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Why these Berkshire towns might raise a ‘help wanted’ sign together

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The towns of Savoy, Washington and Windsor are exploring the possibility of hiring a single shared administrator to manage their government affairs. 

Kent Lew worries about burnout. His own, for starters.

Though Lew is relatively new to leading the Select Board in Washington, he has seen the toll that managing a small town’s affairs can take on even the most committed elected official.

Larger towns nearby, like Dalton and Lee, have administrators.

Why can’t smaller ones?

With help from the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission, the towns of Savoy, Washington and Windsor are exploring the idea of joining to hire a single full-time administrator who would serve them all, relieving stress on unpaid officials and helping achieve a new kind of stability.

“I’m trying to move us away from that,” Lew said, referring to a reliance on elected officials to manage day-to-day affairs in the town. “When I burn out, who’s going to come next?”

A shared post is just an idea, he warns. Still, the three towns are backing the commission’s application for a grant that would help flesh out a shared administrative post.

And perhaps not only for these towns, says Tom Matuszko, the commission’s executive director.

“We’re definitely not opposed to opening it up to more towns,” he said. “We might be casting a wider net.”

Matuszko said the grant application, if approved, likely would not move the question far enough along for it to be presented to residents at town meetings this year.

At a recent meeting, Windsor’s Select Board continued to express interest in a shared post but opted not to yet commit the town to paying $20,000 a year as its contribution to a new three-way position that might pay in the $60,000 range.

In Savoy, members of the Select Board indicated in late January that they are interested in pursuing the idea. Melanie Glynn, a member of Savoy’s top board, has participated in talks with Matuszko, Lew and Doug McNally, a Select Board member in Windsor.

Lew, the Washington official, said a designated town administrator would be able to see and respond to problems more quickly. By serving several towns, a full-time administrator would be better able to grasp and stay on top of municipal issues that can be complex and time-consuming to handle.

“There’s a lot of challenges to each of us trying to reinvent the wheel,” Lew said of Washington and its peers.

Sustainability in town government, he said, remains “precarious” for now.

Matuszko said that while there would be logistics to work out in a shared job, he sees benefits, provided that the communities have similar characteristics and are relatively close to one another, as is the case with Savoy, Washington and Windsor.

“You can get a higher level of professionalism,” he said. “Getting the services they need, and the control over it.”

Separately, the town of Washington has been working since last year with the Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts-Boston to study the role that a town administrator might play in the community. The project was scheduled to begin in December.

Larry Parnass can be reached at lparnass@berkshireeagle.com and 413-588-8341.

Managing editor for innovation

Larry Parnass joined The Eagle in 2016 from the Daily Hampshire Gazette, where he was editor in chief. His freelance work has appeared in the Washington Post, Boston Globe, Hartford Courant, CommonWealth Magazine and with the Reuters news service.

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