Former Concord city manager Duncan Ballantyne dies at age 61
Duncan Ballantyne used to throw Christmas parties for Concord employees and city councilors, and dress as Superman on Halloween. But the former city manager, who died last week, isn’t remembered only for being lively on holidays.
“He was a big man, and a tall, strong guy,” said Mayor Jim Bouley, who was first elected to the city council during Ballantyne’s time as city manager. “But his personality was to match it.
. . . He had a great sense of humor about him, a sense of being. He lit up a room. He was just a really good person.”
Ballantyne died in Florida on Saturday at the age of 61 after battling multiple sclerosis for 11∕2 years, his wife told the Scripps Treasure Coast Newspapers in Florida, where the Ballantynes moved after leaving Concord in 2005.
His personality hasn’t been forgotten in New Hampshire.
“He was able to make fun of himself and use kind of natural personality to deal with an issue instead of just being dead serious all the time,” said state Rep. Katherine Rogers, who was a city councilor for Ballantyne’s nine years as manager.
The city council hired Ballantyne in 1996. Former city councilor Jim O’Neill said he talked to friends in Bath, Maine, where Ballantyne worked before Concord, “and people spoke very highly of him.” After interviews with Concord city councilors, residents and staff members, Rogers recalled he was everyone’s top pick.
“I remember Duncan’s interview very clearly. . . . He had a very strong personality,” Rogers said. “One that you remembered.”
City Hall became a “customer-friendly” place under Ballantyne, said former mayor Mike Donovan.
“He instilled the concept of the employees of city government being customer friendly in their dealings with the public, and because of that attitude, he basically made the city a more responsive and friendlier local government,” Donovan said.
When Donovan was elected mayor in 2001, he and Ballantyne went to breakfast once a week – a tradition Ballantyne began with former mayor Bill Veroneau.
“We’d do the circuit of all the places that served breakfast downtown,” Donovan said, and the two would discuss their priorities for the city.
The city manager became known for stopping at local restaurants and being “out in the community,” O’Neill said.
“He would stop . . . and meet and get to know those people, and that was something else that I always respected about the way he went about the whole thing,” he said.
Ballantyne had a “booming voice,” said former city planner Doug Woodward.
“If you were walking down the hall, you could hear him,” he said.
And he loved to make jokes. Woodward remembered Ballantyne’s love for Halloween and the Superman costume he wore to City Hall. Bouley said many memories of Ballantyne are inside jokes that others wouldn’t understand, while Rogers recalled Ballantyne’s sense of humor when she was pushing for a city dog park. Her pug Vito visited City Hall for a television segment.
“And I remember Duncan down on his hands and knees on the floor in the manager’s office (with the dog),” Rogers said.
But that doesn’t mean Ballantyne’s ideas were always popular. Like any public figure, Ballantyne made difficult decisions, said former police chief Bill Halacy.
Confusion had arisen for 911 operators over identical street names in Concord and Penacook. There was a Walnut Street in both the city and the village, for example, and communities were encouraged to eliminate duplicate house numbers. Residents weren’t happy with the proposed changes, and Halacy remembered some tense public hearings. However, Ballantyne worked through it and fought to change addresses.
“He felt it was the right thing to do for public safety, and he took a lot of abuse,” Halacy said.
As manager, Ballantyne oversaw development of Horseshoe Pond and the old Sears Block. Bouley credits Ballantyne with making the Capital Commons parking garage large enough to support new development on South Main Street.
“He had the vision to make it a little bigger than what we had originally planned, and I think he pushed the council to realize that the potential was there and that if you built it a little bigger, then it would pay off in the long run,” Bouley said. “And I think he was proven to be absolutely, 100 percent correct.”
In 2005, Ballantyne resigned to take a job as county administrator in Martin County, Fla. Earlier that year, he had received a satisfactory evaluation from the city council but had been denied a raise for the first time in nine years.
He later became assistant city manager in Miami Beach, Fla., and lived in Stuart, Fla., with his wife, Melody, daughter, Crystal, and son, Spencer, according to his obituary. His funeral and burial were held yesterday.
Tom Aspell, who Ballantyne hired to lead the community development department in 1998 and later promoted to assistant city manager, became Concord’s next city manager.
Most city councilors agreed it was time for a change in leadership by the time Aspell replaced Ballantyne, Rogers said. But it was bittersweet, she said, because they all liked Ballantyne.
“I think on a personal basis, he’ll always be missed because he’s a strong personality and one you don’t forget,” she said.
At the end of Monday night’s city council meeting, Bouley shared memories of Ballantyne.
“You wonder sometimes your value in life, and you look back at what you’ve done for a community,” Bouley told the other councilors. “And I think you can look in this community and Duncan had a tremendous positive influence on so many people in this community and organizations, and he was a real friend. And I think he was a wonderful city manager for the city, and he’ll truly be missed.”