LENOX - In an 11th-hour move that stunned and dismayed local government leaders, the newly designated town manager, believed to be on the verge of signing a three-year contract, has pulled out of the deal.

In an email sent late Thursday night to Select Board Chairman David Roche, Steve Bartha - assistant town manager in Avon, Conn. - cited shortfalls in the benefits package the town had offered. The proposed first-year salary of $107,500 was not an issue, Roche told The Eagle at Town Hall on Friday afternoon.

Bartha's decision was especially shattering, Roche acknowledged, since Donald Jutton, president of Municipal Resources, Inc., which coordinated the town's search, had assured him as recently as Wednesday that there were no deal-breakers standing in the way of a final contract agreement.

Jutton told The Eagle the same thing in an interview earlier this week and spoke of Bartha's eagerness to start work in Lenox and relocate to the community with his family. His wife expects their first child in November.

Roche said he learned of Bartha's withdrawal when, during a bout of insomnia, he checked his email at 3 a.m. Friday and found the message, which had been sent at 10 p.m. Thursday.

The Select Board will meet Wednesday morning at 10 to consider how to proceed.

Bartha's concerns over the benefits package offered by the town did not involve health insurance, said Roche.

"He was requesting, through Don Jutton, more than what we're giving our current management staff and since I became Selectmen, I've been working with the other guys to create parity within the town as far as contract dates, raises, health insurance and so forth," he said.

"I didn't think it was wise for us to go outside those parameters," he added.

The hangups that caused Bartha to pull out of the deal involved vacation time - he wanted five weeks rather than four after several years, more than any other department heads get. He also sought a larger monthly automobile allowance, $350 rather than the $150 offered by the town.

"I didn't want the other managers to feel that if they had held out, they could have gained more," Roche said. "That's not the way we operate. We operate with fixed parameters. This is what we offer and this is what you get when you come in."

Calls to Jutton and to Bartha were not immediately returned on Friday afternoon.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@berkshireeagle.com
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto