LENOX -- The effort to find a new town manager remains mired in mystery and uncertainty following a closed-door meeting of the local search committee over the weekend.
The meeting, attended by four of the five members, was held privately in order to conduct strategy sessions in preparation for negotiations, said Jay Carberry, chairman of the committee. The explanation conforms to Attorney General Martha Coakley's open meeting law guide, which lists 10 conditions for executive sessions.
In a followup interview, Carberry said the group has yet to decide whether to re-evaluate the 17 qualified applications it received for the position.
The $107,000 a year post was turned down in late August by Steve Bartha, assistant town manager of Avon, Conn., after contract negotiations failed between him and the Select Board, working through the search firm Municipal Resources, Inc., (MRI) based in Meredith, N.H.
Even though Bartha has showed no interest in reopening talks with Lenox, Carberry said a committee decision to make an attempt "is still on the table."
MRI President Donald Jutton, a key figure in the search, did not take part in the one-hour search committee session on Friday night.
The town contracted with MRI for $15,000 to coordinate the search and oversee negotiations with the Select Board's selection for the position. The contract did not specify that the firm had to deliver a new town manager.
Co-interim Town Manager Mary Ellen Deming, the longtime director of administrative services in Town Hall, recently submitted her application for the post. According to Carberry, the committee has not yet decided what action to take on her candidacy.
"We're brainstorming all possible options," Carberry said. "We want to discover and be aware of all the candidates, including Mary Ellen."
Following informal discussions with Select Board Chairman David Roche and Selectman Channing Gibson, Carberry said the mission of the search committee is to have full discussions and to "strategize solutions for the Select Board in the spot they're in."
"Dave called me and said, ‘We really need you to do this and figure out how to get out of this situation,' " Carberry explained, adding that Roche indicated there was no rush.
Carberry said the Town Manager Search Committee's upcoming meeting will be open to the public on a date and time still to be determined, probably next week. Because several members travel widely for work, it has proven difficult to assemble the entire group, Carberry explained.
"We want to get this done before Christmas," he added.
In a separate interview over the weekend, Roche told The Eagle that the committee's mission remains unaltered -- to sift through candidate applications and recommend the best prospects to the Selectmen.
Roche also has emphasized that town affairs are being handled well by Deming and by co-Interim Manager Jeffrey Vincent, who is focusing on longer-range improvement projects.
If Deming, a 21-year veteran of Town Hall, is the ultimate choice of the Selectmen for the post vacated last June by Gregory Federspiel, a special town meeting would be needed to gain voter approval for a revision in the town charter.
As adopted in 1991, the charter states that municipal employees who have worked for Lenox during the previous three years are not eligible to apply for a town manager vacancy.
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