Ed Samson is stepping down.
The Lancaster Town Manager will be leaving his post after 15 years, he confirmed on Thursday.
He will be replaced by Planning and Zoning Coordinator Benjamin Gaetjens-Oleson. The transition will occur over the next three months.
“I was always told ‘You’ll know when it’s time” and I guess I felt it was time,” Samson said.
Born and raised in Lancaster, Samson, 61, made a career of public service. He worked 27 years in the police department (the last 13 years as chief) before taking over as town manager in 2006.
During his tenure, Lancaster functioned like a well-oiled machine.
Samson recruited and retained experienced department heads, rebuilt the town infrastructure, supported business growth, and protected taxpayers.
True to form, he declined to take credit for those accomplishments.
“I’ve never been one to hog the glory,” he said. “Because I could not be effective at all if I didn’t have people that trusted in me, and who I trusted in.”
Others did the bragging for him.
Leon Rideout, a member of the Board of Selectmen, called Samson a straight-shooter who cared deeply for the town.
“I think his presence will definitely be missed. He’s been a strong influence on the direction of the town for a number of years,” Rideout said.
Select Board candidates Troy Merner and Rob Christie both tipped their hats to Samson.
Merner said, “It’s going to be tough replacing Ed because he did a great job. He managed everything well, he ran a tight ship, and he listened to people and took their input.”
Christie added, “Lancaster runs pretty well … you’ve got to compliment Ed Samson and the current town management, they’ve gotten it done.”
Gaetjens-Oleson, 49, has worked under Samson since 2009. He thanked him for his support and mentorship.
“I appreciate the opportunity Ed gave me and the trust he had in me,” Gaetjens-Oleson said. “I learned an awful lot from him. He was a good boss to work for, for sure.”
SETTING THE TONE
Following the departure of former Town Manager Joyce McGee in 2006, Samson accepted the job on an interim basis.
In the following year’s Town Report, Samson recounted, “I found the position to be extremely demanding and at the same time exciting. As the search for a new Town Manager dragged on without success, I was encouraged by many to apply. It was a very difficult decision. Having been employed by the Lancaster Police Department for 27 years and enjoying police work, I had a few sleepless nights while trying to decide. I did apply, I was offered the position and as they say “the rest is history.”
One of his first acts was to resolve a lawsuit against the town, which stemmed from a dispute between a developer and abutting property owners.
“As I reviewed the pending litigation I determined two things. It was costing the taxpayers a lot of money, and the only ones getting rich were the attorneys. I was successful in getting all parties involved to agree to get together and attempt to resolve the problems. This mediation was successful and all pending litigation was resolved,” he wrote in the Town Report.
It set the tone for Samson’s time as town manager.
“It’s the way you’ve got to deal with people. You’ve got to speak to them, you can’t ignore them,” he said, adding that his police experience taught him to address problems quickly before they got out of hand. “You’ve got to nip it in the bud.”
Merner, who also represents Lancaster in the New Hampshire House, said Samson’s conflict-resolution skills could be measured in dollars.
“The town had a fund, for hiring attorneys and this and that,” he said. “And after Ed was here so many years, that fund never got used.”
Samson struck a balance between town needs and taxpayer concerns.
Roads are one example. Repeatedly, he channeled road reconstruction projects through town crews, reasoning that Lancaster had the talent and manpower to do the work itself, at a lower cost.
Under Samson, Lancaster completely rebuilt a half-dozen streets, completely in-house.
“It was very cost-effective. There were millions of dollars saved by allowing the municipal crew to do the job. And more importantly, they loved the opportunity to do such a thing. It was a great morale booster,” he said.
Those projects sum up Samson’s approach to town finances, Rideout said.
“He was always looking for ways to improve the infrastructure in a [prudent] manner,” Rideout said, adding that Samson’s frugality extended to other areas. “He really held the department heads’ feet to the fire when they came in proposing budgets.”
Samson was tough but fair.
“He was always clear and to the point on what he thought. And he didn’t hold a grudge. It was, in my opinion, pretty easy for the Board of Selectmen to work with him,” Rideout said.
Samson draws those values from family and community.
ROOTED IN LANCASTER
The son of a stay-at-home mother, and a father who built roads, Samson was the second oldest of five siblings.
His parents instilled him with a strong work ethic — he begins each day with a morning walk at 4 a.m. — and a solid moral compass.
“They taught me good qualities that everybody should have. That you can’t have respect if you don’t show respect. Things that were a necessity back then, and should be a necessity today,” he said.
He graduated from White Mountains Regional High School in 1977 and admits he was a bit of a “hellion.” He clarified he did nothing illegal — except maybe driving too fast.
He was working at a gas station when a police officer suggested he join the department. He put in for a part-time position.
“The chief of police hired me because he was sick of chasing me,” Samson said with a laugh, adding, “So I gave it a shot, I liked it.”
During his time with the police department, Samson saw the town change. When he started, officers would direct traffic at the intersection of Middle and Main Streets until 9 p.m. on Friday nights, due to high volumes of pedestrian traffic, including shoppers at the IGA Supermarket.
Through the job, he gained a deeper knowledge of his hometown and learned to build relationships and defuse tense situations, skills that would help him later. It shed light on the people around him.
“You understood a lot of the individuals you were dealing with and maybe understood why they did what they did,” he said.
He and his wife, Wynta, were married in 1979 and raised two children of their own in Lancaster, a daughter Elizabeth and a son Ed III, now the police chief in Whitefield.
Samson plans to remain in town after his retirement. He will assist with the transition, and be available for questions afterward. He will stay busy and plans to help a friend build a house.
And he expressed gratitude for all of the town employees and others who helped him over the past 15 years.
“I thank the people that have allowed me to be successful, and there’s a lot of them,” he said. “I knew I had that support and that made my job easy.”