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Lisbon Town Administrator's contract lapses; town to go it alone

August 15, 2018
LISBON—The Select Board allowed Town Administrator Sharon Penney's one-year contract to lapse this month, and declined to re-hire her into the position. The town has no plans to hire a replacement as of yet, and will make due with only its Select Board and administrative staff for the foreseeable future.

Select Board member Arthur Boutin said that Penney's job performance was not a factor, and that he was pleased with the work she had done. He explained the decision to let Penney's contract lapse was part of the Select Board's determination to take an increasingly active hand in day-to-day affairs. For example, member of the Select Board is in town hall most days of the week, available for administrative judgements and oversight. Boutin also said it was important to him to be able to hear citizen feedback in person. He said that Penney's contract was allowed to lapse because there wasn't enough for her to do.

Penney, an experienced town planner who lives in Franconia, was hired for a part-time, 30-hours-per-week position. In her one year tenure, she faced an infected town well and multiple power outages, and pursued grant money. She worked to update Lisbon's administration, and rebuild relationships with state and local officials.

Lisbon's town government will now rest largely with front desk administrator, Krystal Dow, and tax collector/clerk Jennifer Trelfa. Dow expressed cheerful confidence about handling any additional workload.

Lisbon already had a relatively weak town executive, because it uses the town administrator model, wherein the Select Board must sign off on a greater range of decisions than under the strong town manager model. By contrast, Littleton uses a town manager, while Franconia, Bethlehem, and Lisbon all use the administrators. For many years, Franconia didn't even have an official TA, although its then-administrative assistant served many of the same roles, according to current Franconia Administrator Holly Burbank.

The close supervisory role of the current Lisbon Select Board is intended to be a deliberate contrast with the previous board's relatively hands-off approach. Critics of the former board believed that too much authority was allowed to collect in the hands of then-administrator Dan Merhalski, whose name still evokes scoffs and grumbles from some politically engaged Lisbonites.

Lisbon made national news last year when its Select Board resigned en-masse 24 hours before town meeting, and Merhalski was forced to resign after what NHPR described as a "revolt." At the time, critics accused him of a dictatorial management style, though his defenders believed he was merely reining in overly-powerful department heads.

Garnett Hill
Martin Lord Osman
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Garnett Hill
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