Jason Hoch, selected the new town manager, met with residents on Thursday night at the Williams Inn.
Update: Rewrite throughout with added material, at 8:24 p.m., June 12.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — It took the Board of Selectmen months to find the right person to be the next town manager.
The man they chose has been eyeing the job for a lot longer than that.
On Friday afternoon, the Selectmen voted unanimously to offer the job to Jason Hoch, currently the town administrator in Litchfield, N.H., south of Manchester.
During Friday morning's interview, the 1995 Williams College alumnus indicated just how much the corner office in Williamstown's Town Hall means to him.
"I had every intention of staying in Litchfield — wonderful board, great staff, great community," Hoch said. "I'm thoroughly enjoying it. That said, this is a unique opportunity.
"When I was hired five years ago, the chairman of the board said, 'We're thrilled you're here. We're concerned you may leave us.' And I've done this long enough that I'm pretty selective about what I'm looking for at this point.
"I said, 'You need to be concerned when the vacancy come up in Williamstown, Mass., or Healdsburg, Calif.' "
The Williamstown board picked Hoch after interviewing him and the other finalist for the position over the course of five hours.
Pending successful negotiation of a contract with the town, Hoch is in line to succeed the highly regarded Peter Fohlin, who has served the town as its manager for 15 years but who this winter announced his intention to retire. Fohlin officially retired on April 26 but returned this month to serve as town manager on an interim basis.
Angus Jennings, a former town official in Westford and Marshfield, was the other finalist chosen by a process that began with the screening of 37 applicants by Illinois headhunter GovHR and a group of Williamstown volunteers who agreed to serve as a screening committee for the Board of Selectmen.
After the 5-0 vote for Hoch, Chairwoman Jane Patton said it was a very difficult decision for her.
"I think that Jason is the right fit at the right time, for sure," Patton said. "I think he can be here for a long time and do great things.
"Angus is clearly very, very intelligent, as is Jason. ... This is not the last we're every going to hear of [Jennings]. If something ever happened and this town needed someone again, he'd be one of the first people that I'd say, 'Hey, what is Angus doing?' "
Both candidates participated in a two-day interview process that included meetings with officials at Williams College and the Clark Art Institute, a meet-and-greet with the public on Thursday night and meetings with the heads of various town departments.
Patton said on Friday that the feedback from town department heads was instrumental.
As reported by GovHR's Lee Szymborski, that feedback from the department heads was positive in regard to both candidates. But town staff noted that Hoch would have a shorter learning curve given his years of experience as a town administrator in New Hampshire.
After a brief recess following the day's second two-hour interview, the Selectmen reconvened to hear the feedback from town department heads and attendees at Thursday's gathering.
Szymborski then suggested that Patton conduct a straw poll of the board to see if there was a consensus before they started making arguments for or against either candidate.
Hoch was the unanimous selection of the straw poll. The board then unanimously passed a formal motion that authorizes Patton — with assistance from Szymborski — to negotiate a contract with Hoch, who needs to give the town of Litchfield 30 days' notice.
Friday's interviews included an opportunity for each candidate to give the Selectmen a 15-minute presentation critiquing the town's efforts on economic development and suggesting what steps it might want to take in the future.
Among other things, Hoch suggested the town review its permitting process and conduct test cases to see how smoothly that process runs.
"Let's say I have a small manufacturing company of five people, and I come in with that interest," Hoch said. "What happens next? Or I have a home-based, online operation but I might want, at some point to have people coming to my place of business.
"Pick the kinds of things you think are likely and run them through. You're probably not going to test Walmart coming to town."
Hoch emphasized that whatever the town does on the economic development front that it guard against "goal fatigue."
"Value your volunteers' time and strategically supplement their work across the organization," Hoch said. "Target efforts on an achievable list over a short period of time."
Hoch admitted that he faces a short-term challenge of getting up to speed on Massachusetts regulations, having spent his professional career in New Hampshire, and he addressed head on the potential criticism that he is too closely associated with Williams College.
"I come obviously with a connection to your largest institution," Hoch said. "But I can be critical and challenging when appropriate."