Get To know Hanover's New Town Manager Alex TorpeyAug 22, 2022 01:29PM ● By Rose Terami
Q: Why do you want to be Hanover’s town manager?
A: I think this is something like a three-part question. First, broadly speaking, I think local government is one of the greatest places for people to plug in if they want to make an impact and help their community. The range of issues that come up and the opportunity for making a difference typically far exceeds that of the levels of government that tend to take up our news feeds. Next, generally, town manager is a unique and interesting position to be in. I see myself as sort of a coach of a larger team. A big part of a good manager’s job is to help support the people in your senior positions to be able to do what they need to do. Of course, there are specific project areas that I work on or drive beyond that, but I would say it’s a cool position in part because you get to touch every issue that comes into the town government, learn a lot, connect dots when needed, and help others succeed. And lastly, Hanover specifically spoke to me on a few levels. Coming up here allows me to live and work in ways that connect me to our natural world, improve the way we engage with communities toward solving issues we face, and a whole lot more. I felt an instant connection with the area when I came up to interview, and easily accepted the position when it was offered.
Q: What kind of leadership experience do you have?
A: All of my experiences, whether as my hometown’s mayor, a town administrator in two towns, an entrepreneur and consultant, a professor in an MPA program, a volunteer EMT and Emergency Management Director, or just from traveling and meeting people and engaging them in conversations about what’s happening in the world around us, I think I’ve gained insight into a number of important values that have really stuck with me over the years.
One example that we could probably prioritize more as a culture is humility. An appreciation for the vastness of others’ experiences and the existence of legitimately different perspectives that don’t easily plot on a scale such as "right to wrong." The same sort of feeling that some get when they look out on a clear night and see the stars or they approach a vista on a hike and gaze upon a wild forest below. These experiences help remind us that we are part of a much bigger project and we have access to only a small bit of it. Running for office and winning by only 12 votes really got that stuck in me. Whereas some people run for office and, if they win, take that as some sort of mandate, I saw my win as lucky and I was gracious for the opportunity it gave me. I think this kind of mindset is important because it does things like naturally leading one to reach for (critical) advice and feedback, creating diverse and collaborative teams, and just appreciating that there are multiple ways to think about what’s happening around us.
I talk about humility in the courses I teach, and I have studied and consulted on projects that touch leadership enough to see how impactful it is when you have it versus when you don’t.
Q: What are some of your main goals as Hanover’s new town manager?
A: Housing is obviously one of the important regional issues. Not just any ol’ housing, but housing that is more affordable, sustainably built, and that is values-aligned with us in terms of creating community and encouraging, or at least allowing, alternate transportation means. And it’s not just a regional issue, it’s a key issue facing the town as an employer. Like many employers, especially public-sector organizations, we are having trouble hiring. The labor pool is shrinking, especially in the public sector, as the baby boomers retire and are replaced with a smaller generation that is not as inclined to find the benefits of public-sector employment (stability, longevity, retirement benefits) as compelling. We’re going to have to shift our hiring and employment practices as an industry if we are to continue to be able to provide the level of services people need, and a big part of that is finding ways to house (and provide childcare) for new employees so they could actually move here for a job. And ideally, that they would land here in a way that helps them integrate into the community and really make the best of their experience in whatever way that means for them.
Q: How are you getting to know the people of Hanover?
A: I’ve been reaching out and talking with a lot of different stakeholders since getting here and have met a ton of really interesting people. Pretty much each time I meet with someone I try to ask for an introduction to someone else, so I’m sort of following a trail (of course I have to relate back to the outdoors). I have met many local stakeholders such as folks at Vital Communities, the UVBA, CATV, Dartmouth, and the New Hampshire Municipal Management Association, as well as business owners, residents, students, volunteers, and others in town. I’ve started putting information out through the monthly Hanover Happenings podcast, as well as communicating with people directly and taking feedback on some of these ideas. I encourage people to reach out! And we’ll be starting a couple new committees shortly that will really help in creating a discussion space with a number of stakeholders on some of these projects.
Q: What are some of your interests or passions? Do any of them relate to your new role as town manager?
A: I spend a lot of time learning and
thinking and discussing ideas with colleagues and friends, sometimes in
structured spaces such as taking classes together, and sometimes just more
informally, sharing information, especially about topics that touch on philosophy,
consciousness, ecology, and so much more. I also spend a lot of time outside,
and so a great day is combining the two—taking a hike and wrapping up with a
good book or interesting chat around a campfire sounds pretty good to me!
Two things that really surfaced last year when I took my "sabbatical" four-month trip across the country was that I would like to be in a community that allowed me to live in a way more connected to nature and have that as a bigger part of my job responsibilities, and that I wanted to be and work in a community that really valued civic participation. These priorities really became clear last year, of not wanting to compromise on either, and Hanover fit nicely with them both!
Last year, I also started pursuing some creative projects, such as a science-fiction novel that I’m north of 200 pages into writing and starting to relearn playing music (I used to play drums, so I never really learned how to read/play music correctly).
Q: What are you most looking forward to about your new role?
A: There’s a lot to be excited about, I think. We face a number of challenges as a region and community (and really, as a world), but I feel generally encouraged about our ability here in town to break off pieces that we can wrap our heads around and make tangible progress that doesn’t just improve outcomes directly, but which helps others do the same and participates in a broader discussion of how best to address some of these issues. For example, we’ve made incredible progress in the areas of energy related to our environmental footprint, but I hope to round that out by tackling issues with our waste stream, finding ways to reduce waste overall, and possibly eliminating food waste from our waste stream entirely. I think you could argue that up until humans, and really the more "modern" living ideologies, no food in the natural world was ever "wasted." We are so out of line with the natural world here, and I think there is a lot of opportunity to readjust, actually lower our costs (wet, heavy garbage is really expensive to dispose of), improve our environmental footprint, and reinvest in local supply chains that keep resources in our community and region.
I think that to accomplish any of these things, we need to have a well-constructed framework for how to work together as a community, and the commitment and history of that is in part what brought me to Hanover. But it means that continuing to invest in that, frameworks for shaping a constructive, collaborative civic space, is critical, as it’s sort of a meta-issue to everything else out there. If we can’t have empathetic, nuanced conversations about the issues that face us, then we will not be able to make good decisions and make progress. So again, that’s a top priority as well, and something I think Hanover is well positioned to both experiment and lead on.
And even though we are going to face some tough points as an organization with a lot of turnover happening in the next five years amidst a shrinking labor market, I think we will find some creative solutions, hopefully in collaboration with neighboring towns facing similar challenges. Although there is going to likely be some belt-tightening in the years to come, it’s also an opportunity to discover creative solutions and build some bridges with others and find some new efficiencies. Digging into those sorts of challenges is one of the reasons this is a great line of work.