Hanover town manager Alex Torpey speaks about local government in Rockefeller Center event

Torpey discussed the impacts of local government on community life and the issues facing the Hanover community.

by Taylor Haber | 1/13/23 5:08am

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Courtesy of Adrianna Drindak

On Jan. 11, the Rockefeller Center for Public Policy hosted Hanover town manager Alex Torpey in a talk called “Local Government: The Untapped Innovator.” Torpey, who became the town’s chief executive officer in June, spoke to community members about the role he envisions for local government, the housing crisis facing the Upper Valley and the relationship between Hanover town officials and the College. 

The event, which was a part of the Rockefeller Center’s “Rocky Talk Live” series, offered audience members a streaming alternative for those unable to attend in person. 36 town residents and students watched from inside the Rockefeller Center, while livestream Zoom participation peaked at 81 people, according to program officer for public programs and special events Joanne Blais. 

Rockefeller Center associate director for curricular and research programs Ronald G. Shaiko served as moderator of the event, leading off the program with opening remarks before his conversation with Torpey. Shaiko said that in light of the recent departures of long-serving town clerk Betsy McClain and Torpey’s predecessor, Julia Griffin, Hanover has “seen a lot of change, but also a lot of continuity.”

“Basically, we have a chance to rethink ourselves and rethink what government means in Hanover, New Hampshire and elsewhere in the Upper Valley,” Shaiko said.

Torpey began by charting his path to Hanover through his positions in high school and collegiate student government and, at age 23, as mayor of his hometown of South Orange, New Jersey. He added that his interest in government stems from a desire to understand how decisions get made and organizational systems at all levels.

“It’s just super interesting seeing how [decision-making] plays out in different places and trying to understand how can we do that better,” Torpey said.

Torpey said that, much like scrolling through Netflix, too much choice in local government can be “overwhelming.” Referencing the town meeting structure of local government that exists in Hanover and throughout New England, Torpey said that “the town and the governing body had a sort of default commitment to engaging with the public.” 

“But we have these structures that I guess I would ask you: Do they work, are they…getting us to our goals?” he added. 

As the conversation shifted to housing in the Upper Valley, Torpey said that he is receptive to the concept of “dissolving the boundaries between stakeholders” to form a more concrete regional policy. According to Torpey, the current housing situation in the Upper Valley forces towns to face the issue as “an island,” rather than working together and taking advantage of regional utilities.  

The competitiveness between towns is the wrong way of approaching the problem, Torpey added.

Torpey also used the forum to discuss the impacts of changes in the labor market to local governments. In particular, Torpey said that retirements among members of the baby boomer generation — who fill up many local government positions — and the proportionally lower number of Gen Z employees, is creating “retirement cliffs” in which labor shortages leave government positions unfilled. 

“So what we’re talking about is trying to find ways — and this is my not-too-subtle remark here for some of the folks in the audience — of trying to get more young people interested in working in government,” Torpey said.

Regarding the relationship Hanover local government has to Dartmouth, Torpey said that he hopes to work with the College administration, the Board of Trustees and incoming President Sian Leah Beilock on shared interests, including sustainability. 

Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, Torpey said he believes the connection between Hanover and the College has been “challenged” and that community members have expressed concerns about the dynamic between the two entities. Torpey said in recent months, after meeting with the Board, the town and the College have a chance to “reset” their relationship.

After approximately 40 minutes, the event shifted into a Q&A, in which Torpey answered questions from audience members ranging from Dartmouth student participation in local government to town conservation of old-growth forests.

Bea Burack ’25, who asked a question about local sustainability efforts, said that she appreciated Torpey’s commitment to those goals and enjoyed hearing from a local perspective. 

“When I first saw the announcement about the event, I was surprised to see that we were hearing from a town official and I thought that was fantastic,” Burack said. “Because so often [the Rockefeller Center] brings in people from really high up in government, and that’s fantastic, but it’s also great to have this accessibility to local government.”

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