Sharply divided Stockbridge Select Board offers conditional offer to Susan Carmel

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STOCKBRIDGE — A sharply divided Select Board has voted to extend a conditional job offer to Susan Carmel of Pittsfield to serve as the new town administrator, pending contract negotiations that would follow a review of the seven references she provided.

Selectman Donald Chabon suggested making the offer to the former director of finance and administration during an occasionally heated half-hour board meeting on Monday afternoon.

But before the 2-1 vote, Selectman Stephen Shatz said that based on phone calls he made over the weekend, he was "not convinced that the applicant would be a good fit for town administrator, and personally I see no reason to go on with discussions with her references when I've come to that conclusion."

But Chabon stated that Carmel went through an "excessive vetting procedure" by a five-member committee of local citizens and was selected as one of three finalists by three current and former leaders of Berkshire towns.

Southampton Town Administrator Heather Budrewisz, withdrew early last week after landing a job as town administrator of Ashburnham. Lenox Town Manager Christopher Ketchen was ruled out by the board because his offer involved a discussion of potential shared services.

Chabon praised Carmel's performance at her interview with the Select Board last Wednesday. "She answered the questions as well as anyone could and clearly knows municipal operations," he declared, adding that her background in finance is "a big plus."

"She did her homework, she knew about us, researched us, she was aware of what's going on in Stockbridge," said Chabon. "I think this would be a good fit, a good opportunity for her and the town of Stockbridge."

Referring to Shatz's qualms, Chabon asserted that "almost everybody in town government and politics gets positive and negative feedback and gets criticized, sometimes even praised."

Chabon moved to "enter into contract negotiations with Carmel and seek a time to do that, preferably this week, we've been delaying this a long time."

"Your motion, in effect, is to hire her," said Shatz. "How do you negotiate with someone unless you've made an offer to hire?"

Select Board Chairman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo agreed to second the motion.

"This has been a very long, involved process," said Chabon, touting Carmel's experience in city government and stressing she was selected from nine semi-finalists by Lee Town Administrator Robert Nason, Dalton Town Administrator Kenneth Walto and Peter Fohlin, former town manager of Williamstown.

"To say that they don't know town management, I don't think is valid," Chabon declared. "She was one of the three who was unanimously selected for being considered by us."

"For Steve to say, 'Well, I heard bad things or something like that but I can't say who or what,' I guess I can say I don't know what to do with that," Chabon said.

Among the references provided by Carmel are former Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi and three current City Council members — Melissa Mazzeo, Tony Simonelli and Chris Connell.

"If this person isn't qualified, I don't know who is," Chabon declared.

During a brief public discussion, Town Assessor Michael Blay questioned whether Carmel as the potential new town administrator, succeeding Jorja-Ann Marsden who retired July 15, has enough experience working with the public.

"What I'm hearing is that she wants to meet with the different individuals in Town Offices to see what they do," said Blay. "I'm pretty sure someone running for a position like this should already know what we do. I feel this person needs to have extensive knowledge of how a municipality works what his or her responsibilities are going to be."

"I'm not convinced this is the right person," Blay declared.

"This person is the first line of defense before something is brought before the Select Board," Town Collector Nancy Socha commented. "She has to be able to talk to people, to us, not come in and tell us finance is the most important thing. No, human people is the most important thing, finance is the second."

Town Clerk Terri Iemolini asked whether the town was "settling" because Carmel wound up as the sole finalist.

Chabon disputed the notion that Carmel was only interested in finance, but Socha insisted that "a good part of her job is dealing with the public" and contended that the Select Board's interview with her did not deal with that aspect of the position.

However, resident Terry Flynn said there is no way to assess how someone will interact with the public and employees until they are hired. "That part's an unknown," he pointed out. "From everything I saw in the interview, all her answers on how she would interact with people certainly were very intelligent and seemed open."

Flynn stated that certain opponents of Carmel want to delay an appointment further so "they can kick this all back to the regional shared service plan, which was the thing that was corrupting the process in the first place."

Shatz disputed that, declaring that "there was no sub-text" and that his feeling was based on a conclusion that Carmel was "the wrong fit. It had nothing whatsoever to do with trying to drive this into the hands of a shared services contract."

After further contentious discussion on how to rephrase the motion to be voted on, Chabon proposed that "if the references prove to be less than ideal, less than what we hoped for, then we can withdraw from the contract negotiations."

"I think we need to move this forward," he added. "We can delay, delay, delay and I don't think that's in the best interests of the town."

"In effect, what you're doing is making a conditional offer to hire this person," Shatz stated.

The Select Board, after voting 2-1 in favor of Chabon's motion, with Shatz opposed, a public meeting was set for Thursday morning at 10 to discuss the scope of the contract offer, such as length of time and salary, prior to meeting with Carmel for formal negotiations in executive session. The terms would be reviewed in advance by Town Counsel J. Raymond Miyares.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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