Tough Job Ahead To Replace Manager

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An Editorial

Hampton Union, Tuesday, July 4, 2006

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]

James Barrington alluded to a "spirit of negativity" in the town of Hampton while discussing his decision to resign his post as town manager.

Some will slough this off and mumble about kowtowing to municipal unions and others responsible for driving up the budget.

And some will remember the period of disarray before Barrington came to town while pointing to the stability of Barrington's tenure.

Regardless of what camp you may fall in, there is the indisputable fact of just how important it is to find the right successor for Barrington. The next town manager will have all of the challenges Barrington faced, and then some.

Barrington certainly played a significant part in many accomplishments during his tenure, especially the sewer upgrade at Hampton Beach. However, that is arguably step one in what is sure to be a long process. And certainly, the re-creation of the beach will add to the town's growing population and put new and altered pressures on existing town services.

Being Hampton's town manager is not an easy job, and as Hampton itself and other Seacoast towns can attest, getting a qualified, capable professional is not easy.

Any candidate should be made fully aware of the "power struggle going on between elected officials" to which Barrington spoke. It seems everything is a controversy, someone is always a victim of what someone else is doing. This is seemingly true whether it be choosing the chairperson of the Board of Selectmen, the role of the town's Budget Committee, a growth ordinance or the power of the Hampton Beach Commission.

This town clearly needs someone with energy, dedication and a steadfast willingness to herd political cats so the future of Hampton doesn't fall victim to infighting and ego machinations of presumed power.

Telling the firefighters union it must live within a budget voters will support is not an easy task, but it is expected from the town manager and Board of Selectmen. For that matter, making voters aware of the absolute need to invest in services, schools and infrastructure is indeed a fact of life. As the saying goes, "Death and taxes and childbirth! There's never any convenient time for any of them."

And yet Barrington's struggle was not just against complaints of rising taxes and default budgets.

"I don't understand when they say we can't afford it, but expect the town to provide the same services it always has," he said. "You can't have it both ways."

To be sure, the rising cost of living, coupled with an aging population, is going to continue to feed the motivation of voters who have taken a "just say no" attitude to tax increases. Barrington's tenure lasted 9½ years. The next 10 years may make his time look like a relative walk in the park.

Selectmen ought to keep the words of Barrington in mind as they seek his replacement. And they ought to pay particular attention to the role a manager plays in balancing the needs and wants of the various groups that make Hampton the town that it is.

--The Hampton Union

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