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Williamstown Offers Interim Town Manager Post to Blanchard

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires.com
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- The Select Board Monday voted unanimously to offer the interim town manager position to Charles T. Blanchard.
 
Board members said that while they thought both the finalists they interviewed were qualified, they were concerned that Robert T. Markel potentially would be torn between his duties in Williamstown and his current role as interim town administrator in Hampden.
 
 “He has a 20-plus hour commitment there which means he’d be limited to a 20-hour commitment here,” Andrew Hogeland said. “When Hugh [Daley], [Town Manager Jason Hoch] and I talked about the job, we thought a part-time job would be OK.
 
“I still feel that way, but I feel differently thinking that’s all we could comfortably get. We’d have competition for the other half of his time, so if our needs go up for more hours and days, he’s less likely to be available, whereas Charlie [Blanchard] would be more available. That’s the deciding factor for me.”
 
Daley, who served on a working group with Hogeland to evaluate candidates and bring finalists forward to the full board, agreed.
 
“It’s very hard to put hours on this job, but 20 hours is almost not enough,” Daley said. “[Markel] said he’s on 20 hours with the town he’s with now, and he works more than that. He just doesn’t bill for it.
 
“The worst thing we could come back with is, ‘We’ve got a guy, but he’s not available.’ That feels like the worst place to be. I’m more open to either one of them. I’d prefer the one with the more lenient schedule.”
 
Both Anne O’Connor and Jeffrey Thomas went along with that analysis but added that Blanchard had more going for him than just the time commitment issue.
 
“I thought he did well on his interview,” O’Connor said of Blanchard. “I appreciated that he reached out to us afterward with a follow-up email. I took him up on that offer and spoke to him for an hour and a half.”
 
Both O’Connor and Thomas said they were impressed that Blanchard researched the town’s needs and familiarized himself with tapes of town committee meetings before the interview.
 
Thomas said he also got good feedback from the personnel at town hall who met with Blanchard.
 
“I spoke with Anna Osborn, our town accountant, and both she and Andrew Groff spoke with both candidates,” Thomas said. “Anna said they both preferred Charlie over Bob for similar reasons. They felt they were both qualified, but Charlie seemed to have a strong interest in the opportunity to work here for the same reasons we’ve already cited.”
 
Earlier on Monday, Select Board Chair Jane Patton told the town's Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee, of which she is a member, that the Select Board at its April 12 meeting will lay out its timetable for naming a permanent town manager.
 
She said the public face of that process would begin with listening sessions, perhaps as soon as next week, to get thoughts and feedback from community members about what they wanted to see in the new town manager.
 
"I'm excited about this," Patton said. "I'm excited about the process. I'm excited about hearing from people and what they need and want and what they're looking for in a town manager. 
 
"Hugh [Daley] and I had a long conversation with the GovHR person we'll be working with. We spoke about transparency, we talked about finding someone with a lot of experience in social justice issues, working with the police, someone who is more hands-on in terms of the police. We just started to lay the groundwork there."
 
GovHR is the firm the Select Board hired to assist in a national search for Hoch's replacement, a search that also will include a to-be-named search committee of residents to be headed by Patton and Daley.
 
Hoch is set to step down at the end of this month. The Select Board used an expedited process to find his replacement in hopes of having some overlap between the two managers to provide continuity of service.
 
After the 5-0 vote to offer the interim job to Blanchard, the board entered executive session to discuss strategies for negotiations with the successful candidate.
 
That executive session also included a discussion about the release of minutes from a series of the board’s executive sessions in the summer and fall.
 
Those meetings were conducted for the purposes of discussing strategy with respect to litigation and to discuss “the reputation, character, physical condition or mental health, rather than professional competence, of an individual, or to discuss the discipline or dismissal of, or complaints or charges brought against, a public officer, employee, staff member or individual.”
 
Since the lawsuit in question was dropped by the plaintiff in August and at least two of the potential public officers or employees in question, the town manager and then-police chief, have either left the town’s service or announced their intention to do so, iBerkshires.com last month formally requested that those executive session minute be released, in accordance with the commonwealth's Open Meeting Law.
 
Specifically, Section 22, Paragraph F of the law states that, “When the purpose for which a valid executive session was held has been served, the minutes, preparatory materials and documents and exhibits of the session shall be disclosed unless the attorney/client privilege or 1 or more of the exemptions under said clause Twenty-sixth of said section 7 of said chapter 4 apply to withhold these records, or any portion thereof, from disclosure.”
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White Withdraws From Williamstown Select Board Race

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Nicholls "Niko" White has removed himself as a candidate for the Select Board.
 
White had to run for the last year of the term being vacated by Jeffrey Thomas and had gained enough signatures to be placed on the ballot for the annual town election. White said he had announced to run for office when no other candidates had stepped forward and it appeared that the elected office would be uncontested or lack a strong progressive candidate. 
 
But as of last week, it had turned into a four-way race.
 
"I decided to campaign to make sure my positions were represented in the field," White said in announcing his witgdrawal from the race last week. "And now we have an embarrassment of riches in that regard. If we had ranked choice voting or another alternative to first-past-the-post, I'd view my candidacy as an asset regardless. So many folks have told me they're glad I'm running, and were eager to turn out for me. Unfortunately, we do use first-past-the-post here, which means I have to worry that by staying in the race, I will instead split the progressive vote at a critical time. I'm not willing to risk that."
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