LEE — Select Board members on Thursday commended Chief Administrative Officer Christopher Ketchen for the monumental task of managing two similar-sized towns — an experiment that will soon wind down — for the past four years.
“[Given] the almost daily or weekly ups and downs of town government, what is surprising is that Chris got as much done as he did,” said board Chair Patricia Carlino.
And Selectman Robert Jones, once an opponent of a shared administrator, found Ketchen has done an “admirable job” managing two towns since 2017.
“In the short time I worked with Chris, he was helpful and did a great job,” said Jones, who was elected in May. “I never had a phone call not returned and always had a comprehensive answer to a question.”
Those comments come a day after the Lenox Select Board voted to end its intermunicipal agreement with Lee so Ketchen can focus full-time on the issues and projects of the town where he is based. He will revert back to being a full-time town manager in Lenox in 60 days.
The vote does not affect Lyndsay Broom, who was hired by Lee in 2017 to serve as a shared human resource specialist shortly after Ketchen began his dual role.
But Lee is left searching for a successor to Ketchen.
“We will go forward now with the goal of looking for our own town administrator,” Carlino said. “We will survive and get through this process once again.”
Added Jones, “I think hiring a new administrator gives Lee an opportunity to just focus on Lee.”
Did shared boss work?Former Selectmen David Consolati and Thomas Wickham were on the Lee Select Board that hired Ketchen four years ago to succeeded Lee’s town administrator, the late Robert Nason.
While apprehensive at first, both men found sharing a top administrator works.
“I think worked very well; there were no issues, no problems,” said Consolati, who was voted off the board in May.
Wickham agreed, “I think this type of arrangement worked for Lee and Lenox.”
However, Ketchen found himself overseeing towns that have been at odds in recent months on a pair of issues: a proposed PCB landfill in Lee and a recreational marijuana store that straddles both municipalities.
“It has been a little contentious between the towns, so I understand and respect Lenox’s decision,” Wickham said.
Added Consolati, “If you read between the lines, Chris has spent a lot of time on the PCB issue and Lenox feels its paying for half an administrator and not getting half.”
Lee residents have been pressuring their Select Board to back out of the Rest of River agreement that includes the PCB landfill.
Meanwhile Lenox officials say they needed to approve the proposed pot shop at the Lee/Lenox line on Route 20 because a very small portion of the property lies within their border. The Lee Select Board permitted the business in May.