Stockbridge takes heat over shared-services balk

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STOCKBRIDGE >> A decision by the Select Board to slam the brakes on exploration of shared services with Lenox and Lee is not sitting well with some citizens.

At Monday night's meeting, board members faced sharp questioning on their 2-1 vote last month to exclude Lenox Town Manager Christopher Ketchen from consideration as town administrator in a shared-services scenario.

Ketchen was among three finalists recommended by a committee of three current and former Berkshire town leaders. But last month, the board ruled him out because his application specified a collaboration that would include his continued service in Lenox.

Instead, the selectmen will consider the two other candidates put forth by Lee Town Administrator Robert Nason, Dalton Town Administrator Kenneth Walto and Peter Fohlin, the retired town manager of Williamstown.

Susan Carmel, former director of finance and city treasurer of Pittsfield, and Heather Budrewicz, the town administrator in Southampton, are slated for interviews by the Select Board during their 8 a.m. meeting on Wednesday.

Bronly Boyd, representing the citizens committee that ranked 27 applicants seeking to succeed Jorja-Ann Marsden, asked the board on Monday to explain its decision-making on shared services and a town administrator.

Citing the existing agreement among Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge to explore sharing opportunities, Boyd wanted to know more about how the board would handle discussions "and who would be the final vote for those kinds of decisions?"

"We haven't decided that," replied Select Board Chairman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo.

"It sounds to me like there's a great deal of angst about how these decisions will be made," Boyd said. "Some folks felt it would just get voted without any discussion."

Cardillo suggested that "when we get to a point where two or three towns want a town manager together, those towns get together, discuss a job description, hours worked in each town, pay for each town, what assistants and how many are needed in each town, what's their jobs? There's a lot to it."

"Once everything's done in black and white," he added, "I would recommend that we vote on it at the annual town meeting."

Boyd urged prompt discussions on shared services because "I don't think any of us know whether it's a good idea or not."

"This is down the road, and the public is going to be fully involved," Cardillo stated.

"So you can promise us that when that time comes, we will have open discussions, meetings, lots of input positive and negative, we can hear the good, the bad and the ugly," Boyd said.

"I wouldn't recommend doing it any other way," Cardillo said. "This is a big step, it's not something you jump into."

"I appreciate that, glad to hear that," Boyd said. But he then urged the Select Board to consider "re-engaging with Christopher Ketchen, have him come back for an interview, so we can begin the process of understanding what it is he thinks we can do as far as a town manager goes."

"I think we would do that later on," Cardillo said. "I see this thing being a year and a half, two years out. I don't want to interfere with the people we're interviewing for the job."

Boyd suggested that it "might be interesting" to hear Ketchen's views "so we can begin to make a judgment about what's really good for Stockbridge."

He emphasized that while he does not know Ketchen, "I can tell you his resume is impressive."

Resident Jim Balfanz agreed, cautioning the Select Board that "you've automatically shut out at least listening to a gentleman who, according to a member of the selection committee, has outstanding ideas and an outstanding resume."

"He has some opinions on shared services," Balfanz added, "and I don't see why you're shutting him out from the discussion now, if you're going to be making the decision to hire somebody and then, down the road, you're going to be talking about shared services."

He urged the board, on behalf of the town, to "listen to other people who are in those positions who can offer some expertise."

But resident Terry Flynn said "to have Chris come in and to be trying to accelerate the shared-services agreement leaves us in limbo" since "we owe it" to the two finalist candidates to proceed and "we need to make a legitimate commitment" to the person ultimately chosen.

He warned against "rushing to judgment on something that is major. Chris is not a viable finalist because this whole thing is not in motion yet."

Selectman Donald Chabon stressed that "it would be improper" to hear from Ketchen since his interest is in a shared town leadership arrangement.

"We are already committed to the two candidates and I think we should go ahead with that," he added. "We have two viable candidates and I see no reason to confuse the situation."

Cardillo said that with Nason's retirement from his post as Lee administrator next June, that would be the time to explore a possible collaboration among the three towns.

Selectman Stephen Shatz said the committee of Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge leaders that has been meeting for nearly a year to explore possible shared services "has no authority" and any recommendations must go to select boards and, in the case of a major proposal such as a shared manager, the voters in each town would weigh in.

Cautioning against delay, Shatz strongly urged the board to "start this work now, not to wait."

Contact Clarence Fanto at 413-637-2551.

In their own words ...

Views on potential shared services involving Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge expressed during the Stockbridge Select Board meeting on Monday night on the search for a town administrator to succeed Jorja-Ann Marsden, who retired July 15:

"I don't know if [shared services] is a good idea or not, I'm not opposed to it, though, I'll look at the numbers and the facts and figures."

— Select Board Chairman Ernest "Chuckie" Cardillo

"The town has not committed to any shared service, but we have committed to replacing Jorja and that's really what should happen now."

— Resident Terry Flynn

"We're committed to hiring a new town administrator and I expect to continue with that process. After she is on board, we can discuss which or any of the town services are candidates for sharing, but not at this point."

— Selectman Donald Chabon

"This is not a decision that's going to be imposed from the top down This board has the obligation not to be sitting here two years from now and saying we still have these unanswered questions. This board has the obligation to get the answers to the important questions Chuckie has raised of how it would work what the advantages and disadvantages are."

— Selectman Stephen Shatz


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