Community members express mixed feelings following announcement of Hanover town manager Julia Griffin’s plans to retire
Griffin has served as town manager for the past 25 years; while town organization members wish her well, students remember Griffin for her guest column “Selfish Students.”
Following Hanover town manager Julia Griffin’s announcement of her intention to retire next year after the May 2022 Town Meeting, students and community members had varied reactions.
Over her 25 years as town manager, Griffin helped broker a deal between the town, the College and the Dresden School District to build Richmond Middle School. Under her management the town allocated land to the Mink Brook Community Forest and began the process of transitioning Hanover to renewable energy under the Sustainable Hanover initiative. Recently, the town signed a deal to join the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire that promises to help Hanover meet renewable electricity goals.
Communications and legislative affairs director for the New Hampshire retirement board of trustees Marty Karlon praised Griffin’s work ethic. According to Karlon, Griffin represented municipal employers as a trustee when she served on the board from 2014 to 2017.
“On a personal level, I think she is one of those rare people you come across whose energy [...] leaves a lasting impression,” Karlon said, “We all are going to wish her the best in retirement, and we enjoyed having her on our board.”
Hanover Conservancy executive director Adair Mulligan commended Griffin’s work in environmental justice for the conservancy — the oldest local land trust in New Hampshire.
“She understands how important natural solutions to climate change are in dealing with that crisis in our community,” Mulligan said.
According to Mulligan, Griffin frequently partnered with the Conservancy in efforts to establish recreational activities on the Trescott water supply lands in Hanover. To honor Griffin’s work, the Conservancy organized a public event on Oct. 2; Mulligan added that the Conservancy plans to host a second, more private event for Griffin in the future.
Griffin’s tenure, however, was not without controversy — on several occasions she had public disagreements with the New Hampshire state government and with governor Chris Sununu, most recently denouncing the state’s decision to exclude out-of-state students from vaccine eligibility in April. In 2018 the governor chose not to reappoint Griffin to the New Hampshire Retirement System Board of Trustees despite support from several state officials.
Griffin has also raised ire in town affairs. In a July 2020 guest column titled “Selfish Students,” Griffin wrote in The Dartmouth that students displayed “irresponsible behavior” during the pandemic. At the July 2021 Hanover Town Meeting, a student-initiated article was put to a vote over maintaining the town manager position — passing with 1,200 votes in favor and 475 against.
David Millman ’23, who campaigned for the Hanover selectboard this past summer, said that the column was the most important motivation for his campaign. Millman said the town of Hanover’s lack of communication with the College was a catalyst for Griffin’s piece.
“There is no means of communication between these two bodies, and therefore it is very easy to see why [Griffin] would hold these attitudes,” Millman said. “If there was communication and engagement in a more official capacity before the pandemic, we might have seen [that] this op-ed would have never been written.”
The op-ed prompted a student op-ed in response in The Dartmouth by Jordan Sanz ’22, who wrote that Griffin’s message only further divided the community in an already difficult time. Sanz said he noticed a “building anger” over the summer, as the town “felt like it was pitting community residents versus students.”
Nicolas Macri ’24 said he was disappointed in Griffin’s op-ed and her handling of the pandemic — claiming she prioritized the needs of Hanover residents over the feelings of students and that students were negatively impacted by her article.
“It sort of rubbed a lot of people the wrong way when she refused to apologize or acknowledge that some people’s feelings may have been hurt,” Macri said. “I feel like a relatively easy thing for a politician to do is say ‘Yeah, that wasn’t what I meant, I’m sorry. I didn’t want to give the impression that I didn’t care about you.’”
Sanz added that he wrote the article to communicate that Dartmouth students “want to help and want to make this community a stronger and better place.”
“We’re not the enemy here,” Sanz said. “And I wanted that to get across with my article.”
In response to the news of Griffin’s retirement, Sanz said he has no “ill-will” towards Griffin and said that she “has obviously done a great job managing the town.”
“Managing the town is not any kind of easy role,” Sanz said. “We should all be very thankful for the work that she’s done.”
In the search for Griffin’s successor, Millman said he hopes students will be involved in the process. He added that he is currently working with the Student Assembly to create a liaison appointment between the College and Hanover, expressing hope for increased transparency in general.
Similarly, Sanz hopes that the search for the new town manager includes both Dartmouth officials and students, saying it would be a “great way to really show that the town of Hanover is committed to making sure that everyone in the town is heard and looked after.”
Miles Harris ’23 said he assumes the next town manager will be “very similar” to Griffin, as he expects the search process to involve the same people that chose Griffin.
Harris said he heard the news of Griffin’s retirement, but hasn’t thought about it enough to look into Griffin’s background and specific town policies.
“As a student, I don’t really have much say in those matters,” Harris said. “So I wouldn’t say [I have opinions on] any policies besides the general Dartmouth groupthink of being ‘Oh, Julia Griffin’s the worst — she makes us wear masks,’ but also it’s not that big of a deal. I figure she’s just the town manager and I never really thought too much about it.”
Macri noted how Griffin’s handling of COVID-19 does not completely overshadow her leadership in Hanover as town manager.
“I know it is difficult to lead in such a difficult time,” he said.
Arielle Beak ’22 contributed to reporting.