LENOX - At their annual one-day retreat, the five members of the Board of Selectmen and Town Manager Gregory Federspiel acknowledged they have an effective working relationship and hammered out a five-point priority agenda for short- and long-term needs.
"We have a board that works with its town manager instead of against its town manager," said Selectman David Roche.
"And a town manager that works with the board," Chairman Kenneth Fowler chimed in.
"I think we had communications issues in previous boards that we don't have with this board," Roche went on. "We tend to air it out, get it on the table and move forward."
A spirit of unity, harmony and can-do energy at the top levels of local government in Lenox were evident at Monday's retreat, a contrast to the difficulties buffeting town government in Great Barrington after Selectmen there voted to oust Town Manager Kevin O'Donnell next May.
In Lenox, Roche summed up Federspiel's management role as "keeping us informed and helping us make the best decisions we possibly could make. And I think that's exactly what's happened over the last year. It's better than it was before, that's for sure."
In response, Federspiel said, "I think it's going well."
"You're making the decisions and it's my job to see that they're carried out," Federspiel added. " If they're not, you need to come down on me and make sure I'm picking the ball back up if it's been dropped."
On day- to- day operational decisions, Federspiel stated - simply as an annual reminder - that he needs to make them and to keep the Selectmen informed. "I think we understand that we're on the same page with that and I think it's all positive."
Roche stressed that Town Hall needs to be efficient and seen as friendly toward citizens.
"They say if it's not broke, don't fix it," he said. "But I think it's broke."
Roche said that prospective business owners have difficulty navigating the various permits and licenses required by the town to open. A one-stop checklist is needed to avoid confusion, Roche said.
"What's working well is our relationship with the town manager, and his with us, but I'd like to move forward by providing better services to the community," he stated.
" We're the ones elected to run the town," said Selectman John McNinch, "and we need to make sure we're doing it. We are making the decisions, but it can't even appear that Greg is running the town. "He's a full-time employee who works hard at what he does to get us the information," McNinch continued. "But we need to let everyone know that the buck stops here, with us."
McNinch emphasized that " we're a small town, we need to keep those smalltown values, we all need to be approachable, and we all are."
But, listing one weakness, he contended that " everything is splintered in town, everything is individual, and that's something we're working on, but we've still got a ways to go." He also cited other boards that "all act as islands. Planning is going to do their thing; Zoning is going to do what they're going to do."
"They all do everything their own way, and that's what makes the permitting process so hard," he continued. "That's what gives us the reputation of being that non business- friendly town, because everything is an island and I think it's our job as the Board of Selectmen to bring all that together."
"We need to start by just not reappointing people," McNinch added. But he acknowledged some progress, with greater collaboration from the Planning Board and the Finance Committee.
But Roche said that "it's the ones we haven't made progress with that continuously seem to surface, like the Buildings and Inspections Department, the HDC [Historic District Commission] and perhaps a few of the others. But we can't take them all on at once."