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The Dartmouth
May 20, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

New town manager Alex Torpey and community respond to issues facing Hanover

Four months into his tenure as Hanover’s chief executive, Torpey offers insight on the town’s housing and energy policies

Alex Torpey (1).jpg
Courtesy of Alex Torpey

This article is featured in the 2022 Homecoming special issue.

On June 27, Alex Torpey began his tenure as the town manager of Hanover. In the four months since taking office, Torpey, who moved to New Hampshire from New Jersey for his new position, has had to adjust to a new community and work environment. 

While Torpey said that he has had “a lot of stuff to get up to speed on,” he said he has “enjoyed” his time as town manager.

“We’ve got a great selectboard, a great staff,” he said. “I’ve really enjoyed meeting business owners and students and other stakeholders.”

Nearly four months into his tenure, Torpey said that his most important priority as town manager is increasing citizen participation in local government — as participation will make other goals, from housing to energy, more achievable.

“I would call it sort of a meta issue because it affects every other issue,” he said. “How people are informed and how they are involved touches everything.”

Hanover resident Robin Ng said that, at this point in his tenure, Torpey has had no visible impact on her life. 

“ I don’t know him very well; I’ve met him once,” Ng said. “I haven’t noticed anything in terms of [changes in] how the town is run.”

Besides citizen engagement, Torpey said his second priority is improving housing: Recent studies have described Hanover as having some of the highest housing prices and strictest zoning laws in New Hampshire. 

Torpey said that while cost is certainly an important issue, improving the quality of housing is also paramount. Specifically, Torpey said that the town is working on improving quality through the Rental Housing Inspection Ordinance, which requires regular safety inspections of rental properties, the Valley News reported.

“Every rental unit would be inspected at a minimum once every three years,” he said. “For places where there are violations, [those inspections] would occur more frequently.”

Robert Houseman, director of planning, zoning and codes for the town, said that Torpey has shown a “keen interest” in the issue of housing. Houseman, however, emphasized that the town’s plans to deal with the issue, which are not necessarily tied to the town manager, have not changed recently. 

“The project isn’t tied to Alex,” he said. “But it’s moving forward on its own track.”

Although the setting and politics of New Hampshire are very different from his previous communities, Torpey said he sees some similarities between South Orange, N.J. — where he was mayor — and Hanover. He noted that both are college towns and epicenters of their respective areas.

Dartmouth student body president David Millman ’23, who recently worked with Torpey on the Rental Housing Inspection Ordinances, said he is “excited” about the potential partnership between Hanover local government and the College’s student government.

“At least in my conversations with him as student body president, he seems really eager and willing to critically look at the issues that are facing the town in terms of housing and labor shortages and workforce transportation,” Millman said. “So I think that we are definitely headed in the right direction as a town.”

Selectboard member Nancy Carter said that the town government is going to propose new zoning standards at the May town meeting. She said that these standards will allow for more mixed-use buildings and taller buildings.

“We are going to be proposing a lot of new density standards,” she said. “[These standards] will in the next decade cause downtown Hanover, in particular, to look very different.”

Another high priority for Torpey and the rest of the town government is relations with the College. 

“Dynamics with the College is huge — it touches a lot of areas,” he said. “There was a meeting that myself and the selectboard members had with the trustees a few weeks ago. That was really exciting. We talked about new ways that we could work together.”

Millman added that a strong relationship between the town and the College, under Torpey, could be beneficial for both parties.

“[Torpey] can definitely yield a lot of positive outcomes between the town and students,” he said. “I think it’s a partnership that’s been overlooked for many years.”

Torpey said that the third most important priority for the town is “planning for the future” — especially in regards to hiring and staffing.

“I’ve probably met forty or fifty town managers in New Hampshire and Vermont in the last couple months,” he said. “There’s a lot of concern about hiring and staffing and how different services are going to be provided in the future.”

Carter said that after serving under Torpey’s predecessor Julia Griffin — who stepped down in June after 25 years of public service — she and other Hanover town officials have noticed a change in leadership style.

“[Griffin] had a very calm [leadership style],” she said. “Alex tends to lead from the front whereas [Griffin] was willing to get a group consensus [and] lead with the group.”

Regarding Torpey and Griffin’s distinct brands of leadership, Carter said that neither is “any better than the other.”

Beyond town policies, Carter said that Torpey has been “very enthusiastic” in improving the technology used by workers at town hall. She said that this push is important in light of changes in the workforce of the town.

“We have lost some people through early retirement, leaving the town and family circumstances,” she said. “[Because of this] we really do need to rely on technology more for the things that people used to come to [town hall] for — like, for example, getting your license or getting your car registered.”

Hanover’s sustainability goals are another one of the town’s top priorities, Carter said. By 2030, the town aims to power its buildings entirely by renewable energy. The town hopes to do the same for its public transportation by 2050, Carter added.

“We’ve been aggressively pursuing panels for private ownership,” she said. “We put up a huge solar field next to the wastewater treatment plant.”

Additionally, Torpey said that the town is committed to finding new ways to reach citizens.

“I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from community members about emails and podcasts,” he said. “[We’re] just trying to make it a little easier for people to participate.”