Lee, Lenox look forward; examine details of sharing a town administrator
The Lee Select Board was among several town officials — pending annual town meeting approval in May — advocating that a single administrator is worth trying to improve local government efficiency and possibly save taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.
"No matter what happens here we're not trying to create one large municipality," said Selectman David Consolati.
Consolati's remarks came during the board's public forum on Tuesday night to gauge local reaction to the proposal unveiled two months ago. The meeting at Lee Middle and High School came 24 hours after the Stockbridge Select Board voted 2-1 against further consideration of the plan. The selectmen on Monday night also agreed their town should pull out from the tri-town Administrative Review Committee that, with the state's help, crafted the proposal.
The Lenox informational session is set for Tuesday night at Lenox Memorial Middle and High School.
Under the restructuring, a chief administrative officer would oversee the day-to-day operations of Lee, Lenox and Stockbridge, with all three also sharing a single, human resources professional. Each town would maintain its selectmen's office manned by an administrative services director, mostly likely elevating the role of the person already assisting each board.
In the wake of Stockbridge's withdrawal, Lee officials based their comments and concerns on a shared administrator with Lenox only.
Town meeting representative Richard Brittain wondered if the plan makes sense with two towns. Lee officials believe the combined savings would be about one-third of the projected $110,000 for a tri-town arrangement. However, with Lee Town Administrator Robert Nason retiring at the end of June earning $88,471 annually — $22,000 less than Lenox Town Manager Christopher Ketchen — Lee would be hard pressed to find Nason's successor at a lower salary.
"The new administrator would make more money than [Nason] makes now," said board Chairman Thomas Wickham.
"A lot more," added Board of Assessors Chairman Dayton DeLorme.
Several town meeting representatives doubted whether one person could manage two municipalities with hundreds of employees and combined operating budgets of $45 million.
Nason and Lee Public Schools business manager Andrea Wadsworth felt Ketchen is capable and highly qualified to take on the challenge. Wadsworth saw Ketchen in action during her brief stint as Lenox's treasurer.
The plan would include Ketchen becoming the administrator, splitting his time between the communities. The logistics of the time management would likely be left up to the administrator, according to Lee Selectwoman Patricia Carlino.
Nason pointed out that hiring a human resources person would free up the administrator to address other municipal matters often put on the back burner due to his current duties that involve personnel issues and employee contract negotiations.
"If you have a person focused on HR, you may also reduce [employee] turnover," he said.
Kathy Murphy, a 20-year human resources professional and member of Lee's Personnel Committee, suggested the HR person the towns hire should be a generalist, not a specialist.
"Someone who has knowledge in a lot of areas," she said. "HR isn't rocket science."
Should Lee and Lenox take the plunge, it would likely be on a multi-year trial basis. The proposal calls for a three-year agreement, with each town assessing whether its worth continuing the central administration for a fourth year or longer.
"A year isn't a fair trial. There's too many bugs to work out," Consolati said. "I think it'll take two to three years to figure out."
Contact staff writer Dick Lindsay at 413-496-6233.
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