Valley Information – City supervisor Griffin winds down tenure after quietly remaking Hanover

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HANOVER — In sure respects, Julia Griffin’s profession in municipal authorities has unspooled backward, as she labored from New York Metropolis, by means of Santa Monica, Calif., then Harmony, to an extended profession in Hanover, the place she began work in 1996, and from which she’s going to retire this week. Like baseball managers, metropolis managers have a tendency to begin within the minor burgs and work their option to the bigs.

However checked out one other approach, Griffin began in a teeming metropolis and labored her approach up, managing Hanover as its taxable property hit $1 billion in 1999, and $2 billion a few years in the past.

When Griffin got here to Hanover, it was nonetheless very a lot a small New England school city, led by an elected Selectboard and a supervisor who oversaw a small employees. Dartmouth Faculty was largely unchecked, because the city had too little employees to chart a separate course from its largest employer. Her tenure has been dedicated to increase an expert employees to handle each side of city, its relationship with Dartmouth included.

“I feel Julia understood and even helped create the Hanover tradition,” stated Peter Christie, a longtime Selectboard member. She was seen in locations throughout city and outdoors working hours.

Now, as she’s set to retire this week, the city’s massive challenges are tied to its affluence. Can Hanover discover methods to develop and turn into extra welcoming (learn: reasonably priced) to younger households? How will residents reply to Dartmouth’s expansive new view of its footprint? Will a brand new technology step in to reinvigorate the city assembly type of authorities? Can Hanover’s downtown companies survive, caught between the rock of excessive rents and the exhausting place of e-commerce?

Griffin hopes to form solutions to those questions from exterior the city administration, as a public-spirited and decidedly progressive citizen who will serve on a number of nonprofit boards. She and husband John Steidl, who’s retiring on the identical day from the administration job he’s held at Dartmouth for the previous 11 years, plan to remain in Hanover.

Backed by the city’s wealth and savvy, Griffin was in a position to develop a city administration that runs like a well-oiled machine. Its politics are usually fairly clean, too, however some friction appears inevitable as residents contemplate the city’s subsequent wave of improvement.

“It’s turn into unaffordable. , my home once we purchased it, in 1996, was $321,000, on your primary four-bedroom modular colonial on 3.25 acres,” Griffin stated in a current interview in her City Corridor workplace. “It was simply assessed at $956,000. Wow! I couldn’t, if the board had been hiring me as we speak, as city supervisor at my wage, I don’t suppose John and I might have swung it.”

(She was employed at a wage of $76,000, and now makes practically $160,000.)

Early days

Fortunately for Hanover, instances had been completely different.

When the Hanover Selectboard put out the decision within the winter of 1995-96 for a alternative for retiring City Supervisor Cliff Vermilya there was no scarcity of candidates.

“We had — I can’t keep in mind who dealt with the search, however we had 100 resumes,” Dorothy Heinrichs, who was on the Selectboard on the time, stated in a telephone interview.

When she took them residence to Etna to learn them, she sorted them into stacks, separating seemingly candidates from the unlikely. However one was in a class all its personal, Heinrichs stated, clearly the particular person Hanover ought to rent: Julia Griffin.

Her fellow board members felt the identical approach.

“It was a unanimous choice,” stated Heinrichs, who now lives in Orange. “It was a simple choice.”

Not solely did Griffin have the background for the job, Heinrichs stated, she exhibited a breadth of pursuits and a heat unusual amongst executives. Her choice to maneuver to a smaller city to lift her two kids — she was pregnant along with her second, Christopher, whereas interviewing in Hanover — additionally was in her favor.

Vermilya had recruited her, Griffin stated. “He stated, ‘That is only a fantastic place to work. It’s a beautiful place to be a working mother or father,’ ” she recalled.

Her job interview consisted of a dinner on the Hanover Inn, and the city put her and John up in a room in a single day. The subsequent day, Marilyn “Willy” Black, the formidable longtime Selectboard member, drove her round city, ending at Hanover’s Ray College.

“She was no dummy,” Griffin stated of Black, who died in 2018. Seeing the varsity her daughter, Catie, then 7, would attend sealed the deal.

Immediately, when she began work in July 1996, Griffin began fixing issues.

For all its Ivy League polish, Hanover didn’t have anybody in command of human assets for a city workforce that on the time had 286 workers. Lawsuits over office harassment weren’t unusual.

“My very first week right here, I used to be sitting on the desk subsequent to Charlie Bauer, who was defending the city in a case filed by a former public works worker,” alleging harassment, Griffin recalled.

At her urging, the Selectboard empowered her to rent the city’s first human assets director, Barry Cox, who had served in the identical function in Merrimack County.

“It had fast constructive advantages as a result of we had been coping with points appropriately earlier than they turn into lawsuits,” she stated.

She additionally diversified the pool of legal professionals the city known as upon, turning to specialists in employment, land use, telecommuncations and different areas of regulation that required deeper data.

“I used to be not snug with having only one legal professional deal with all of our authorized issues, notably in that Hanover was and at all times has been a group the place you take care of a number of land use litigation,” she stated.

This problem-solving method dates to the early days of Griffin’s skilled life.

Her path to administration wasn’t a straight one. Born in Michigan and raised largely in Denver, a key occasion in her early years was a transfer east, to Darien, Conn., when her father was transferred to New York.

“I’m, largely, a product of that transition, in that I hated what Darien stood for,” Griffin stated.

In status-obsessed Darien, Griffin was often known as “that hick from Colorado,” and he or she wore that outsider standing proudly.

On a 1974 school tour, her father stated, “ ‘Let’s drive by means of Hanover,’ ” Griffin stated. “I stated, ‘Oh my God, what sort of again of past is that this place?’ ”

Her household by no means lets her dwell down this early evaluation.

She graduated from Wesleyan College in Connecticut, the place she majored in authorities, with a give attention to worldwide improvement, notably in Africa. She went by means of the worldwide relations masters program at Yale, which was the place her profession took form.

She did some work with the help group Save the Youngsters: “I used to be type of shocked at how poorly managed it was.” She took a few programs on the faculty of administration and was invited to pursue a level targeted on nonprofit administration.

She thought she was going to work within the growing world, however the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 led to a slashing of international help to the organizations she’d have labored for.

As an alternative, she spent weeks driving round New York in rubbish vans.

As a consulting challenge for town, she and a few of her Yale graduate faculty classmates had been assigned to assist clear up a serious downside for the New York Sanitation Division. The vans had been operated by three-man crews who suffered big employees’ compensation claims. Town deliberate to switch them with two-man groups and a machine that lifted and emptied trash cans. The union took some convincing.

“I had a lot enjoyable attending to know these guys and speaking with them about what they had been involved about,” she stated.

The consultants discovered transition to the two-man vans with out laying anybody off.

From there she consulted with town division that dealt with the $400 million price range for particular companies for kids.

Southern California, the place she served as a price range analyst and in emergency administration within the Santa Monica metropolis supervisor’s workplace, didn’t go well with her or Steidl, so she seemed for a job in New England.

She served as assistant metropolis supervisor in Harmony for a 12 months earlier than her boss, who had clashed with the Metropolis Council over one of the best ways to deal with an financial downturn, was fired. The council requested Griffin to function interim supervisor for a 12 months. She was 35.

“It was, as I look again, approach too quickly for me to be thrust into that place,” she stated.

However she managed it effectively sufficient to remain for an additional 4½ years earlier than she moved to Hanover.

A rising city

Working in bigger communities ready Griffin for Hanover, which was rising and wanted a few of the administrative buildings with which its new supervisor.

Along with including an HR director and increasing the city’s pool of legal professionals, Griffin acknowledged that the city didn’t have the planning, zoning and constructing code employees wanted to uphold its personal laws, notably the place Dartmouth was involved. Hanover employed only a planning director, a part-time constructing inspector and an administrative assistant.

“It was simply approach too folksy, approach too casual. And the school particularly was used to doing no matter they wished to do, as a result of the idea was they constructed high-quality buildings,” Griffin stated. “Their plans had been top-notch, however they weren’t used to being regulated by constructing codes, planning and zoning. And so it took me a few years to get that group reconstructed, and for my part enhanced, and the school bristled, as a result of we had been all of the sudden holding them to a typical in each the plan assessment and the board assessment and the inspection course of that they hadn’t needed to adhere to prior, and it was actually bumpy for my first, I’d say, 5 or 6 years right here with the school as a result of they simply resented being overseen as strictly as we had been overseeing them.”

Hanover officers have been at odds with the school over a variety of points throughout Griffin’s tenure, notably underage consuming and the school’s persevering with development, or in some instances the dearth of it.

Dartmouth dropped plans to develop graduate pupil housing when it confronted a monetary crunch in the course of the Nice Recession, for instance. Previous to the recession, Dartmouth redeveloped its Sachem Village housing and constructed the South Block, a mixture of business, workplace and residential improvement on South Road. Hanover officers had urged the school to purchase the property that turned the South Block, she stated, and one other piece on Sargent Road, partly as a result of Dartmouth college students had been residing within the space and the housing was substandard. Submit-recession, tasks on Grasse Highway and at Rivercrest, off Lyme Highway, additionally stalled.

“It’s clear to me that that halt on off-campus residential development efforts the school had lengthy been concerned with was a turning level that’s partially contributed to what we’re seeing proper now, which is the ten,000-plus insufficiency of housing models in our area,” she stated. “The faculty was an enormous participant, an essential massive participant, and does high-quality development.”

Hanover noticed influxes of latest residents after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist assaults, and once more in the course of the coronavirus pandemic, Griffin stated. However the city is essentially constructed out on the land served by current water and sewer infrastructure. Housing prices have skyrocketed, and a swap to denser zoning is an ongoing political problem.

For instance, in 2015, the city requested voters to allow higher-density housing on West Wheelock Road, a proposal that went all the way down to defeat. However Dartmouth college students led the cost to carry the proposal again up this 12 months, and voters accepted it.

“We’re additionally listening to by means of our sustainability grasp plan surveys and in conferences {that a} bigger variety of Hanover residents, not simply college students, are recognizing that we’d like extra housing choices on the town. So I feel the tide is popping,” Griffin stated.

The tide may additionally be handing over downtown Hanover, which has struggled for a number of years as buying habits have modified. Dartmouth ends its fall time period at Thanksgiving and doesn’t restart till after New 12 months’s Day, however even when the scholars had been round for the Christmas buying season, they’d seemingly be shopping for presents on-line.

The pandemic seems to have modified {that a} bit, Griffin stated. Provide chain points that affected massive field and on-line retailers had one thing to do with it.

“However a part of it was simply saying, ‘Wow, I higher admire what I’ve obtained right here and assist it as a result of in any other case, these companies are completely going to go beneath,’ ” she stated.

The city additionally goes to should reckon with declining participation in City Assembly, and Griffin stated it is perhaps time to think about a metropolis council, or extra seemingly, a city council type of authorities. The technology of residents that has volunteered for city boards and different duties at the moment are of their 70s and 80s. Newcomers to city are much less conversant with the annual assembly and the way it works. A council type of authorities, the place elected officers approve price range and zoning modifications on their very own, is extra nimble.

However that’s a difficulty for her successor, Alex Torpey, to resolve, Griffin stated. At 34, Torpey is 5 years youthful than Griffin was when she began in Hanover.

Christie, the longtime Selectboard member, stated the city is “very dedicated to the City Assembly,” and that Torpey is as effectively.

“I sit up for watching Alex go to work on these points,” Griffin stated, “as a result of the subsequent technology wants to assist direct the options, as a result of I can’t relate to them. I feel I perceive them, however it’s worthwhile to be one among them to form of lead that rejuvenated public dedication and understanding of native authorities.”

The human factor

True to this deferential stance, Griffin has largely steered away from partisan politics, notably the place she knew she would solely impede a possible answer.

She’s additionally obtained Hanover discovered. She has lengthy known as it “a metropolis dressed like a city.” When she arrived, offers between the city and the school had been nonetheless labored out by handshake, an period that’s ended, however that was efficient in its day. Residing in a city means making choices with the understanding that you just’re going to see individuals from the group at Little League video games and within the grocery retailer.

Meaning for an administrator, many political disputes aren’t price having. Hanover Public Work Director Peter Kulbacki famous that Griffin tried to “keep out of the picking-a-side, when there isn’t a facet you’ll be able to decide and win.”

Griffin employed Kulbacki in 1997 and he’s remained on the job since then, one among a spread of city workers with prolonged tenures.

Maybe as a result of Hanover is replete with members of what is perhaps known as “the managerial class,” elected management tends to get the job finished with out a lot fuss. Griffin famous that the various Selectboard members she’s labored with have given her steerage and let her do her job. And that’s how she in flip has managed the city.

“She doesn’t step in your ft and micromanage,” Kulbacki stated. “However she made positive you adopted what the group needs.”

Aided by a capacious reminiscence and a relentless presence, she saved in contact with the group’s wants and needs.

“She is aware of what’s happening in nearly each side of the city,” Kulbacki stated, including that he doesn’t know the way she retains monitor of all of it.

Griffin stated she by no means might have predicted she’d be in Hanover for thus lengthy.

“Native authorities is extra contentious than it was,” she stated, and her profession would ordinarily have taken her to a a lot bigger group.

One of many qualities that obtained her employed within the first place was important to her success.

“I feel the one attribute of Julia is that she is likely one of the most caring people on this planet,” Christie stated.

Kulbacki agreed, calling her “genuinely a very heat human being. … The human factor is absolutely essential. That’s why she did so effectively.”

Alex Hanson might be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.

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