant traveling, he said his job doesn’t allow him many chances to participate in Harrisville’s government or to volunteer. The moderator role is less time-consuming, though.
“To get involved, it’s actually a really nice position to do something, if you’re inclined to do something in your town, which we are,” he said. “We’re here for the long haul. It’s my hometown, and my family is here, my extended family is here to a major extent. So, it’s a great town to be involved in.”
Moderator in the making
While moderators are given a good deal of discretion in state law, their primary duty is to preside over a town or school district’s annual meeting, establishing rules and declaring votes.
For Kingsbury’s entire life, his uncle has been the face of Harrisville’s yearly meeting.
“Even as a child, growing up in town, he would’ve been doing it all through my childhood,” he said. “So, if I ever got taken to town meeting with my parents, he would’ve been there. I remember casting my ballots at 18, handing them to him.”
Colony said he decided a couple years ago to give up the gavel at 40 years and began looking for a successor.
“It’s an important job because if people don’t know what they’re voting on, it can be mass confusion pretty quickly,” he said.
He approached Kingsbury about the position, who then shadowed Colony at the past two town meetings. He wanted his nephew to take the mantle because he’s intelligent, quick on his feet and comfortable in front of a crowd — all necessary traits for a moderator, Colony said.
“You have to be comfortable being passive, because you can’t really have a position, and if you do, you can’t really let it influence how you run the meeting,” he said.
Kingsbury’s love of Harrisville was critical, too, a quality Colony wanted in his replacement.
With no opponents, Kingsbury was elected to the post last year.
As for his nephew’s first meeting last week, Colony thought it went well.
“He did better than I did at my first meeting, I’ll tell you that,” Colony said, laughing.
Kingsbury credits the selectmen and this year’s noncontroversial warrant for the quick and easy meeting.
His biggest worry heading into the session was nailing down his procedure. He said he had help crafting his rules for the meeting from the N.H. Municipal Association, which hosts training sessions for moderators. But he also borrowed a few things from his uncle, which he said likely eased the transition for residents, too.
For future meetings, he said he’d like to be more prepared for close voice votes and what his next steps would be. If there needs to be a secret ballot vote, he said, he wants to feel ready for that.
At 36, Kingsbury is easily one of the youngest moderators in the region, and he said he noticed the age difference when he attended the municipal association’s workshop. But he said it was never a focal point for him when he decided to take on the role, nor was it a distraction when he stood in front of voters last week.
Thanks to his “day job,” Kingsbury is comfortable with public speaking — hosting training seminars and safety presentations — and is accustomed to working with people of all ages, from college grads to nearly retirees.
Kingsbury said he thought the town meeting went well. He’s heard plenty of positive feedback, though he guessed that might also be because the meeting was relatively short.
“I’m gladly accepting any suggestions for my next go-around,” he added.
The moderator in Harrisville is voted in for a two-year term, and Kingsbury said he doesn’t see a reason to leave the post if his neighbors continue to elect him. From his perspective, having some consistency from the person behind the podium can be nice for voters, who learn how the moderator operates.
“And once they get that figured out, maybe they can come to town meeting kind of knowing a little bit what to expect — at least out of the person at the front.”