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New administrator enjoys small-town challenge.

Byline: George Barnes

STERLING -- The town he came from has many financial challenges and where he is at is fiscally sound, but Town Administrator Jeffrey Ritter said the job is basically the same.

"Templeton has problems deciding which roads to pave and Sterling has problems deciding which roads to pave,'' he said.

Mr. Ritter left Templeton after two years as town coordinator to take the town administrator job in Sterling. The communities are about the same size and both are rural, but when he left Templeton, the town was struggling, and continues to struggle with financial problems that nearly put it into receivership.

Sterling has a solid financial base. Mr. Ritter said it still has $1 million that can be raised under the Proposition 21/2 cap, but the town is banking it, to be used only if needed.

Mr. Ritter spoke of the similarities and differences of the two towns to explain that although each rural community has its unique issues, they mostly operate the same. He said there was quite a bit of infighting, but Sterling also has issues that result in disputes.

Having worked in Harvard, Hatfield, Templeton and now Sterling, Mr. Ritter said he is used to operating as a small-town administrator. In Hatfield he once helped out organizing a roundup when a herd of cows got loose. He also had to fire up the boiler every day.

Mr. Ritter said he is proudest of a certificate he keeps in his office from the Small Town Administrators of Massachusetts Association, which indicates he has met the criteria to be certified as a small-town administrator.

"This certificate represents a general mastery of the tools and skills we need to be successful,'' he said.

Mr. Ritter makes no claim to be qualified to run a city or large town and is comfortable in the role he has in Sterling.

"It's a very Cheers place where everyone know your name,'' he said. "Running a small town, any small town, requires a unique set of skills and requires unique abilities that set you apart from big-city mayors and managers.''

Mr. Ritter just finished his first town budget in Sterling, which he inherited when he took the job in January. He said the next budget, his first from beginning to end as Sterling's administrator, will be put together differently.

"We're going to start earlier this year and the opportunities for feedback will be more frequent,'' he said. "It will invite much closer scrutiny of every line item.''

Mr. Ritter said closer scrutiny will allow better understanding of whether enough is being spent on certain things and if some expenditures need to be reduced.

He also plans to work on policies and procedures for the Board of Selectmen. He said the board has recently developed policies and it also has old policies on the books, but they are not all together in one place to make it easier to scrutinize them to ensure they do not conflict.

In general, Mr. Ritter said he hopes to simplify how the town operates, with easy-to-follow regulations and policies for the public to deal with. On a shelf in his office is a cap he said was given to him by Templeton Fire Chief Raymond LaPorte with the words fact, law and transparency on it. He said they are three words every town administrator should live by -- dealing with what is fact, rather than what is assumed, making sure the law is followed and operating a transparent government.

Mr. Ritter said he had someone come to him with a complaint that he had not been able to get information he needed or documents he needed. He said he told the man to get a thumb drive and he would download what he wanted.

"He was pretty surprised,'' he said.

But most information stored by cities and towns is public information.

"There is not much that is not available,'' he said. "It is a very short list.''

While Mr. Ritter plans to work on many changes in the current year, the one project he said he helped get underway in the past six months was the building of a senior center on Boutelle and Muddy Pond Roads. He said the building is under design and should be under construction by next summer or fall.

Contact George Barnes at george.barnes@telegram.com. Follow him on Twitter @georgebarnesTG
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Title Annotation:Local
Author:Barnes, George
Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 20, 2014
Words:730
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