Stockbridge officials sign off on qualifications for new town administrator

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STOCKBRIDGE — Wanted: A town administrator with at least seven years of municipal leadership background to succeed Jorja-Ann Marsden, who is retiring in mid-July after 31 years in local government, including 20 years in the top job.

The town's job posting includes a disclosure that discussions are underway with neighboring communities to share a town manager/administrator.

"We believe we have to say that in public," said Selectman Stephen Shatz at Wednesday's board meeting. Stockbridge, Lee and Lenox have been exploring various forms of shared services, including joint leadership of two or three towns, since Lee Town Administrator Robert Nason plans to step down next June.

"There's no question this is kind of a tricky exercise," Shatz said, "because of the beginning of the discussions about the shared town administrator position. It's a little bit of uncharted territory. ... It will all become public."

No salary range is being advertised or disclosed currently.

The ad placed by the Stockbridge Select Board seeks "a community-oriented administrator with strong leadership, communications and presentation skills. Ideal candidate requirements include at least seven years experience in municipal leadership positions, with emphasis in finance and public administration, familiarity with human resources issues and preferably, a master's degree in business administration, public administration or finance."

It continues, "We seek a candidate who will perform the duties of the position with integrity and transparency, and who will demand the same from his or her staff."

The job qualifications include the expanded powers for the town administrator approved by the Select Board about two months ago. Shatz compared the qualifications to the authority held by Nason in Lee.

The expanded powers, permitted by state law and approved unanimously by the Select Board, make the town administrator the chief procurement officer for contracts, removing that authority from the Selectmen. The administrator also gets greater power over the preparation of town budgets, leading to a more streamlined, less time-consuming procedure.

The town administrator also gains the power to hire, discipline and fire, subject to collective bargaining issues.

"It gets the Board of Selectmen out of that business," Shatz pointed out, "and this is what modern town administrators do." He compared the expanded powers to the authority held by Nason in Lee and by Lenox Town Manager Christopher Ketchen.

But resident Terry Flynn objected. "It sounds as if you're taking the Select Board out of their overseeing function of the town departments ... and I don't think that's a good thing," he said.

Shatz responded that "we cannot expect to have candidates for this position who are trained people, who do not have that kind of expanded power. It was also for that reason that we did it."

He commented that Select Boards in other communities adopt an overall strategic, philosophical approach to town management, dealing with larger, bigger-picture issues and policies.

"It's part of a big move that I see in the town that I'm very concerned about," Flynn said, "which is essentially to try to have the town actually run by consultants and people who are technocrats, professionals or whatever else it's organizing the town as opposed to keeping it a small town."

As the search for a successor to Marsden proceeds, a five-member screening committee appointed by the Select Board will evaluate applications, including suggestions from outside the community for former town administrators who might be willing to serve on an interim basis. The list of semi-finalists will be whittled down to 10, if enough responses are received, Shatz said.

The final vetting of candidates will be done by a team of current and former town managers in the area, leading to recommendations by mid-summer to the Selectmen, who will then conduct interviews.

Shatz predicted a successor to Marsden could be on board by September, so arrangements have to be made to fill her position during the weeks or months following her July 15 departure.

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.


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