3 finalists compete to be third chief of Berkshire Regional Planning Commission

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PITTSFIELD — The region's public sector think tank is poised to name a new leader, just its third in 52 years.

This past Thursday, a search committee of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission interviewed three finalists in the running to replace Executive Director Nathaniel W. Karns, the transplanted southerner who has been the face of the countywide agency since 1994.

From its offices at 1 Fenn St. in downtown Pittsfield, the commission advises its 32 member communities in Berkshire County on public policy, providing expertise to small towns unable to afford deep dives into data, law and best practices for government. Cities and towns pay fees for the agency's consulting services, but most of the agency's $2.9 million annual budget comes from grants and contracts it secures.

Karns announced last March he was ready to retire, telling The Eagle that he didn't want to go "with his boots on."

Candidates in the second round of interviews Thursday included one insider, Assistant Director Thomas Matuszko. The other finalists are Sungman Kim, a planning consultant from Brownsville, Texas, and Sean M. Maguire, a director with the Capital District Regional Planning Commission in Albany.

Members of the commission are scheduled to pick a new executive director Thursday, ending nearly a year of planning for the transition.

Kyle Hanlon of North Adams, the commission's chairman, said debate about the candidates starts at 5 p.m. Thursday in the agency's offices.

The public is welcome to attend.

"We certainly have three wonderfully qualified candidates," Hanlon said.

Once a candidate is selected, the commission's executive committee will negotiate a pay package based in part on experience. Karns' current salary is $121,627.

Hanlon said he hopes to have Karns' successor on board within 60 days.

"We're right on track in terms of time frame," he said. As the holiday season neared, members of the search committee decided to wait until this year to call in candidates.

A transcript of the commission's interviews with the candidates is being prepared ahead of Thursday's session with the full commission membership.

At last Thursday's interviews, finalists were asked to share their visions of what a regional planning agency can achieve, in light of recurring funding gaps.

They were also asked to describe how they lead, their approaches to recruiting a diverse staff and how they deal with the press and public.

The following capsule reports on the candidates were drawn from the cover letters and resumes in their applications:

Thomas Matuszko

Matuszko, who lives in Hadley, has been with the commission nearly as long as Karns.

He joined the group in 1997 after working as a land use consultant and as a senior planner with the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission.

Matuszko calls himself a "creative problem-solver" who believes in the rural way of life and this region's natural and historic qualities.

"I believe I have been a significant contributor to the BRPC's current success," he wrote in a cover letter.

He noted his long commitment to the region. "I am continually enthralled by the challenge of planning in Western Massachusetts, which as I see it involved maintaining those items that make us unique: the natural beauty; towns and villages and the sense of history and community; providing for the needs of our residents, especially in light of these trying political and fiscal times," he wrote.

Matuszko was named the commission's assistant director in 2001. He holds a master's degree in regional planning degree from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Sungman Kim

Kim worked until December as director of development services for the city of South Padre Island in Texas, a position he held for four years. From 2006 to 2012 he served as chief planner for the Clay County Board of County Commissioners in Green Cove Springs, Fla.

In his application, he said he likes working with teams and taps his experience with both academic and public-sector projects.

"As an energetic team player, I feel confident of being a nexus-core or a mediator at a government institution or between agencies," he wrote in his cover letter. "Mostly I can promise you transparent and accountable project management of the agency."

He holds an MBA from the University of North Florida and a Ph.D. in urban planning and design from the University of Sheffield in England.

Sean M. Maguire

Maguire holds two "director" titles in his current job in Albany — overseeing economic development and "regional analytics." He has worked in the planning field for nearly 20 years and was named last year to the Albany Business Review's "40 Under 40" list of leaders.

His application notes his "vast knowledge in economic development and planning." He also says he is comfortable dealing with the media and often interacts with the press "because of my reputation for knowledge of current issues."

In his cover letter, Maguire says he learned to appreciate what happens in neighborhoods while delivering a newspaper.

"I have a genuine interest [in] the health and success of communities. I look for and seek to harness the potential in everyone and everywhere," he wrote.

When asked about his management philosophy, Maguire wrote that "managers are obeyed; leaders are followed. Managers do things right; leaders do the right things."

He holds both a master's of public administration degree and a master's of regional planning degree from the University at Albany. He has spent his entire career in the Albany area.

Agency's mission

According to its mission statement, the commission "provides leadership and assistance to the County's municipalities, organizations and citizens in achieving County-wide inter-relationships, prosperity, opportunities, quality of life, strength and vibrancy."

Residents from all member towns join in the work, backing up the agency's professional staff.

Together, they gather data and shape solutions on issues including environmental problems, energy, transportation, housing, health, telecommunications and other subjects.

This year, its staff of about 20 full-time equivalent employees, and five part-timers, oversees around 75 grants and contracts.

Hanlon said Karns has agreed to stay on and help during a transition.

He made his admiration for Karns clear.

"I'd like this transition period to be from three to five years," he said, laughing.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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