LENOX -- After a two-month hiatus, the hunt for a new town manager is back on.

But the details, urgency and timeline for the Search Committee's renewed effort remains to be set by the Select Board upon advice from the municipal search firm hired by the town.

"We need to ask the Selectmen how soon a town manager is needed," said committee member Fran Vahle at a weekend meeting of the panel. "Does the town need a manager now or can it wait until the spring?"

The town hired Municipal Resources, Inc., (MRI), last June to conduct a search to replace Town Manager Gregory Federspiel, who left to accept a position in Manchester by the Sea. The job was offered to Steve Bartha, the assistant town manager in Avon, Conn., but he withdrew in August in after talks collapsed over the terms of his contract.

Committee Chairman Jay Carberry confirmed that Bartha, was uninterested in reopening the failed negotiations with the town, and the two runner-ups identified last August have been hired elsewhere. Bartha remains assistant town manager in Avon, Conn.

The committee will present alternatives for relaunching the search at this Wednesday's Select Board meeting at 7 p.m. in Town Hall.

"The sooner we can do it, the better," said Selectman Edward Lane, voicing his personal opinion. "It's just not good to continue with the question marks."

Lane said the "loosely-written contract" with MRI indicates the town would have to pay an unspecified additional fee. So far, MRI has been paid $10,000 out of the $15,000 original price.

Carberry said he has been in touch with MRI's president, Donald Jutton, "and he's certainly interested in maintaining his image in his business. He's generally never had this kind of problem."

Noting that the original search produced 22 qualified applicants, six semi-finalists and three finalists from a pool of more than 60, committee member Carlo Zaffanella called the results "outstanding, yielding a terrific candidate," but that contract negotiations broke down because of "miscommunication" among the Select Board, MRI, and Bartha.

Carberry emphasized that no one was to blame, that there were simply misunderstandings and confusion caused by different points of view. "It's nice if you just have one evil guy and he's the guy responsible, but as in most things, this is not what happened," he said.

Zaffanella, a vice president at General Dynamics in Pittsfield, stressed that for the next go-round, the ground rules for negotiations with a successful applicant have to be spelled out in order to determine who is responsible for representing the town.

"The communication of an offer or counter-offer should be one person to one person, in writing every time," he declared.

"Any of the people who applied previously could reapply," Zaffanella pointed out. "People who have emerged since then could apply."

Last month, Mary Ellen Deming, the town's co-interim manager and veteran director of administrative services, applied for the town manager opening.

About a dozen supporters attending the Friday night committee meeting advocated on her behalf.

The Town Manager Act that bars a current or recent municipal employee from serving could be revised through a special town meeting and quick action by the state Legislature, said Treasurer and Assistant Town Clerk Marie "Claudie" Duby.

Former Selectwoman Linda Procopio Messana sought assurances that Deming would be considered, even if her application does not go through Jutton's search firm, "because her credentials and her experiences might not show through. I want this person to have the opportunity to apply along with everyone else and have a fair shot at it. My whole position is to take care of and help our own if that person is qualified."

Zaffanella responded that Jutton could be urged to value "substantial local knowledge" significantly when assessing an applicant.

"This person is a proven candidate that's done the job and done it well," said lifelong local resident George L. Darey, referring to Deming's two stints filling in during previous town manager vacancies.

Deming has done "an incredible job for Lenox," commented John J. Pignatelli, a selectman from 1960-1992. "She's got the talent, the knowledge and the personality that goes with the job. I can't say enough about how much I think she's done for the town."

To contact Clarence Fanto:

cfanto@yahoo.com or (413) 637-2551.

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