Town and campus
Durham Town Administrator keeps the peace
Published: Tuesday, February 19, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, February 19, 2013 12:02
UNH is what one could call a “town and gown” community. The university is a critical part of Durham’s culture, and the interactions between the two form the citizenry that can be seen today. This kind of relationship can be harmonious and beneficial for the combined community, but it also has the potential to be strained.
But thanks in part to Durham’s Town Administrator, Todd Selig, the Durham and UNH relationship is far from strained, and both have been able to successfully meet their mutual needs for years.
“When I talk to colleagues of mine at other communities that host a major university, there is this stereotype that town and university relations are always very poor,” Selig said. “I’m pleased to say in Durham that is not the case.”
A New Hampshire native and graduate of UNH’s Public Administration Master program, Selig has spent his career working in local government in a variety of town and school settings. These include the assistant town manager in Raymond, assistant to the city manager in Laconia, town administrator in New Boston, and business manager of the Hopkinton school district.
The position for Durham’s town administrator opened in 2001, and Selig became very interested in the position. At the time, the town council’s goal was to strengthen its relationship with UNH, which was “at an all-time low” due to a dispute over Moore Fields.
“Relationship-building is my specialty,” Selig said. “That’s what I focus on with the work that I do.”
In fact, building relationships is one of Selig’s strongest attributes, according to the town’s annual evaluation of the town administrator. He scored a 4.8 out of 5 in the “Ability to maintain or improve strong relationships with external entities such as UNH…” category, and an overall average of 4.5 out of 5 in the whole evaluation.
Dick Cannon, the vice president of finance and administration at UNH, believes this strong relationship comes from Selig’s openness for discussion and dealings.
“Todd is very approachable and maintains a constant open line of communication,” Cannon said in an email. “He seeks collaborative agreements that are fair and equitable to UNH and the town.”
The improved relationship is due to the recognition of the importance of UNH students in the Durham community and their impact on commercial success. Much of the construction and growth seen in the downtown has been focused on mixed buildings with a combination of residential and non-residential spaces. The four-story property that contains FroyoWorld is one example.
The belief is that as more students move into the downtown area, Durham will see an increase in the downtown area’s commercial success.
“We’ve found a way, working with the university and interested developers, to capitalize on the presence of the university here,” Selig said. “The student housing portion of this new construction downtown is creating new available space for other types of commercial activities, which we believe will make Durham a much more vibrant community than it actually is for years to come.”
The town council recently approved Selig for a new four-year contract as Durham’s administrator. The contract states he will be working with Durham through at least Dec. 31, 2016, and according to Selig the community can expect “even more to come” to the downtown area. A new hotel and a new location for the UNH Bookstore are currently in the works.
Local businesses see this connection between the town and UNH every day. Ever since managing Breaking New Grounds on Main Street, Todd Govoni has noticed that both college students and Durham residents interact very well together.
“I think it’s a great relationship,” Govoni said. “I think all the townspeople love living in a college town. They all mingle really well, as far as I can tell. Everyone that comes here is very positive.”
While Govoni claims that business hasn’t necessarily increased since the off-campus apartments were built, he thinks it is too soon to tell how off-campus students will affect commercial success. He believes that it will be clearer in the spring when the weather gets warmer.
Cannon agrees that UNH has a wonderful relationship with Durham and said it’s the best he’s seen while working on campus.
“It is really as good as I have seen in my seven-plus years at UNH,” he said.