Great Barrington is one of the two largest towns in Berkshire County and an important regional center of commerce and community. As we search for our new town manager, let’s prioritize five attributes: leadership, organization, financial aptitude, experience and energy.
We can see the importance of these qualities in presentations by outstanding town managers at meetings of the Association of Massachusetts Town Finance Committees. One town manager discussed the town’s past, its current state and its future ten years. He covered critical issues and upcoming focal points. These points were supported by excellent charts and insightful analysis, both qualitative and quantitative, all in less than 20 minutes. This town manager demonstrated leadership, organization, experience and energetic passion for his work.
According to our bylaws, Great Barrington’s town manager (TM) is the chief administrative officer of the town responsible to the selectboard, managing the staff of the town, where salaries and benefits cover two-thirds of the budget. This is akin to the “chief operating officer” of most commercial and not-for-profit enterprises. To manage effectively and efficiently, leadership and organization with attendant communication skills are absolutely required.
Our bylaw also says, the town manager is “the chief financial officer,” which includes responsibility for the budget and the coordination of the budget process. Since Great Barrington has a very high tax rate, the town manager must focus on key financial issues, not just the budget, but also analyze critical items, and communicate information to the public in a timely manner. Financial aptitude, organizational skills and experience are also essential.
An important aspect in our bylaw is “Planning and Operation” with responsibility for “coordinating strategic planning and operations of the town.” For this, a candidate with leadership skills would be beacon for our town in combination with our selectboard. The town manager would effectively coordinate committees, especially the planning board and finance committee, alongside staff activities to move our town forward.
Leadership must incorporate taking initiatives. For example, many, including the selectboard, have expressed the need for an economic development committee. Having such a successful committee with broad objectives would help to sustain our economy and workforce. It would require the leadership of the selectboard to set an agenda and town manager to drive this effort.
Great Barrington selecboard has hired a consultant to search for an effective town manager. We have an enormously diverse, talented, and engaged population. Please let your voices be heard. The town and the region will benefit enormously.
The writer is the former chair of the Great Barrington Finance Committee.