LENOX -- With the Select Board poised to develop a strategy at a Wednesday morning meeting on how best to re-open the search for a new town manager, the mystery has deepened over Steve Bartha's eleventh-hour withdrawal from contract negotiations.
Bartha already had designated Sept. 6 as his final day as assistant town nanager in Avon, Conn., according to the local news site Patch.com, and had told several Lenox Town Hall employees that he intended to start here on Sept. 23.
The contract talks foundered on differences over vacation time and a monthly allotment for car expenditures, according to Select Board Chairman David Roche. The $107,500 starting salary and the health insurance package were not at issue, Roche said.
"I'm ready to let this go," Roche said. "The town is in good shape and the need for an immediate replacement for Greg Federspiel seems less important than it did a month ago." Federspiel now holds a comparable post in Manchester-by-the-Sea, while Lenox is being overseen by acting co-town managers.
Bartha, in an email to The Eagle, said he conducted "a considerable amount of research in preparation for the contract negotiations. My goal was to develop a package that was consistent with the profession, fair to the community, and reflective of the unique demands and responsibilities associated with the position.
"I was under the impression that the terms of a mutually agreeable deal had been reached with the board, but that was not the case," Bartha continued. "It's important to me to be clear that I do not have another town manager job offer on the table nor a richer compensation package waiting for me back in Avon.
"My attitude about the community has not changed," he wrote. "I believe Lenox is a special place and I was excited about this opportunity. In the end, however, I could not relocate my family under the terms and conditions being proposed."
The Lenox town manager search was coordinated by Municipal Resources Inc. (MRI) under a $15,000 contract.
The company's president, Donald Jutton, told The Eagle on Tuesday that he recommends reconsidering other candidates who applied and were deemed qualified.
Re-advertising the position would be another option, Jutton said.
"But I'm always concerned about assumptions made when there is a re-advertisement," he said. "Typically, there are questions raised about what happened, or whether something was not disclosed."
Jutton suggested that Bartha "became increasingly uncomfortable with the direction of the negotiations. He wasn't pleased with some of the things that transpired."
Jutton said this situation has happened only once before it MRI's 20 years. The firm has conducted as many as 75 successful town manager searches during that time, he said.
Jutton suggested reconvening the highly-praised Lenox search committee.
"It was a very, very good committee, very involved with the community," Jutton said. "That's the first conversation the Select Board should have with those folks, to find out what they saw in the other candidates.
"The board needs to recognize there's a fair amount of competition now, there have been a lot of town manager openings, but not a lot of candidates," he added. "Lenox is too small to compete with the big guys but too big to settle for managers on the lower rung of their careers. The town needs to take care that it doesn't settle for anyone not credible in the community or the marketplace."
The Select Board meet at 10 a.m. Wednesday on the next step.
In statement, Bartha outlines withdrawal from Lenox job:
LENOX -- Steve Bartha, the assistant town manager of Avon, Conn., who rescinded his resignation there after he withdrew from contract negotiations for the Lenox town manager position, has submitted the following detailed explanation to The Eagle:
"The reason I did not comment further on the impasse this weekend was that I believed the negotiations to be confidential. Consequently, the picture being painted is that I was somehow unreasonable in my demands. This is an unfair depiction.
"I feel it is important to note, for the record, that I was directed to prepare a draft compensation package ‘behind the scenes' ahead of the public meeting on Aug. 21 so that there would be no surprises. This is a fairly standard practice.
"I spent a great deal of time preparing for the negotiations by researching other contracts and speaking with Connecticut and Massachusetts colleagues. The compensation package that was drafted was and is in line with a fair and standard compensation package for town managers.
"During the back-and-forth process to develop the draft agreement, which included at least one Board of Selectmen member, the only item to elicit comment was the number of paternity leave days. Given my understanding of the process, I assumed that all other terms and conditions were mutually agreeable. Therefore, I was quite stunned and disappointed to learn that the draft agreement was reduced in significant areas in executive session on Aug. 21.
"I was asked to counter this new agreement, which I did through Mr. Jutton [head of the Municipal Resources Inc. firm] at a special meeting held on Aug. 28. The outcome of that meeting did not resolve the differences and, at that point, I felt compelled to withdraw from the process.
"I am truly sorry that things did not work out in Lenox. I was excited about the opportunity and enjoyed meeting the staff and residents during my visits. I am disappointed, to be sure, but, in the end, could not accept the terms of an agreement that, to my mind, was inconsistent from what was informally understood to be acceptable. My plan is to remain in Avon for the time being as the Assistant Town Manager."
-- Clarence Fanto