State lends support, expertise as Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge explore shared administrator
LEE >> State officials are backing efforts by Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge to consider a shared administrator, but they envision several hurdles to clear before designating one person to oversee two or three town governments at one time.
The Massachusetts Department of Revenue's Division of Local Services met on Wednesday in Lee Memorial Town Hall to begin collaborating with the communities' tri-town shared services committee to vet the concept of a single municipal CEO, mainly because two of the municipalities have two administrators retiring.
"Let's put what resources we can toward this effort," said Zack Blake, head of the DOR's technical assistance bureau. "This is about listening to you folks ... and giving you the guidance you're looking for."
In July, Jorja-Ann Marsden is stepping down after 20 years at the helm in Stockbridge, and Lee Town Administrator Robert Nason has announced his retirement when his current contract expires June 30, 2017. In Lenox, Town Manager Christopher Ketchen, an Alford native, is considered a likely choice to take on the task of managing two or all three of the towns if joint agreement is reached.
DOR and local officials realize creating a shared administrator model wouldn't be in place before Marsden retires, as it will likely take months to determine if such an arrangement is feasible.
"On the surface, it's a great idea, but we need to analyze every little detail of how this could work," said Lenox Selectmen Chairman Ed Lane.
Because of the lengthy review process, Stockbridge has gone ahead with a town administrator search in hope of naming Marsden's successor by the fall, Selectman Stephen Shatz said.
Two months ago, Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge formally requested the DOR's local services team review the towns' current administrative structure and provide an analysis and step-by-step implementation of combining the administrative functions of the three towns.
The nine DOR representatives at Wednesday's meeting outlined several challenges to implementing a shared administrator model:
• Melding two town administrator and one town manager forms of government into one.
• Determining what, if any, conflict of interest exemptions are needed to allow a shared administrator.
• Establishing how each town would share the salary and associated costs of a single hire.
• Garnering community support for one administrator.
• Seeking a special act of the state Legislature or an intermunicipal agreement between the three towns toward enacting a shared-administrator structure.
The time constraints of a single administrator is also a concern to be explored, according to Blake.
"One administrator reporting to three boards of Selectmen, three finance committees is a daunting task — God bless you," he said.
Blake vowed he and his team will conduct extensive interviews with key department heads and officials in each town, thoroughly analyze how each town is currently run and report back within two months to the tri-town panel on the direction it should go with a shared administrator concept.
"This is not an all-or-none situation," he said. "Maybe there is a structure to get you part of the way to a shared administrator and build from there."
DOR officials and the committee agreed the towns have positioned themselves well to attempt a shared administrator as the three municipalities have a track record of shared services and personnel.
For 90 years, Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge have comprised the Tri-Town Health Department and more recently, Lee and Lenox combined their building commissioner and building inspector positions into one administration while maintaining separate town building departments. In addition, the school districts of each town are exploring — and in some instances have implemented — shared services and personnel.
Marsden is bullish on the towns taking the governmental cooperation to the town administrator/manager level.
"I've been talking it up in town and speaking positively in the press that I'm all for this," she said.
DOR officials believe for a shared administrator to work, it has to come naturally.
"These things need to happen organically, they can't be forced," Blake said.
Staff writer Clarence Fanto contributed to the story.
Contact Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.
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