LENOX -- Christopher Ketchen, the finance director of Hopkinton, is the unanimous choice of the Select Board to serve as the new town manager.
The 5-0 vote followed a 10-minute discussion during a special noon-hour meeting of the members on Wednesday.
Ketchen, 37, who grew up in Alford, is a Mount Everett Regional High graduate, earned his master’s degree from the University of Massachusetts in Amherst, and has nearly 14 years of experience in town and state government, including two years at the Department of Revenue in Boston.
Informed of his selection by phone at his office on Wednesday afternoon, Ketchen told The Eagle that the Lenox position is "a perfect fit I’ll happily make my home in Lenox; it’s an exceptional community."
Select Board Chairman David Roche said he’s aiming for an executive session to hold contract negotiations next Wednesday evening that would include Ketchen and the town’s consultant in its search, Donald Jutton of Municipal Resources, Inc., either in person or by conference call.
Ketchen was selected from the group of three finalists interviewed by the Selectmen at Town Hall last Saturday morning in a public session.
"It was a field of extremely strong candidates," Roche commented. The two other candidates interviewed were Jason Hoch, town administrator in Litchfield, N.H., and John Haverstock, town manager of Pittsford, Vt.
"All three candidates were very good in different respects, very nice people," said Selectman Edward Lane, adding that he considered experience in finance as the primary skill for a town manager.
"I was most impressed with Chris Ketchen’s background in the finance area," Lane added. "He was well-recommended by his superiors in the investigations we’ve done."
Selectman Kenneth Fowler cited Ketchen’s "ambitious quality, he did a little more diligence preparing for his interview than the other candidates did."
Fowler said he was especially impressed by Ketchen’s consultation with former Town Manager Gregory Federspiel, who departed last June to become town administrator in Manchester by the Sea. "I thought it was pretty intuitive of him to do that."
Ketchen’s discussion on economic development during his Saturday interview "really impressed me and put him over the top," Fowler added.
"There is no bad candidate here and if you could blend all three of them together, that would be the perfect person, but in the meantime I’m going to go with Chris Ketchen," he declared.
Selectman John McNinch said he was torn between Ketchen’s finance background and Hoch’s experience, recalling Federspiel’s leadership role among town government officials in the Berkshires. "I could go either way but I’m still leaning toward Chris," said McNinch, who described Ketchen as his initial top choice based on his application for the post.
"It was a tough choice for me," said Selectman Channing Gibson. "I’ve gone back and forth a few times." But, echoing McNinch’s praise of Federspiel, he predicted that Ketchen would be comparably effective in negotiating with other communities and working with local institutions such as Tanglewood.
"I really felt Chris had the most skills in dealing with finance," Gibson added, "but I was torn. I liked Jason a lot, he had a lot to offer, I really like his experience with town government, which Chris doesn’t have as much of in terms of getting up at Town Meeting."
But, he concluded, "Chris presented a forward-thinking attitude that I responded to." He described the job of the town manager and the Select Board as maintaining "everything we love about Lenox while still moving the town into the future in a way that makes sense, and honors the past while looking to the future."
Roche also acknowledged a tough decision: "I didn’t make it until this morning, I was up late last night tossing it around." He was swayed by references received by co-Interim Town Manager Mary Ellen Deming.
He singled out Ketchen’s experience in Massachusetts. "I think the learning curve for Christopher will be a lot less."
Roche thanked the chairman of the town’s Search Committee, Jay Carberry, and his group "for getting us here today in a very timely manner. It’s been an extremely long process, we’ve learned a little bit along the way." He was referring to the town’s original search last summer which yielded a first choice before contract talks failed.
"We had to wait a little longer, " Roche added, "but I think the ultimate result will be better."
He also praised co-interim Town Managers Deming and Jeffrey Vincent for "an outstanding job, the town was never in jeopardy. We had very competent, very capable people and it’s much appreciated."
To contact Clarence Fanto:
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