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Williamstown Getting Community Input Before Assessing Policing Policies

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The town is moving forward with a plan to review its human resources policies and procedures but has decided to be a little more purposeful about a review of policies and procedures specific to the police department.
 
On Monday, the Select Board heard a presentation from Sandy Stapczynski, the president of Andover-based Human Resources Services, Inc. Her firm was hired by the town to do an audit of Williamstown's HR policies with an emphasis on its hiring procedures.
 
"There's a lot happening now with HR, in particular in regard to recruitment," Stapczynski said. "Recruitment has historically been and remains one of HR's highest priorities. Employee and workplace satisfaction, compensation, diversity, [Equal Employment Opportunity] have seen big jumps in priority over the past five years and are currently as important as they ever have been."
 
The board earlier this year decided to engage consultants to look at both the HR policies, which apply to all town employees, and the Williamstown Police Department policies and procedures, which layer on top of the HR rules.
 
The board members tasked with finding a consultant for the latter review told their colleagues on Monday that they have decided the town needs to first decide what it wants out of its police department. Then it can look at the policies and procedures to make sure they align with that vision.
 
"If we start checking policies before we know what we want, the policies will be right and there will be a checklist for them, but they still won't deliver the thing we're looking for," Hugh Daley said. "It was sort of a light bulb moment for Anne [O'Connor] and me. We were talking to four or five police consultants, and we finally found one who got what we were struggling with. The idea that came out of it was: Now, it's about figuring out how to get that … visioning process done.
 
"That's where we're going to be talking to different community members. I'm optimistic about it and excited about it because I think it's going to engage the entire community in a conversation about policing that we've never had before. I've lived here 20 years, and I've never heard of this discussion."
 
Daley said the process is going to require a lot of one-on-one conversations with residents to find out what they want from their police department.
 
O'Connor agreed.
 
"I don't come into this assuming that we know what we're doing, and the best way to learn how to do things is to talk to people. I've managed to have some conversations. I think I have to have a lot more.
 
"It's community policing, it's visioning, it's reimagining what that could look like for our community that is community facing, that reflects who we want to be as a community. But that requires input from all sorts of people. I've spoken with individuals of the [Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equitiy] Committee. I think it might make sense to go to the committee itself in a public session so the committee as a whole has a chance to speak to us.
 
"It is an advisory committee. So let's go to them for some advice."
 
On a smaller scale, Daley said he is ready to talk to any town resident about the issue and encouraged anyone who would like to share their thoughts or engage one-on-one should email selectboard@williamstownma.gov.
 
And on a much larger scale, the Select Board decided to send a letter to the leaders of the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Senate, asking them to advance police reform legislation that is stuck in conference committee.
 
Town Manager Jason Hoch told the board that Williamstown is waiting for clarity from Boston on some issues, including a revised use-of-force policy that has been on hold since June on the belief that the state law was imminent.
 
"The inaction in Boston actually makes us look speedy in our deliberative process," Hoch joked.
 
Andy Hogeland, among the members of the Select Board who have argued that the board should "stay in its lane" rather than opine on matters outside its direct control, said it made sense to sign the letter.
 
"This isn't choosing one [version of the law in committee]," Hogeland said. "This says: Do something soon."
 
"Anything is better than nothing right now," Hoch agreed.
 
O'Connor, who worked on the letter, said it was informed by conversations with the Massachusetts director of the American Civil Liberties Union and state Rep. John Barrett III, D-North Adams.

Tags: williamstown police,   

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Hotels, Meals Tax in Williamstown Shows Impact of Pandemic

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Numbers from the Massachusetts Department of Revenue indicate the town's lodging industry lost 57 percent of its business from April through September compared with 2019.
 
Town Manager Jason Hoch reported those statistics to the Select Board on Monday night to demonstrate how much the local economy has been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
 
The numbers come from the DOR's report of local lodging establishments' liability under the rooms and meals tax. Although the commonwealth has given businesses the "small relief" of being able to defer those tax payments, the amount they owe still shows up on the books, Hoch said.
 
In the half year that began after the pandemic started to impact Massachusetts' economy, Williamstown's hotels, motels and short-term renters collected receipts that translated to a combined tax bill of $124,287.06.
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