The Select Board in Lee, Massachusetts voted this week to continue sharing a town administrator with Lenox for another year.
Chris Ketchen occupies a unique role in Berkshire County municipal governance.
“We have an intermunicipal agreement between the two towns, between Lee and Lenox, to share a chief administrative officer," said Ketchen. "So, in Lenox that’s a town manager and in Lee it’s a town administrator.”
That’s Ketchen’s job — carrying out administrative duties for both towns simultaneously. He spoke to WAMC moments after the Lee select board voted Tuesday night to continue the pilot arrangement into 2019.
“The agreement’s been active since July 1 of 2017, they just approved tonight to extend it for a year, an additional year term," said Ketchen. "Lenox of course approved it earlier this month, the same extension.”
The towns, though similar in size — Lenox has around 5,000, Lee just under 6,000 — have a number of contrasts.
“Lenox has a town manager form, where there’s sort of greater organizational authority concentrated in the position," said Ketchen. "Lee tends to have greater management responsibilities fall within the scope of the board of selectmen’s role.”
They also differ on how residents participate in their respective town meetings.
“Lee has a representative town meeting, Lenox has open town meeting," Ketchen said. "You have elected representatives coming to the annual town meeting in one community, then it’s any registered voter who takes an interest in Lenox for either an annual or special town meeting.”
For now, the project seems to be progressing smoothly.
“The residents of both towns have been nothing but supportive up until this point,” said Ketchen.
Lenox and Lee are splitting his yearly salary of $110,000.
“It’s important for the townspeople to get as much out of it as possible," said Lee Selectman Thomas Wickham. "In other words, if we had two town administrators — we bought a town administrator for the same price, so we delivered a better product and service to our constituents by doing this. Instead of having two town administrators, we both needed a human resource, didn’t cost us any more money. It was the same amount of money. So you’re giving a better benefit to the taxpayers, was the key to this. And I think so far it’s worked out very well.”
Wickham is talking about Ketchen’s counterpart, Lyndsay Broom, who is the second member of the unique intermunicipal administrative team.
“So I’m actually the HR director, if you want to put it down to it, exactly what it is. I’m in charge of all personnel issues, and benefits coordinator, all that. Anything that falls under HR, it’s me,” laughed Broom.
Broom stepped into a role that hadn’t existed before in either town.
“They’re both on two different health plans, they both have two different handbooks and policies. Going through each one, starting from the bottom and trying to figure out what is working and what has worked in the past and what has worked and needs to up updated and changed. It’s really been a task, starting from scratch, because neither town has had HR presence, and this is the first time they’re putting it into play,” said Bro0m.
As he and Broom build a new system out of two disparate ones, Ketchen is looking forward.
“We’ll keep working for another year to try and make this sort of unique pilot arrangement work for the residents of both towns, to try to gain efficiencies and improve services while at the same time not threatening the identity of either community as they continue to operate as their own.”