Verbum Ultimum: The Selectboard’s Next Selection
The Hanover Selectboard must choose a new town manager who supports a student-inclusive agenda and broad-based business and housing development in the town.
Since 1996, Julia Griffin has served at the helm of Hanover local government, in her role as town manager overseeing day-to-day operations and the town’s almost 30 departments. Now, 25 years later, her long career in public service will come to a close: Late last week, Griffin announced her plans to step down from the role following the annual town meeting in spring 2022.
As her nearly three decades of service to the town of Hanover reach their end, the lasting legacy of Griffin’s stint as town manager has started to come into clearer focus. This legacy will include Hanover’s recent joining of the Community Power Coalition of New Hampshire, a move that promises to help the town realize its goal of transitioning to 100% renewable energy by 2030, as well as the town’s acquisition of the land now known as the Mink Brook Community Forest, a space offering Upper Valley residents a venue to hike and snowshoe and securing a vital migration corridor for Hanover’s wildlife. From our perspective as student journalists, another defining marker of Griffin’s tenure has been her consistent openness and transparency with local reporters, including those from The Dartmouth — commendable for a government official often tasked with making and justifying potentially unpopular decisions. We wish her the best in her coming retirement.
In light of Griffin’s retirement, residents will no doubt begin to reflect on the role of the town manager and its significance to Hanover, contributing their voices to a vitally important conversation about the future of this town. As these conversations take place, we call on the Selectboard, whose search for a new town manager begins soon, to listen carefully, paying special attention to the suggestions of residents — including those made by students, who make up one third of this town’s population. To ensure student voices are adequately considered, two concrete steps that the Selectboard should consider are meeting with student leaders on campus — Student Assembly and Palaeopitus would be a good start — and holding events on campus to solicit student input.
Taking these steps will be especially critical in light of Griffin’s now-tense relationship with the student body, which has been especially bitter since July 2020, when she penned a guest column in this newspaper titled “Selfish Students.” In it, she chastised undergraduates for what she deemed “irresponsible behavior” during the COVID-19 pandemic while largely ignoring the comparable behavior of other Hanover residents. Regardless of the merit of her claim, the column alienated students and inflicted lasting damage to the student-town relationship, damage that the next town manager will be tasked with repairing. To mend fences will require a town manager able to build coalitions between student and non-student residents on issues such as housing, public health policy and commerce in town. Holding regular events on Dartmouth’s campus — say, the equivalent of “office hours” on Collis porch, or other events intended to engage with students and explain policy issues to them — could go a long way toward rebuilding this relationship. The continued happiness of all residents and the vitality of the town depend on the ability of the next town manager to represent everyone.
A keen eye for the town’s continued economic development is another essential quality the Selectboard should seek out. Even before the pandemic, commercial turnover had long plagued Hanover, and if the economic vitality of this town is to continue, the next town manager will need to make attracting and retaining new and diverse types of businesses a top priority.
Even more importantly, the next town manager should be able and willing to address the town’s ongoing housing shortage. In large part because of the obstinate residents who block necessary College expansion projects and due to inflexible zoning laws — Hanover’s are some of the strictest in the state — the Upper Valley has for years dealt with a yawning gap between the number of housing units and demand. These rules and selfish objections prevent property owners and developers from doing what they’d like with the land they own and the supply from expanding to meet the needs of the community. To finally make headway in addressing the region’s housing crunch, the next town manager must be willing to advocate for strategic development in downtown Hanover and stand up to anti-development residents.
Hanover is currently at the precipice of what may be a monumental change for the town. The decisions of the Selectboard in the next several months will likely impact Hanover for decades to come, and as major stakeholders in the success — or failure — of the town, students cannot be shut out from conversations about who can best lead the town. As students from a diverse array of backgrounds and experiences, we call upon the Selectboard to choose a town manager who represents all residents — student and non-student alike — with fairness and compassion, and who will lead Hanover into a successful and vibrant future.
The editorial board consists of opinion staff columnists, the opinion editors, the executive editors and the editor-in-chief.