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Williamstown Housing Committee Names Interim Chair

By Stephen Dravis
iBerkshires Staff
10:59PM / Wednesday, April 23, 2014
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The gavel rests between Affordable Housing Committee Vice Chairman Charles Bonenti, who ran Wednesday's meeting, and Van Ellet, left, who was elected interim chairman on Wednesday.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — After a last attempt to hold onto its past, the Affordable Housing Committee on Wednesday headed off into an uncertain future.
 
The committee held its first meeting since three of its eight members resigned last week when the Board of Selectmen rejected its unanimous recommendation on a housing developer.
 
A prepared statement written by Chairwoman Catherine Yamamoto and read Wednesday by Vice Chairman Charles Bonenti shed some more light on those resignations.
 
"The decisions, which each of us reached independently, were based on longstanding differences of opinions with some members of the Board of Selectmen," the statement read in part.
 
Committee member Bilal Ansari made a plea for the three departing members to reconsider and remain on the panel at least until June 30, when all eight members' one-year terms are set to expire.
 
"I understand the principle behind resigning ... as some sort or protest to the Board of Selectmen," Ansari said, referring to the BOS decision that precipitated the resignations.
 
"But as a board, can we stay together until the end of the term despite what they have done so we can finish out the work that we have at hand so that we can hand it over to whoever else comes after?
 
"I would like to ask if you three would reconcile until the end of June ... instead of making a rushed decision."
 
Ansari directed his comments to Yamamoto, Secretary Cheryl Shanks and Bonenti, but the only one in the room was Bonenti.
 
He, like Yamamoto, made his resignation effective this Friday, April 25, but Yamamoto was out of town Wednesday on family business. Shanks made her resignation — delivered by email moments after the Board of Selectmen vote — effective immediately.
 
Bonenti made it clear that he would not withdraw his resignation.
 
"I can't speak for the other two ... but we all had the option of [staying through June 30] and chose not to," Bonenti said.
 
Ansari said he had to give it a shot.
 
"I just want to go on record that I don't like how it was done, and I wish we could stay together until the end of the term," he said. "It's a painful thing because this is a good team."
 
As of Wednesday night, the team has a new captain.
 
The committee unanimously elected Van Ellet to serve as its interim chairman through June 30, and Dylan Stafford agreed to take over as secretary, as he planned to do before Shanks' departure from the panel.
 
The committee then wasted no time giving Ellet his first marching orders: to ask the Board of Selectmen to consider changing the term of membership on the committee.
 
Unlike other town boards and committees, Affordable Housing Committee members serve identical one-year terms. That opens the possibility of all members choosing simultaneously not to "re-enlist," an event that could bring the committee's work to a halt.
 
Bilal Ansari, left, pleaded with his resigned colleagues to stay at least until June 30.
Craig Clemow made a motion that Ellet talk to the Selectmen about staggered terms, a motion that passed on a 5-0 vote of the remaining members.
 
The other piece of business between the committee and Selectmen involves the Cole Avenue development that drove a wedge between the two bodies.
 
Ellet and Clemow reported to the panel on a conversation they had with Town Manager Peter Fohlin about what role the committee might play in negotiations between the town and the developers the board chose to build subsidized housing at 330 Cole Ave.
 
The bottom line: It is up to the Selectmen to decide that role.
 
"The Board of Selectmen has the legal responsibility and certainly Peter [the town's procurement officer] will be the point person and the person doing the vast majority of the actual negotiation and work," Ellet said. "Both the process of how this moves forward and to what degree we are consulted on anything — whether a joint group is formed, whether someone from this group is appointed to attend Select Board meetings — that's up for the Select Board to decide.
 
"We might just want to tread water for a day or two and see even if it's going to be on the agenda [for the April 28 Selectmen's meeting] and make sure when it is that someone's there to answer questions."
 
Until a week ago, that someone would have been Yamamoto, who has been a fixture at Town Hall for months, tirelessly representing the AHC before numerous other town boards and committees.
 
On Wednesday, the committee formally recognized the work done by her, Shanks and Bonenti.
 
"I think publicly, this committee does need to give our sincere thanks to Cathy, Cheryl and Charles for the incredible work they've done for affordable housing in this town," said Clemow, introducing a motion that was approved unanimously by the remaining members. "Not only we on this committee, but the whole town owes them a debt of gratitude."

Tags: affordable housing,   resignation,   

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