Dartmouth influences, but rarely controls, Hanover govt.

by Tracy Landers | 10/9/02 5:00am

Five minutes spent at the intersection of Main and Wheelock Streets would be enough to convince the casual observer that the Town of Hanover and Dartmouth College are inextricably linked.

But despite the constant flow of people, cars, goods and services, few students are aware of the intricacy of this relationship at the governmental level.

The actions of the town's Board of Selectmen, the highest level of local government, influences aspects of campus life from water quality to construction of new dorms to late-night noise levels. But these decisions are not made in a vacuum and Dartmouth exerts a strong influence over all aspects of Hanover's decision-making.

Ostensibly, the College has to "go through all the same hoops" as town residents when it wants to implement change, selectman chair Brian Walsh '65 said.

While this is true on the level of paperwork, the fact that Dartmouth's real estate tax is the town's largest single source of income gives the College's wishes considerable weight.

"It makes for a much more amenable relationship," selectman vice chair Katherine Connolly said of the roughly 14 percent of the government's budget which the College provides.

The strong relationship between Hanover and the College is an accepted fact of life for residents involved in local politics. Connolly herself works at the Dartmouth electron microscope lab, and the other four selectmen are all College graduates.

"If it weren't for the College, none of us would be here," Walsh admitted.

But virtually everyone within the government readily affirms that this close relationship benefits both Town and College.

Rather than a sinister force against which the town is helpless, the College represents itself as a "good neighbor," Connolly said.

Hanover's master plan reflects the generally cozy relationship the town enjoys with Dartmouth: "The Town of Hanover and Dartmouth College should continue to collaborate in making our community a livable, sustainable, enjoyable, diverse community that can be a model for American communities and colleges."

Sonya Campbell, the owner of Hanover True Value, said she thought the interests of town and College were so closely intertwined that they were often difficult to separate.

"You don't bite the hand that feeds you," Campbell said of the College, who is both her landlord and her largest client.

Hanover True Value faces relocation when the College eventually decides to rebuild the 19 lots it owns in the area, including the buildings housing Big Green Cuts and Ramunto's. But Campbell said she isn't worried.

Campbell, much like the local government officials, said she is confident that the College will do a good job of improving the land it owns downtown.

"Everyone is going to hold [the College] to a very, very high standard because of who they are and the money they have," Campbell added.

Kate Burke, the director of community relations for the College, said she hadn't encountered any active disagreement between the College and local government, but emphasized that the town acts independently.

"I wouldn't necessarily say that the College has more opportunity to represent itself" than normal citizens, Burke said. At the same time, she said College administrators and town officials at many levels are in continuous communication with each other.

The selectmen were eager to emphasize that they were elected by the townspeople independent of their connection to the College. Connolly steps down whenever there is a vote involving the College, even though she is not required to do so.

The fact that all the selectmen have ties with the College does not give Dartmouth an advantage in the outcome of their decisions, Burke said. The good relationship between College and government, for example, will not stop townspeople from voicing their opposition to the College's policy of expansion.

This summer, voters rejected the College's proposed purchase and relocation of Hanover High School. The overwhelming majority of townspeople were willing to give up the initial $18.6 million plan, which included a new school on Lyme Road, in order to keep the high school in its current location.

"When we realized that the [plans] were so divisive, we were quite anxious to work out a consensus that was approvable by the people," Reed Bergwall, director of facilities planning, said.

The town government is now considering a new proposal that would provide the town with $11.6 million to renovate Hanover High in exchange for lands near the medical school.

About the latest Hanover High proposal, Connolly said no one had come to her with any complaints, which signals the willingness on the part of the townspeople to work with -- and accept funding from -- the College.