BRPC panel begins candidate reviews for regional planning commission chief

PITTSFIELD — Candidates are on deck to become only the third executive director of the Berkshire Regional Planning Commission.

A search committee is scheduled to begin reviewing applications from people seeking to replace Nathaniel W. Karns, the public agency's leader for more than two decades. The panel plans to use a 2 p.m. meeting Wednesday to fine-tune its interview questions and to get a legal update on the search.

The commission helps its 32 member communities in Berkshire County confront public policy challenges. Those cities and towns pay fees for the agency's consulting services, but the lion's share of the commission's $2.9 million annual budget comes from grants and contracts it secures.

Karns announced early last March that he hoped to leave the position before the next winter season's blizzards hit.

While that hope to avoid more winter commutes didn't work out, the search panel appears to be on track to bring the commission's third executive director on board by this spring.

"The process is unfolding," Karns said. "I'm trying not to take on new things unless they're pretty short term."

In materials prepared for the search, the commission notes it is "at an important juncture as it embarks on its first leadership transition in 23 years and its third in 51 years."

Karns has held the job since August 1994, when he replaced the first person to lead the agency, Karl Hekler.

"We hope that our third executive director will have that longevity," said Kyle Hanlon, the commission's chairman, noting Karns' long service.

"He's graciously offered to stay around until the transition is complete," Hanlon said of Karns.

Last spring, Hanlon told The Eagle that candidates must show a talent for outreach and reason. "The Executive Director serves as the public 'face and voice' of the BRPC," a summary of the job says.

"The ability to reach out to people is the most important thing — and thoughtfully weigh opposing positions," Hanlon said. "I hold Nat in high regard for his ability to do that."

The commission operates out of offices at 1 Fenn St. in downtown Pittsfield. Its staff of 20 full-time equivalent employees and five part-timers oversees 76 active grants and contracts.

That professional staff is backed up by a network of citizen boards. Together, they gather data and shape solutions on issues including environmental problems, energy, transportation, housing, health, telecommunications and other subjects.

According to its mission statement, the agency "provides leadership and assistance to the County's municipalities, organizations and citizens in achieving County-wide inter-relationships, prosperity, opportunities, quality of life, strength and vibrancy."

One of the executive director's key duties, a full job description says, is to enhance the agency's "reputation as a trusted resource of unbiased, professional information and assistance." Karns' current salary is $121,627.

Under the state's Open Meeting Law, initial candidates can be interviewed in executive sessions. Once the field is narrowed to finalists, the candidates' names must be made public.

In a nod to the winter hardships Karns cited last spring — half in jest, he later said — the full description mentions that the job calls for the winning candidate to conduct business "in year-round weather conditions ...."

It also notes that the job requires "frequent attendance at evening meetings and frequent long working hours."

Karns said last spring that as he approached age 65, he hoped to travel in retirement — and was ready to have a life outside work. "I have no desire to go out with my boots on," he said.

The commission advertised the position nationally and has a pool of candidates ready for review, Hanlon said. "We're just getting started."

Larry Parnass can be reached at, at @larryparnass on Twitter and 413-496-6214.


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