By Richard Doyle
Seacoast Scene, Wednesday, June 2, 2010
[The following article is courtesy of the Seacoast Scene]
The difference between elected leaders and workers in the trenches comes to light with someone like Fred Welch, Hampton town manager. Here is a man who is responsible for the smooth running of the community on a day to day basis when elected officials are not around. When I met with the personable and highly qualified Welch, it was obvious that he really understood his job and could call on his long tenure as a civic leader to do his complex job admirably.
Welch who has been on the job for four years carries on gallantly in his Herculean task of satisfying all components of town government. Originally from Wellesley, Massachusetts, he has been in town government for forty-seven years and therefore he has plenty of experience for whatever situation that should arise in the Hampton Town Hall.
Welch makes sure meetings are scheduled correctly and not conflicting with other matters as well as being on top of a crisis like winter storms. He must answer a lot of questions without having the selectmen right at his elbow and he is responsible for these decisions. The selectmen in turn have to feel confident with this person who they hired to do this ever daunting task. So far both sides appear to be in harmonious agreement.
Rather than go to town hall, one can get a sampling of what makes a town tick without getting involved in the politics of it all by tuning into the community channel 22 on local cable television each Monday evening at 7 pm. This relatively low key program gives the citizenry ample opportunity to educate themselves on basic civics. Even though Welch is not an elected official, he is seated prominently at the selectman's table and is referred to numerable times by everyone on the board especially current board chairman Richard Nichols.
Welch has a vast array of civic knowledge that is essential for the selectmen to do their elected jobs. Chairman Nichols can easily call Welch his "right hand man" since that is exactly where he is seated! Welch told me that his job description is enormous and includes carrying out all town and state statutes and all departments are his responsibility.
However, the biggest each year - to no one's surprise - is the budget. Hampton's annual municipal budget is $25.8 million and the town's revenue is only $7 million so the rest must come from the state and taxes. There is no guarantee each year exactly what the state of New Hampshire will bestow on the town and this makes Welch's demanding job that much tougher.
Luckily he has an excellent working relationship with the Hampton Board of Selectmen as he implements their policies. Welch believes the weekly television broadcasting of their meetings is a good way to inform the public about the intricate workings of Hampton's town government.
Soon Welch hopes to see the town adopt a July to June fiscal year instead of the calendar year plan the town now operates under presently. This change would be more in keeping with what the state government operates under in the state capital at Concord. It would make it much easier to collect tax money before the town spends it, he said.
For many town budgets recently all have been by default meaning all spending has to go to town meeting for approval as part of home rule legislation. Presently town meeting is usually held in March. If the fiscal year were changed then the town meeting could be held in April or May and maybe more people would attend and help Welch do his job much better. There is no quorum requirement for town meeting and as incredible as it may be just one person is all that is required to hold it! Hampton has had a very good representation of its citizenry attend in recent years.
Welch says that the town actually runs pretty smoothly but he would like to see a little reorganization around the public works and solid waste departments. Hampton should recycle more also, he said. These changes would make for much better fiscal operations. He has had to reorganize his own office since he's been here the past three years as his predecessor had more staff with three part time secretaries but he just has one administrative assistant to help with all the paper work - and there are tons of it these days! Typing is not one of his many skills he told me!
All Welch's work is under the supervision of the Board of Selectmen although he does hire all new town employees and all contracts must go through him. In this area he is required by state law to take the lowest qualified bidder on all jobs put out for contract by the board. Anything over $5,000 must be approved by the board also.
In a town of Hampton's size with a population between fifteen and sixteen thousand year round and ballooning to near one hundred thousand in the summer, Welch would like to see more "in-house" contracting. This would tremendously help financially he said. Local people know much better what the town needs and vice versa.
It is easy to see with Fred Welch at the helm of "the good ship" Hampton, New Hampshire that come what may the town is in the very best of hands.