Lee, Lenox approve agreement to share town administrator

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Christopher Ketchen​Beginning on July 1, Christopher Ketchen will serve as the chief administrative officer for both Lenox – his current employer – and Lee.
 
On May 11, Lee Town Meeting approved a three-year shared services agreement that had also been approved by the Lenox Board of Selectmen in March. Under the agreement, the towns will split Ketchen’s $110,000 salary – the same as what he receives now as Lenox’s town manager.
 
The towns will hire a shared assistant chief administrative officer, who will focus on human resources.
 
“We’re not hiring a human resources director per se,” Ketchen said. “It’s actually a full-blown assistant position that will act as the CAO in the CAO’s absence and be fully empowered in that regard. Human resource management will be the primary responsibility, and we’re looking for someone with that background to be the assistant.”
 
While the agreement is for a three-year pilot, the board of selectmen in each town will take a vote in mid-April each year on whether to continue the pilot, Ketchen said. If, after three years, the towns decide to continue the arrangement, the appropriate special legislation and charter change will go before the town meetings in the two towns to make the arrangement permanent.
 
Ketchen said the arrangement is intentionally flexible, and that he plans to spend most of July in Lee to familiarize himself with the town. That said, the expectation is to split his time evenly between the neighboring towns.
 
“At first my main office will be here in Lenox Town Hall,” he said. “I’ll be spending substantial amounts of time in Lee, but working out of this office. But I might be in my Lenox town hall office working on Lee work.”
 
While there are cases in Massachusetts where town administrators work part-time in more than one town, Ketchen said he believes this agreement is different.
 
“These are two towns that have come together to share two full-time jobs and have sort of joint administration of government between the two towns, while maintaining their identity by having their own select boards and town meetings,” he said. “It’s a shared administration, not just the same person doing multiple part-time jobs. It sounds like it’s only a minor distinction, but I think it’s profound.”
 
Ketchen, a member of the MMA Board of Directors, said he hopes the agreement, if successful, can serve as a model for other communities, particularly those in the Berkshires with declining populations that face similar circumstances.