Human resources director to be part of Lee, Lenox shared services agreement

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LENOX — Town officials from Lee and Lenox working on a shared leadership agreement are on board with separate hiring of a human resources director who would also be assistant Chief Administrative Officer and part of the senior staff team for the two communities.

At a meeting of the two-town Administrative Review Committee on Monday, the four members agreed on the need for an HR specialist to handle personnel matters for municipal employees, as well as benefits packages for staffers of the Lenox and Lee school districts.

Lee Town Administrator Robert Nason, an architect of the joint leadership effort along with Lenox Town Manager Christopher Ketchen, estimated that close to 900 full-, part-time and summer employees of the two towns and their school districts would be served by an HR director.

"It's 430 full-time equivalents," Ketchen noted, "but then there's all the summer help, the special police officers, it adds up pretty fast, so it almost doubles up. That's inclusive of the schools, the municipal numbers are much lower."

Under the draft inter-municipal agreement being considered by the committee, hiring and firing power for municipal employees, now handled by Ketchen and Nason for each town, would reside with Ketchen as chief administrative officer.

Each town's Select Board would continue to sign off on staff appointments by the CAO. School district leadership also would remain in charge of their staffs, except for benefits that are administered and paid out of the Lenox and Lee town budgets rather than the schools' operating budgets.

The shared leadership arrangement — a three-year trial with "off-ramps" at the end of the first and second year if insurmountable problems arise — will be discussed further by the Lee Select Board on Tuesday evening and by the Lenox Select Board meeting this Wednesday evening.

At Monday's committee meeting, Lee Selectwoman Patricia Carlino, Lee Finance Committee Chairman Nicholas Arienti and Lenox Selectmen Kenneth Fowler and Edward Lane agreed on the need for a human resources director. Salary for the position would be set after a report on statewide pay scales from the Collins Center for Public Management based at the University of Massachusetts Boston campus.

Under the arrangement, newly hired Town Hall staffers in Lee will get their benefits packages from the HR director, instead of the town Treasurer Donna Toomey. New Lenox employees also would use the HR specialist as their point person; so would school district employees from both towns, for benefits only.

In Lee, town meeting representatives elected by residents in each of the town's six districts will vote on the three-year joint leadership trial agreement at their May 11 annual gathering. Lenox Select Board members have agreed they will approve the arrangement without going to annual town meeting voters.

"This has an easy exit ramp after the first year," Fowler said. "To put it to a town meeting and end up spending some amount of time, probably too much, discussing all the questions people have that we've answered ourselves as part of the process the public is aware of, would be a waste of time."

"We're just doing it as a consideration," Carlino said, "though I've not gotten any negative comments on it, so I don't expect it to be an issue at our town meeting."

Details are still to be worked out on the 50-50 time-sharing arrangements for the HR director, who would back up the CAO on other issues as part of the senior management team.

"My idea is that the person would rotate between the two towns," said Fowler, who chairs the Administrative Review Committee. "It would make sense to have office hours in both towns," Lane said.

Each town would share salary and benefits costs for both leaders. Since Nason is retiring as of June 30, the HR specialist would be hired by the town of Lee on the same budget line. There would be no impact for taxpayers in Lenox and Lee, as Ketchen has stated he would not seek an increase from his current salary (which is $110,000) or benefits.

"Lee would hire the human resources person as a Lee employee and there would be an agreement to share that employee with our neighbor," Nason said.

The arrangement would parallel the shared building inspector agreement already in place for the two towns.

"With the chief administrative officer, we'd have a similar sharing of expense," Nason said.

"If for some reason the CAO doesn't work out, I'd like to be able to have a surviving relationship with Lee for the HR position," Fowler said. "We still can share an HR person," Ketchen added, if either town decides the shared leadership trial isn't working out and chooses to use the "exit ramp" after year one or year two.

As a result, the assistant CAO/HR director would be hired under a separate agreement with the two towns.

The three-year trial would expire in June 2020; if both towns want to make the arrangement permanent, that decision would rest with the annual town meetings in May of that year.

The Administrative Review Committee will continue its discussion at 8:30 a.m. April 3 in Lenox Town Hall to complete final revisions of the CAO agreement and a nearly complete draft of the assistant CAO/HR director position.

Reach correspondent Clarence Fanto at cfanto@yahoo.com or 413-637-2551.


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