Stockbridge back to square one in search for town administrator

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STOCKBRIDGE — And now there are none.

The town's long, arduous search for a new administrator has come up empty with the withdrawal late Thursday of Pittsfield's former Director of Finance and Administration Susan Carmel.

She had emerged as the sole finalist recommended by a committee of three current and former town managers following a search that began last spring for a successor to Jorja-Ann Marsden, who retired in mid-July after 31 years of service in the Town Offices.

Carmel, who had received a conditional job offer on a 2-1 vote of the Select Board on Monday, pulled out of the search in a phone call to Administrative Assistant Danielle Fillio. Carmel could not be reached immediately for comment Thursday evening.

Earlier in the day, the Select Board encountered withering criticism from several townspeople and a department head over its surprise vote on Monday to offer the job to Carmel without public discussion or advance word to elected officials and department leaders in the Town Offices.

Near the end of its often combative meeting, the board finally voted 3-0 to invite Carmel for another round of private interviews, this time with the department heads and elected officials.

Select Board members also summarized strongly positive recommendations for Carmel from her listed references — former Pittsfield Mayor Daniel Bianchi and City Councilors Melissa Mazzeo, Anthony Simonelli and Chris Connell.

Then, the selectmen went into an executive session to discuss contract provisions — salary options, term of employment, a six-month job performance evaluation, termination and severance pay — for negotiations with Carmel. The unscheduled strategy meeting was held in private because it was deemed to be "detrimental to the town's negotiating position to do it in public."

The public meeting, video-recorded by CTSB-TV, began on a discordant note when local resident Thomas Labelle blasted Selectman Donald Chabon for moving to begin contract talks with Carmel at a brief meeting on Monday afternoon with no advance notice to the public that such a "far-reaching, momentous decision" impacting the town would be made that day.

Labelle also accused Chabon of "blindsiding" Select Board Chairman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo and Selectman Stephen Shatz by pushing for the vote.

Cardillo responded that "we're still in the process" of deciding on hiring Carmel. He stressed that job offer was conditional in many respects, subject to reference checks and successful contract negotiations. Cardillo and Chabon had voted in favor of extending the offer, while Shatz voted against it.

Referring to retired Town Administrator Jorja-Ann Marsden's 31 years of service to the town, Labelle asserted that "there's no decision you're going to make as selectmen that's going to have such far-reaching consequences and be of such importance to this town. You did it without having it on the agenda and with no public discussion."

Labelle compared the vote to "making a snap decision on the fly. It was a secretive process."

Now, town leaders will have to either reopen the search from scratch, or consider other applications. A five-member committee of town residents had culled the initial list of 27 hopefuls down to nine for consideration by an advisory group — Lee Town Administrator Robert Nason, Dalton Town Administrator Kenneth Walto and former Williamstown manager Peter Fohlin. Two of the nine withdrew.

From the remaining seven the group recommended Carmel, Southampton Town Administrator Heather Budrewicz and Lenox Town Manager Christopher Ketchen, whose interest was in a potential shared-services position.

But the Select Board decided to bypass Ketchen since there was no consensus among town leaders and residents over the desirability of a shared leadership arrangement. Budrewicz withdrew her name to take an administrator's post in Ashburnham.

The Select Board's next steps to seek a new town leader were uncertain in the wake of Carmel's withdrawal.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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