'Fish or cut bait'

Stockbridge doesn't want to share an administrator - but Lee and Lenox still might


With prospects for a tri-town agreement for Lenox, Lee and Stockbridge to share a chief administrative officer apparently on life support, a possible Plan B is emerging.

After two Stockbridge selectmen sought to scuttle a three-way collaboration, Lee and Lenox Select Board members said they were keen on considering a dual shared administrator.

"We seem to be on the same page," said Lee Selectwoman Patricia Carlino. "Maybe with two towns it would show the world it works or it doesn't work."

With 40 years of municipal government experience, Carlino said she can't see any harm in giving the plan a shot, since Lee and Lenox would each maintain their own Select Board offices and an assistant administrator drawn from existing staff.

"What's the worst that can happen?" she asked. "We would still have people in Town Hall. We should also rely more on our department heads than we do and I think we in Lee have a pretty good crew."

A tri-town Administrative Review Committee (ARC) recently recommended the three towns consider shifting to a shared administrator. Robert Nason, Lee's town administrator, plans to step down in June.

But during a recent meeting convened by state Rep. William "Smitty" Pignatelli, D-Lenox, Stockbridge Selectman Donald Chabon delivered a harshly worded letter expressing "strong opposition" to the idea.

Chabon also contended that "this has been a negative, disruptive force in town." But in an interview this week, Pignatelli said he was approached by several Stockbridge residents who favor the proposal.

As chairman of the tri-town Administrative Review Committee exploring various shared services options for more than a year, Lenox Selectman Kenneth Fowler said: "I'm really excited about working with Lee for a coalition between the two towns. An opportunity like this won't come again as easily, so obviously we would want to follow it through."

He suggested that Nason and Lenox Town Manager Christopher Ketchen could work together to sort out budgetary issues and collaborate with the Select Boards of both towns in a trial run "to ease the concern we all have that one town may benefit more than another."

After his initial skepticism, Lee Selectman David Consolati has gradually warmed up to the proposal for a joint chief administrative officer, augmented by a human resources specialist.

But he favors leaving the final say to the annual town meeting of Lee's elected district representatives since they "control the purse strings."

"If it does pass, I don't see a problem with just two of us," Consolati said of a potential Lenox-Lee deal.

In an interview on Tuesday, Nason said he supports the idea of a human resources assistant to a chief administrative officer.

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"Having someone full-time is a huge benefit for the employees and taxpayers," he said. "Having such a professional helps lessen the liability in dealing with personnel matters."

He also suggested that the best approach for a potential two-town arrangement would be an intermunicipal agreement, rather than a special act of the state Legislature, thus making it easier to make changes if needed or if one town decides to withdraw.

Ketchen declined comment on the prospects of a Lee-Lenox partnership since he is a potential chief administrative officer if an agreement is reached.

The proposal he crafted with Nason and Stockbridge Town Administrator Danielle Fillio stressed that under a shared services arrangement, all three towns would keep their current Town Hall structure, with the select boards continuing to have final authority. In Stockbridge, the board would retain its current hiring and firing power.

In interviews this week, the four Lenox Selectmen who attended Pignatelli's meeting voiced unanimous support for exploring a shared services leadership arrangement with Lee.

"We should consider it," said Selectman Channing Gibson. "The two towns with a combined population of 10,000 would have more clout in Boston."

"There's a lot to be gained by exploring the opportunity," Selectman David Roche agreed. "We have to investigate all possibilities. Lee and Lenox have always been close, with Lenox Dale in the middle."

Roche pointed out that town leaders in Lenox would have to do "a lot of educational activities" to assure buy-in from voters at a town meeting.

"Looking long term, both towns could realize some cost savings," he added. "I'm surprised the two Stockbridge selectmen represented that their voters had no interest in exploring it. Voters have to look at every option before summarily dismissing it."

Lenox Selectman Edward Lane also supports putting together a proposal for a joint Lee-Lenox agreement. "Just because Stockbridge isn't interested, we shouldn't forget the whole thing. We have to move forward in one way or another," he said.

For his part, Pignatelli expressed disappointment that two Stockbridge Selectmen "had their minds made up before hearing the facts. I think it's short-sighted, neither one of them had participated in any of our meetings in any shape or form. I'm not sure what they're afraid of."

"This idea was generated from the three towns, it's nothing the state initiated," Pignatelli said. He noted that state Department of Revenue officials offered guidance and a blueprint as requested by representatives of the three towns.

Expressing reluctance to give up on the possibility of a tri-town leadership arrangement, Pignatelli said.

"Someone needs to tell me why this wouldn't work; It seems like a no-brainer," he said. "We need to streamline services and maintain each town's identity while saving the taxpayers money, and that's exactly what's being proposed."

Reach staff writer Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233. Reach correspondent Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.


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