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Lenox Interviews Town Manager Finalists

By Andy McKeever
iBerkshires Staff
11:52AM / Saturday, January 25, 2014
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LENOX, Mass. — The Board of Selectmen will be picking from three finalist for the town manager position.

On Saturday the board interviewed Jason Hoch, Christopher Ketchen and John Haverstock, each providing insight into their histories, management techniques and vision for the town.

The board expected to render a decision in the upcoming week.

"I'm certainly very impressed with the quality of candidates that we received," Chairman Dave Roche said, adding he expects to call a special meeting this week to render a decision.

The town is looking to replace Gregory Federspiel, who left to take a job in Manchester-by-the-Sea.

Starting shortly after 8 a.m. on Saturday the first candidate interviewed was the Hopkinton Finance Director Ketchen. The Alford native earned his Master's degree in public administration from the University of Massachusetts in 2000 and launched into a career in finance.

He started in Maryland for the Prince George's County Government, moving up to the assistant to the deputy chief administrative officer and budget management analyst.

He moved back to Massachusetts in 2004 as a budget projects manager for Wellesley  before a two-year stint as a project manager for the Department of Revenue. He returned to Wellesley in 2008 as the director of general government before being recruited to be the finance director in Hopkinton, where he has been since July 2012.

"My long term goal has always been to be a town manager in an exceptional community," he told the Selectmen,

Christopher Ketchen.

adding that it is close to his family but "not too close. "[This job] is a perfect fit for me professionally as well as personally."

If chosen, Ketchen says his focus would be on setting a long-term vision, providing leadership and, where he has the most experience, on finance.

"I think long-term planning, deciding the overall direction of the town is key," he said.

Ketchen calls the job being a "professional problem solver" and has experience in regionalizing services, creating financial systems for stability and knows how to "do more with less."

He says he sets goals for both himself and employees and expects them to be accomplished.

"I'm a pretty performance driven person. I believe in goals and objectives," he said.

But he says he is "an open book" and believes in open communication and building the right team to serve the residents. He said he understands that Lenox is transition from manufacturing jobs while wanting to retain its character.

Ketchen believes there are ways to build the town without changing the character by creating a more diverse tourism economic and addressing "vulnerabilities" current or future businesses see stay or coming to town.

"We want to keep the town as historically correct as possible and second we want to provide noninvasive industry," he said

Haverstock is the town manager in Pittsford, Vt. after a long history in law. The Philadelphia native earned his Bachelor's Degree from the University of Virginia in 1984 and completed his law degree from the same school in 1987. From there he moved to Hartford, Conn. where he worked in various law firms while serving as a town councilman. In 2008, he took the Pittsford job.

However, now going on six years, Haverstock says it is time to look for a new challenge and that it would be good for new eyes to be in Pittsford. He says a town manager should stay somewhere between five to ten years to keep the town moving forward and healthy.

"I think it is a beautiful place to be - the architecture, the history," he said of Lenox.

He too understands the desire to retain town's character. But he also says the town needs to be mindful that the economic climate is tough and the residents who live there year round need the tax burden lightened.

John Haverstock.

"I look for ways to keep what you've got while lightening the load on taxpayers by broadening the pie," Haverstock said."I'm always looking for ways to minimize the tax impacts on residents... They can tell us we are in a recovery but it doesn't feel like it."

While he says providing services and tax relief to residents is a primary focus, he also said tourism is "the golden goose" for Lenox and he would want to build on that industry.

"My sense is that you preserve the character by keeping Lenox the gem that people flock too," he said.

Haverstock said his management style is headed by openness and communication. He said even if a decision is made in town that the residents don't like, at least they will have their voice heard through a "fair and open" process.

And the same goes for services. He believes town employees need to respond to every complaint and question the residents have.

Meanwhile, with his law background, he likes "to make sure I help the Selectboard stay out of legal trouble."

He also boasts experience with capital projects including a $5 million water system he facilitated in Pittsford and improvements to the wastewater system. He also won grants for including funding to dismantle a dam and $400,000 for sidewalk improvements.

"I've seen through a lot of big projects. I've been successful in seeking grants to do these projects," Haverstock said.

Williams College graduate Jason Hoch rounded out the interviews and boasted of his role in turning Littleton, N.H. into one of the best small towns in the country. Now he is the town administrator in Litchfield, N.H. and said that while he wasn't looking for a new job, an opportunity to work in a town similar to Littleton and close to his alma-mater couldn't be passed up.

Hoch, also a Philadelphia native, graduated William's political economy program in 1995 and went on to earn his Master's degree in regional planning from Cornell. While at Williams, he wrote his thesis on the town of Adams' downtown revitalization, which led him to his first professional job as executive director of Littleton Main Street, Inc.

That job focused on putting programs in place to revitalize and sustain Littleton's downtown. As he progressed he worked his way up to town manager. In 2008 he departed for Plaistow, N.H. for a town manager job. When his child was born, he quit and became ran his own consulting business, again focused on building downtowns. He went back to work with the job in Litchfield in 2010.

"I do find myself missing that type of the community that I was able to be in in the White Mountains," he said, and described very similar dynamics and issues as Lenox including a thriving tourism economy.
 

Jason Hoch.

He said there he was able to implement a structure that has thrived even during the recession. Towns need a "balanced approach" including promotion, economic development and design to create sustainability.

While Littleton was similar to Lenox, the Board of Selectmen were more impressed with his current position because Litchfield has twice the population but services are provided with half of Lenox's budget.

"We run a number of things on a shoestring," Hoch said, but that is what the town wants so he finds ways to provide the services within that budget.

Not only has all three of his town management position gave him experience in budgeting, but also capital projects including landfill closures and water system improvements.

He has written and received "sizable" grants for community and transportation planning, upgrades to town buildings and projects such as a riverwalk and covered bridge.

"Having been in small towns, I've ended up being the person who has done the budget work," Hoch said. " Now, I don't know what your seasonal patterns are but I can figure that out pretty quickly by digging into the budget."
 
As for his management style, he too believes in an open door policy and communication. He understands many don't communicate the same way but will find ways to work wit the department heads in ways that do work. That policy is partly why Litchfield can be run on a $5 million budget because "there are a lot of 'what if we do this."

"My door is open to staff, residents, whoever. That's where my comfort level is, I am used to department heads stopping by," he said.

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