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Hanover Town Meeting includes petition to eliminate town manager

  • David Millman (Courtesy photograph)

  • Joanna Whitcomb (Courtesy photograph)

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 7/9/2021 9:39:46 PM
Modified: 7/9/2021 9:39:56 PM

HANOVER — Voters will decide on Tuesday whether to maintain Hanover’s town manager form of government or instead delegate more responsibilities to its five-member Selectboard.

A petitioned warrant article on this year’s Town Meeting ballot asks residents if they support “the continuation of the town manager plan as now in force in this town?”

A “yes” vote would continue the work of Town Manager Julia Griffin, who was hired in 1996, while a “no” vote would redistribute some of her responsibilities to elected officials.

In New Hampshire, town managers have hiring and firing power, can pay the town’s bills and set salaries. Hanover, which has a population of about 11,500, switched to the model in the 1970s as the town and Dartmouth College grew.

It’s not entirely clear why some want to see the town manager system end. Emails sent to Dartmouth student Kevin Berghuis — who organized the petition drive and is a senior editor at the Dartmouth Review student newspaper — weren’t returned on Friday.

The petition needed the signatures of 25 registered voters to make the ballot. It received 35, with many of the signatories reporting Dartmouth College addresses.

Griffin has drawn the ire of some students in recent years as the public face of a town that has sought to enforce its zoning regulations against fraternities and crack down on misbehavior during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Last year, she authored the so-called “Selfish Students” op-ed in The Dartmouth student newspaper, which admonished students for “irresponsible behavior,” including partying and not wearing masks, drawing condemnation from some.

Griffin also backed the town’s mask mandate, which was adopted last August in response to the return of Dartmouth students back to campus.

But regardless of how you feel about her, Griffin said, Hanover needs a town manager to oversee day-to-day operations.

“I’m going 200 miles an hour managing this community. In a way, it’s a seven-days-a-week job because I’m constantly on call nights and weekends,” she said. “This is a very busy active community.”

Public officials also have come to Griffin’s defense.

“Since the early 1970s, after the merger of Etna and Hanover, and concurrent with growth at Dartmouth College, at the hospital and of the overall town, Hanover residents have been well-served by a professional town manager at the helm,” Kari Asmus, chairman of the Hanover Finance Committee, wrote in a letter to the Valley News.

Contested races

Three people are competing for two open seats on the Hanover Selectboard, with the top vote-getters earning three-year terms.

Incumbents Nancy Carter and Joanne Whitcomb will face off on the ballot against David Millman, a rising junior at Dartmouth College.

Millman, a member of the Dartmouth Student Assembly and New Hampshire co-chair of the anti-sexual assault Every Voice Coalition, said he’s running to bridge the divide between students and the town.

“We need to start to see town issues as student issues. Students are not temporary; there will always be a student body in Hanover,” he wrote in an email.

Millman said he wants to improve communications between the town and college, change zoning to allow for more housing options and seek more grant funding for businesses looking to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

Millman said he wasn’t involved with either of the student-led warrant articles on this year’s ballot, but that he understands the frustration behind them.

Carter, who was first elected to the board in 2012, said she hopes to continue working on long-term projects that could shape Hanover for years to come.

As a representative to the Planning Board, she’s working on a 10-year plan for the town, and is helping to plan improvements at the Howe Library, where she is chairwoman of the facilities committee.

“I’ve proven myself to be there for Hanover voters, tough issues, easy issues, kind of steadfastly looking out for people’s interests,” she said in a phone interview.

Carter, who previously served on the Hanover School Board, said she also understands the community and the balance officials need to offer by maintaining tight budgets that continue to provide high levels of service.

Whitcomb, who is wrapping up her second term on the Selectboard, said she wants to contribute to “big picture” issues in Hanover while also helping to improve connections between the town and college.

Whitcomb, a Hanover High School graduate, currently serves as director of campus planning for Dartmouth College.

“I have learned what is involved in running the town and would like to serve one more term to put my experience to work as we emerge from the pandemic,” she wrote in an email.

That includes developing “responsible” budgets, helping to usher in a new master plan and expanding the amount of housing in Hanover, Whitcomb said.

The budget

Town officials are proposing a $30.6 million municipal budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year, a roughly 5% decrease from Hanover’s current spending plan.

The budget includes a predicted 7.8% increase in health care costs and an additional $200,000 in payments to the New Hampshire Retirement System.

There’s also almost $60,000 set aside to fund a part-time position in Hanover’s Planning and Zoning Department to assist with inspections, along with $65,000 for a part-time sustainability director.

The Assessing Department also would get $56,300 for an assessing technician.

Officials say short-term interest will likely drop to $96,000 — down from $360,000 projected last year — because of the COVID-19 pandemic. To make up for that loss and others, they intend to use about $450,000 from surplus funds to cover costs.

If approved, officials predict the budget would result in a 13-cent increase in the town’s portion of property taxes. That amounts to a roughly $65 increase for a property valued at $500,000.

Voters also will be asked to approve three one-year contracts with Hanover’s unions, which would provide employees with 2% merit-based pay increases.

The police department contract is expected to cost taxpayers an additional $36,000 next year, the proposed agreement with firefighters would cost almost $29,000. An agreement with public works staff also would raise costs by nearly $44,000.

Noteworthy articles

A petition warrant article calls for Hanover to amend its zoning ordinance to allow two people who are unrelated to share the same bedroom.

Currently, town regulations stipulate that a single “dwelling” can at most contain a family combined with two unrelated people, or three unrelated people living together.

Under the petition, a three-bedroom home could house six residents. Whereas now, it can only have three people who aren’t related, or a family with two unrelated people.

The Planning Board also is offering an amendment to the zoning ordinance to expand access to housing. However, its plan is much more complicated.

The board proposes changing Hanover’s definition of “family,” stipulating which living situations would allow more people to share a living space.

For example, a “functional family” must “share the entire dwelling unit, living and cooking together” and share “expenses for food, rent or ownership costs, utilities, and other household expenses.”

When and where

Australian ballot voting for town officers, zoning amendments and the town manager position will be held from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Dartmouth College’s Dewey Field parking lot.

The remaining warrant articles will be acted on at 7 p.m. in a drive-in floor meeting at the same location, just north of the Geisel School of Medicine.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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