WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board on Tuesday morning gave high marks to Town Manager Jason Hoch.
In a special session called to wrap up the body's annual review, Hoch was complimented for his management style, innovation and continuing to keep the town on a solid financial footing.
Based on Tuesday's discussion, Chairman Hugh Daley will write up the formal review for a vote of the board scheduled for Monday's regular meeting.
The board's review was based on its own experience and a survey it sent to town employees and members of other boards and committees.
"In almost every section, every question of every section, most of the answers are in the category of 'satisfactory' or 'outstanding,' " Daley said.
He said he probably should have included a fifth option -- in between satisfactory and outstanding -- rather than giving respondents only four numerical options for their evaluation. Daley said that based on the comments sections on the surveys returned, Hoch probably would have received more grades above satisfactory if there was a fifth choice, like "exceeds expectations."
Jane Patton said she ran into that issue.
"I did almost everything 'satisfactory,' even though I feel like there were a lot of 'exceeds expectations,' " Patton said. "This is 30 years of corporate training … to get a perfect score is impossible. I got it once. It is not necessarily a true reflection on Jason's work, but I could not, in good conscience, do 'outstanding.' "
Anne O'Connor said she had received feedback from town employees that Hoch is "easy going and approachable," an impression she said was confirmed from her own experience. And the board gave the third-year town manager high marks for his management style.
But members also expressed a concern about the future of Town Hall staffing as several experienced members of the team approach retirement.
Daley in particular asked Hoch whether he could provide the Select Board with a sense of his succession plan for key positions.
Hoch said it was an issue on his mind, but plans are difficult to set in stone -- partly because employees don't decide their retirement date that far in advance and partly because Town Hall has a "short bench" without the room in the budget to carry a lot of subordinates who eventually might be eligible for promotion.
"Rest assured that I'm doing all of this," Hoch said. "[In private], I could tell you the plan for every one of the positions. But we could sit here a year from now, and plan A, B and C would be wildly different."
Hoch and the board discussed that part of that succession plan could include shared services arrangements with surrounding communities that are starting to percolate as municipalities cope with declining populations and rising personnel costs.
Daley deferred to Hoch's expertise when it comes to planning for succession but said it behooves the Select Board to stay on top of the issue.
"Jason has complete hire and fire authority," Daley said. "Our job is not to tell him he has to replace someone. Our job is to make sure he knows that someone is going to retire at some point and he has a plan to replace them. If he's not doing that, the person we're responsible for isn't doing his job.
"It's not that we're telling you, 'Here's the person you want to hire.' … We're just making sure that you're on it."
In the area of personnel management, the board also asked Hoch for regular updates on the professional development of Town Hall staff.
It also asked him to provide regular progress reports on major projects in town, like the new police station.
The police station also came up in the context of the board's review of Hoch's financial management of the town. Daley gave the manager high marks for his plan to bring the project into the town's budget at a time when Williamstown is retiring other debt.
Daley also suggested that Hoch work to keep the property tax rate down as much as possible, in particular in light of the recent increase due to the building project at Mount Greylock Regional School.
"We're sensitive to it," Hoch said. "I also want to be sure we're not pennywise and pound foolish. I can do a 1 percent decrease or a 2 percent decrease for a year. I can deliver any budget you want for a year, but that's not necessarily in the best interest of the community.
"Know that I'm really loathe to doing anything that feels like a gimmick for a year. I'm not suggesting that is what you're saying, but I would avoid that."
The Select Board discussed other attainable goals for Hoch in the coming year, and Daley said he hopes the next chair of the group will revisit those goals in the 2018 review process.
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