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New Amherst selectman looks to improve communication

Union Leader Correspondent

April 12. 2013 12:49AM

AMHERST - Mike Akillian, the town's newest selectman, says strategic planning and the implementation of long-term goals is crucial to the future of this growing community.

Akillian was chosen among a pool of five candidates to fill a vacant seat on the Amherst Board of Selectmen. He was sworn into office on Monday.

"I was very pleased to be selected. The candidates all had different experiences and insight that would have been beneficial. It was a very strong field," Akillian said on Thursday.

Akillian is replacing a selectman slot left vacant when chairman Bruce Bowler unexpectedly resigned last month.

Akillian, 67, has lived in town for about four years. He has been a member of Amherst's Ways and Means Committee, and currently works as a consultant for colleges and universities helping them with branding initiatives and strategic planning efforts.

One of his missions as a new selectman is to help the town identify and create a strategic plan of its own, which Akillian says will help guide elected officials with important decisions.

"I hope to introduce elements of planning at the Board of Selectmen level, which can then provide a better context for decision making among town officials and ultimately voters," he said.

Rather than just looking at budget line items to make vital decisions that could impact the future of the community, Akillian said it is better to have a long-range planning guide in place to help steer those votes.

The focus, he said, should be creating a meaningful dialogue between citizens and municipal boards before residents head to the voting booth each March. Akillian believes the town can do a better job communicating with the people who call Amherst home.

"I have a good working role with members of the (selectmen) board, and sometimes I look at things differently. I am very excited about being on the board, but I do have a lot to learn," said Akillian, adding he hopes to immediately offer some value to his fellow selectmen.

Akillian was appointed as selectman until March of 2014, but says he hasn't ruled out the possibility of seeking a more permanent seat on the board next year.

In recent months, the Board of Selectmen has been under fire since it placed Town Administrator Jim O'Mara on leave in December of 2012 without any explanation to residents or the media. It was eventually learned that O'Mara was placed on paid administrative leave for six weeks while an internal investigation was conducted regarding the purchase of a town dump truck, which resulted in no intentional wrongdoing by any town employees.

Throughout the investigation, several citizens voiced frustration about the lack of transparency by elected officials.

While the process of transparency is important, Akillian echoed his comments about improving communication with citizens, in addition to offering them more insight into the town government process.

While there are lessons to be learned from the past few months, Akillian said now is the best time to move forward and look ahead in a positive manner.

"We need to focus on adding an element of thoughtful planning to the town, and bring that to the selectmen's table," he explained.

Other applicants for the one-year seat included David Chen, Mark Vincent, Nate Jensen and Reed Panasiti.

Panasiti, a former selectman, campaigned earlier this year for one of the town selectmen positions filled at the polls in March, but lost to Dwight Brew and John D'Angelo. Panasiti, who was the third-highest vote-getter on Election Day, said earlier that he was "somewhat frustrated" that the board wouldn't automatically appoint him to fill Bowler's vacant selectman spot as opposed to seeking new applicants and conducting interviews.

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