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Berlin stays home in naming James Wheeler new city manager

Special to the Union Leader

April 30. 2013 7:55PM

BERLIN - Berlin native James Wheeler was hired by the Berlin City Council Monday night to become city manager.

"I will work with the city council, as the current city manager does, to find new ways to sustain the operations and grow the economy. The people of Berlin know that 'Berlin is the place to be'. We want to show the rest of the state and region why that is so," Wheeler said Tuesday.

"We're very excited with the turn of events that brought Jim on board with the city," Mayor Paul Grenier said, citing Wheeler's vast knowledge of the city and its government, his intelligence, and his dedication to the community.

"He has exceptional moral character," Grenier said, "which in my mind was very important."

In further comments, Wheeler said that " I know without a doubt that the city, despite its economic challenges, is run very well," adding, "I want to be very careful to see that current initiatives that have received tremendous investment on the city's part continue to receive the attention they need to see them through fruition. First and foremost, the city wants to make sure that no distractions are created during or after the transition that take away from the important work that is ongoing. An example of this includes the tremendous work the council, city manager and staff have done with regard to housing over the last several years."

It's not the 1982 Berlin High School graduate's first time working for the city. Wheeler was hired by the city in 1994 as city engineer. In 1998, that position was expanded to include public works director, a position his father, Maurice Wheeler, had held before him.

James Wheeler left city employment in 2005 to become facilities director of the Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin, taking more responsibilities in 2008 as the hospital's vice president of strategic management and human resources. He recently left that position.

He earned his undergraduate degree in civil engineering at the University of New Hampshire, and recieved a master's degree in management from New England College in 2010.

Wheeler's starting compensation is based on $95,000 a year for the first six months, according to Grenier, after which it jumps to $100,000 a year. In July 2014, his salary will rise to $105,000 a year.

"He will be on the same health insurance plan as ASCME 44," Grenier said. "We want to get all senior management on that plan. Jim took the lead."

Grenier said Wheeler will start full-time on June 3, with outgoing city manager Patrick MacQueen staying on for about a month of overlap to help with the transition. MacQueen has been city manager since 2002, and worked with Wheeler for several years.

MacQueen said the city is well-served with the hiring of Wheeler. "If anybody can hit the ground running, it's Jim," he said Tuesday, adding that Wheeler is clearly committed to the area, and that he was the strongest of the applicants. MacQueen will leave the city with well wishes for the new city manager.

MacQueen said that although it was time for him to leave, "I'll miss Berlin a lot. I'll miss the people a lot." His time with the city has been challenging, as the city coped with the demise of several of its industries and worked to rebuild its economy, but "that's what makes it interesting." He plans on spending his newly freed-up time building boats.

"Pat has served us well and gave us plenty of notice," Grenier noted, adding that he is respected both in the community and statewide. "Pat adeptly steered the city through tough situations."

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