Stockbridge shuts door on shared administrator experiment
STOCKBRIDGE — The death knell appears to have sounded for any shared town management involving Stockbridge.
Following a series of objections by several local residents to appointing Lenox Town Manager Christopher Ketchen to succeed Jorja-Ann Marsden, who retired a month ago, the Select Board voted 2-1 on Monday not to consider his application because it specified that he would only consider a shared setup.
Ketchen was one of three finalists recommended by an advisory group of current and former town managers from a field of nine semi-finalists identified by a local citizens' search committee out of 27 applicants. Two of the nine semi-finalists have withdrawn.
"My position is, I'm not against shared services," said Select Board Chairman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo, who's also the fire chief. "But we're way away from any agreement; there are too many things out there, in terms of legislation."
A bill has been filed by state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, and state Sen. Benjamin B. Downing, D-Pittsfield, for special legislation to remove any legal obstacles to regional shared services agreements, including potential tri-town management in Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge.
The State Ethics Commission has agreed to a modification of a state law that cited potential conflicts of interest affecting a shared administrator. Lawmakers are expected to act on the bill to exempt the three towns from the state law by the end of this year, Pignatelli said.
"Before we even give in to this, we should get together with the other two towns, get it out into the open, say what's this person going to do, what's the job description, how many hours to each town, what's the pay from each town, what we need in town offices underneath this person, what it's going to cost us," Cardillo said.
Agreeing with residents who insisted that any shared management agreement be put before voters at a special or annual town meeting, Cardillo stated that "just to come to town meeting now with no information is crazy. I don't feel comfortable; it puts the cart way before the horse."
His motion "that we do not interview Chris Ketchen because he is here for shared services only" was seconded by Selectman Don Chabon.
Cardillo and Chabon voted in favor, while Selectman Stephen Shatz voted against, having stated that he saw nothing wrong with interviewing Ketchen as well as the other two finalists — former Pittsfield Director of Finance and Treasurer Susan Carmel and Southampton Town Administrator Heather Budrewicz.
Chabon, whose motion to seek five finalists for interviews by the board had been approved, also 2-1, at a previous meeting, asked that board members review the applications of four other still-active candidates who did not make the Vetting Committee's final cut. That advisory committee included Lee Town Administrator Robert Nason, who's stepping down next June, Dalton Town Administrator Kenneth Walto and former Williamstown Manager Peter Fohlin.
The board agreed to schedule interviews with Carmel and Budrewicz at their 8 a.m. meeting on Sept. 21, expected to be televised by CTSB-TV, which did not record a video of the session this past Monday.
During that discussion, as heard on an audio recording, citizen-activist Terry Flynn voiced deep skepticism about a shared town manager — "an open question is how far it would go finance manager, DPW manager, fire-police central manager. What does that do in terms of town boards and control?"
Opposing consideration of Ketchen as a shared town administrator, Flynn emphasized the need for town meeting approval.
"We've made it very clear that a shared administrator would not be done without a town meeting," Shatz said.
Cautioning that shared services "is the first key step in promoting more regionalization," Flynn warned that "what will happen is that our own local control of our government will be one extra step removed and we won't have as much access."
Chabon supported Flynn's proposal that the selectmen write to Ketchen to tell him he's not being considered, stating that "I'm very unhappy if we hire this one individual we'd almost be forced into a shared service situation."
Resident Bob Jones, noting he has lived in South Egremont, Lee and Great Barrington, described the towns as "all distinctly different and actually the town form of government is very, very different. Sharing a piece of equipment or ambulance services make sense."
But, Jones said, "when it comes to a town administrator, it's a very very poor idea to share that position with other towns. We have enough difficulty in town trying to run ourselves. It would be hard to manage."
He opposed the notion that the Select Board might "diminish some of their responsibilities, handing them over to an administrator, I don't think we're going to accomplish that."
Describing Ketchen as "immediately disqualified" by applying for a shared services post, Jones told the selectmen: "You can interview him if you want, but if you're doing your jobs listening to the people, they're going to say 'Sorry, that just doesn't fit what we're looking for, and a town meeting is the way to go.' "
"We're so far away from this, and to even get into this would not be right," Cardillo said prior to the vote to limit the current town administrator interviews to Carmel and Budrewicz.
Because of vacation schedules, the next Select Board meeting will be on at 7 p.m. Sept. 19.
Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.