HOOKSETT — Police officers, firefighters and local government employees packed the Hooksett Town Hall chambers on Friday morning to bid farewell to longtime Town Administrator Dean Shankle, who’s set to begin work as the Amherst town administrator on Jan. 14.
Over a breakfast spread of coffee and doughnuts, Shankle reminisced on the achievements and pitfalls of his eight years in Hooksett’s top post, with one topic in particular, the Lilac Pedestrian Bridge reconstruction, falling into both categories.
“That was done not quite the way we were hoping for it to be done,” said Shankle of the bridge’s 2017 to 2018 reconstruction, which faced significant delays due to several mismatched segments that went unnoticed by town officials.
“Looking back, I wish I would have noticed beforehand. It was a shame that nobody noticed that, including the town’s engineer,” Shankle said. “But it’s done now, and I still get compliments from people who say they like it and they use it all of the time.”
Shankle also highlighted technological changes the town has made in order to improve the video quality and accessibility of town meetings that are posted on the internet.
“There’s nothing more important than letting people know what the government is doing. Otherwise they think you’re up to something,” said Shankle.
As the town searches for Shankle’s successor, Town Councilor Donald Winterton will serve as acting town administrator.
During the six months that he’s allowed to hold the position, Winterton says continuity will be his primary objective.
“My goal is to keep this ship off the rocks,” said Winterton. “To continue the projects that we have going without interruption.”
Winterton says he also plans to play a role in the selection process of the new town administrator.
Police Chief Janet Bouchard, who was originally hired by Shankle, described the outgoing town administrator as an easygoing and supportive mentor.
“He was always very fair,” said Bouchard. “His attitude was to let me do my job, to support me and what I needed and to guide me where I needed guidance.”
When asked to describe his ideal successor, Shankle expressed his hope that Hooksett selects a replacement who already has experience with town governance in the Granite State.
“I know everyone wants to do national searches or New England searches,” said Shankle of local government recruiting practices. “But New Hampshire is sort of idiosyncratic in the way that we do government and in the things that people expect from our government.”
“Overall, we need somebody who’s not trying to make a reputation by coming in and changing everything. What you need is somebody who’s going to come in, listen and understand what we’re trying to do and then move forward with it.”