Lenox interviews 3 for town manager; will make top pick this week


LENOX - The Board of Selectmen is poised to choose a new town manager this week following public interviews with the three top candidates on Saturday.

The finalists are Steve Bartha, 32, the assistant town manager of Avon, Conn., a Hartford suburb of 18,000, since 2010; Barry Dykhuizen, 40, city manager of Guttenberg, Iowa, a riverfront community of 1,900 on the Mississippi; and Jonathan Sistare, 51, now an attorney in private practice but previously the town manager of Salem, Jaffrey and Hopkinton, N.H.

Bartha, who grew up in Petoskey, Mich., a resort community of 5,600, said that he understands " the tension between locals, business owners and vacationers. Lenox faces the same pressure to expand its tax base and relieve the property tax on the residential side without changing the character of the community. ... I look at Lenox and I see home."

Since his wife is from Litchfield County, ultimately they relocated to northwestern Connecticut where he held posts in state and local government.

With their first child due in November, Bartha said, "in many ways, Lenox is the kind of town I was looking for. The school system is top- notch, we're hikers and skiers, we view this as a place to grow as a family and the size appeals to me. I'm committed to small-town government."

Challenges include determining how to grow and to successfully market the town. " Economic development is a messy process, there's no 'one size fits all,' " he added. "Lenox has the assets, and you can't overstate the importance of a good school system in economic development."

The town manager's role, Bartha stated, is to "connect the dots as part of a team effort."

During his interview, Dykhuisen explained that as city manager of a small, rural Iowa town reliant on tourism, he managed a downtown revitalization project to develop a new marina.

In response to Selectman Channing Gibson's question about the media, Dykhuisen asserted that "you have to get the facts out there and quell the rumors. The manager has to make himself available to meet with anybody about anything."

Dykhuisen said he was drawn to Lenox in part to be closer to his wife's family in New England. He added that he doesn't intend "to hop from town to town."

Chronicling his experience in New Hampshire, Sistare highlighted economic expansion - "businesses already in town are where you'll get the most growth." He described issues in Lenox as similar to what he encountered managing the town of Jaffrey from 1993 to 2007.

Sistare, married with three sons, emphasized a town manager's need to understand the intent of the Selectmen. "I never wanted to be abrasive with Selectmen," he added, "but I wanted to make sure what their goal was."

He also pointed out that a manager must be keenly aware of potential grants available to a town - "it's negligence on a town official's part to miss a funding opportunity."

"I hate the saying of 'you can't fight City Hall or Town Hall,' and I always have the personal motivation of helping people who come to Town Hall with whatever question they have," Sistare commented. "I want to make sure they see it as a friendly place, and the employees I'm working with to see that as well."

"Take your job seriously but don't take yourself too seriously," he declared. "That's always been my approach to work."

Select Board Chairman David Roche ended the session by stating that "this is a serious undertaking for us, probably the most critical issue we've faced since we've been a board together." He urged members to analyze the interviews prior to holding their public deliberations at a meeting on Wednesday at 6 p.m.

"If possible, we'll make a decision and hopefully settle on one of the three good candidates we've heard this morning," Roche said.

The Selectmen offered high praise for the local Town Manager Search Committee, whose members led by Jay Carberry interviewed six semifinalists on Friday and settled on three applicants to recommend to the Select Board - the same three selected by a professional panel from Municipal Resources, Inc., (MRI), the firm hired by the town to conduct the search.

"You should thank your committee," said Donald Jutton, president of MRI. "It's the best we worked with in the past five or eight years. They really did their homework, they invested a ton of time and delivered what I think is a very, very good group."

The candidates ...

The three finalists to succeed Gregory Federspiel as Lenox town manager were interviewed by the Select Board on Saturday. They are:

Steve Bartha, 32, a native of Petoskey, Mich.; since 2010, assistant town manager of Avon, Conn.

Barry Dykhuizen, 40, city manager of Guttenberg, Iowa, since 2007.

Jonathan Sistare, 51, former town manager of Salem, Jaffrey and Hopkinton, N.H. The Selectmen are expected to vote on a conditional offer to one of the three at a Town Hall meeting on Wednesday at 6 p.m. Contract negotiations in executive session and a formal background check by Municipal Resources, Inc., would follow.

To contact Clarence Fanto: cfanto@yahoo.com or (413) 637-2551. On Twitter: @BE_cfanto


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