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New Lisbon Select Board works to re-build confidence in town's leadership

May 16, 2017
LISBON—The select board met Tuesday, and provided a lively illustration of the governing challenges facing this riverside town of 1,595.

Lisbon's political scene was first rocked in February, when former Town Administrator Dan Merhalski resigned in the face of a warrant article to eliminate his position, the second such effort in a year. Voters who spoke with the Courier at the time described Merhalski's management style as heavy-handed.

Not all agreed, including members of the former select board. For those who supported Merhalski, he was a necessary antidote to years of disorganized administration. To those who forced him from office, he was unacceptably authoritarian.

A little over a month later, the town's political civic was decapitated when all three selectmen resigned en-masse at their regular March 20 Monday meeting. The resignation seems to have been unplanned, but conflict between the board and a number of citizens had been persistent for years.

The political vacuum proved doubly challenging, coming as it did less than a day before Lisbon's town meeting. Citizens scrambled to fill the gap, and town meeting went on as planned. Since then, an entirely new board has taken on the challenges of governing a town that former selectman Peter Nightingale once described as a "in a death spiral."

The board is currently chaired by Scott Champagne, who won election at town meeting. It also includes Arthur Boutin and Brian Higgins, both of whom are serving temporary terms until 2018. Chairman Champagne will serve until 2020, and appears to enjoy the trust of those citizens who opposed the former board and administrator.

The board is pursuing a new town administrator. According to Littleton Town Manager Andrew Dorsett, temporary town managers can cost as much as $100 per hour, or almost $200,000 per year.

Champagne explained that the town intends to place ads in Boston, Maine, and Vermont, as well as in local papers. However, he balked at paying the $1,300 price for one ad in Vermont, saying, "We're not going to do that." By comparison, career Web site Monster.com charges some $300 for a similar posting.

The board has already received several responses from online sources, and from the New Hampshire Municipal Association. Ads will run until May 26.

Champagne opined the nest town administrator should have both the ability and willingness to pursue outside funding opportunities, saying, "We need somebody in this town that wants to write grants."

In neighboring Littleton, grants through the federal Community Development Block Grant program have been important for such projects as the Riverwalk project and an upgrade to the Co-Op.

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