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Editorial: New Lebanon City Manager Aims for Efficiencies

  • Lebanon City Manager Shaun Mulholland, left, talks with Peter Marsh, of West Lebanon, N.H. during a gathering to meet the new manger in Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 31, 2018. Marsh was discussing the Westboro Rail Yard. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.


Thursday, February 08, 2018

Before Shaun Mulholland was hired last month, Lebanon went nearly two years without a city manager. The previous occupant of the office, Dennis Luttrell, lasted only about six months before being fired by the City Council in March 2016 for reasons that remain unclear. In fact, over the last 20 years or so, the city has had nearly a dozen managers, including interim managers who served multiple times.

Municipal managers, like school superintendents and professional football coaches, operate in fraught and fickle environments with multiple parties, often in conflict, all competing to be heard. Successful managers know how to balance those competing interests. The best managers can get everyone moving in the same direction.

We harbor no illusions that everyone with a stake in Lebanon will ever be in full agreement on every issue. But we do hope for a period of stability in the city’s top administrative office. There are pressing problems that need to be addressed — sewer capacity, infrastructure projects, the downtown visioning study, West Lebanon and the Westboro Rail Yard, police and fire staffing, the perennial question of the future of the Lebanon Municipal Airport — and the city simply can’t keep treading water.

Mulholland, 49, has an admirable set of skills. He served with the Auburn and Raymond, N.H., police departments before joining the Allenstown, N.H., Police Department as a patrolman. He was promoted to chief in 2006 and was named town administrator in Allenstown in 2013. There, he worked to increase municipal transparency, in particular boosting the amount of information citizens can access online and establishing a public Wi-Fi connection in the town offices.

Among the challenges Mulholland will face in his new $120,000-a-year job will be adjusting to the scale of the operation he now oversees. Allenstown had 33 full-time employees, 73 part-time employees and a budget that totaled about $6.1 million. The city of Lebanon has nearly six times as many full-time equivalent positions — 183 — and a budget that, at $67.2 million, is more than 10 times the size of Allenstown’s.

Allenstown, population 4,300, is also a much smaller community. Lebanon’s population is about 13,500, but that balloons to some 40,000 during the day as people from all over the region come to the city to work or shop or access services.

Mulholland’s biggest challenge, however, may be striking that tricky balance between the wants and needs of those who live in the city and the desires of those who would do business with it. As he is no doubt aware, the city’s master plan is based on a policy, adopted by the City Council in 2008, that puts “residents first” when it comes to any government action or policy. Moreover, it was only a year ago that some 400 people concerned about the impact of development on the city signed a petition calling on city officials to “analyze the total impact on city services, facilities and roads of every large project currently under planning consideration, and of every large project that has been approved, but is yet unbuilt or unfinished.” And he has undoubtedly already heard from those developers who feel aggrieved by what they see as unnecessary delays and complications in the process of getting a decision on their projects.

He struck the right tone in an interview last month with staff writer Tim Camerato, saying his focus will be on creating “administrative efficiencies,” working to get information to people faster and making it easier for businesses, including developers, to interact with city government. As for decisions about how much development, what type and where it should take place, that’s for residents and their elected representatives to decide, he told Camerato.

“My job is to make sure that the mechanics of the system are efficient and effective, and that people can work their way around them without unnecessary red tape and roadblocks,” he said.

That’s a good place to start.