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Bilal Ansari, pictured at a demonstration last summer, is weighing his resignation from the DIRE Committee after being put off to public comment during a Select Board discussion about communicating with the committee.

Snub by Select Board Leads to Resignation on Williamstown Equity Committee

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — An attempt by the Select Board to extend an olive branch to the town's diversity committee Monday went terribly wrong and ended with one member of the DIRE Committee announcing his resignation.
 
Bilal Ansari later said he would reconsider and pray on his decision about whether to continue with the Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee after he received an apology from the vice chair of the Select Board.
 
Ansari was offended by a decision not to engage with a DIRE member while the board was discussing how to improve communications with the advisory group the Select Board created last summer.
 
Andy Hogeland, who ran Monday's meeting in place of Chair Jane Patton, who was out of town, said during discussion of the agenda item labeled "DIRE communications" that while the Select Board has taken actions in line with DIRE recommendations over the past year, the board should have acknowledged the equity group's resolutions publicly.
 
"I want to reacknowledge that we had not [discussed the resolutions in public]," Hogeland said. "As I went back over the weekend to look at the resolutions … we actually did a lot of the things that were recommended. We appreciate that. We acknowledge the error in not being more responsive to that."
 
Hogeland also talked about scheduling joint meetings between the DIRE Committee and the Select Board and expressed disappointment that there was not more interaction between the two bodies.
 
"I think we should probably sit around a table and talk," Hogeland said. "I want to acknowledge that's a gap we all need to work on, and we're ready to work on it."
 
Moments later, Select Board member Anne O'Connor, who was helping facilitate public participation in the virtual meeting, interrupted to tell Hogeland that a member of the DIRE Committee had his "hand up" indicating a desire to address the board.
 
Hogeland said he preferred to accept comments under item four of the six-item agenda, the portion of the meeting reserved for public comment.
 
"We're almost done [with the bulk of the agenda]," Hogeland said. "If people would be patient for a moment, I'd like to get through the other business stuff we have. Yes, I do intend to recognize you. Just give us a moment. We're not far from being ready for this."
 
Nineteen minutes later, when the public comment period began, Ansari was the first in line.
 
After pointing out that the Select Board invited comment from the chair of the Planning Board during a discussion about a Planning Board-generated article on the annual town meeting warrant, an emotional Ansari expressed his dismay that he was not afforded the same courtesy during a discussion about improving communication with Ansari's committee.
 
"I thank Ms. O'Connor for recognizing me, that my hand was up during DIRE, when DIRE was being discussed," Ansari said.
 
"Then I was dismissed until later because I was not treated equally. That hurts. That hurts. Those types of slights happen regularly. It was the very topic of what you were talking about, about DIRE. It was the heart of our conversation of our talk last week."
 
Then Ansari made an announcement.
 
"I resign," he said. "I resign from DIRE right now. I want to resign on your watch. I want to resign on your watch. I'm done. I'm done."
 
Hogeland responded immediately.
 
"Bilal, I want to express my sincere apologies," he said. "I anticipated there would be a lot of discussion on the police chief thing. I was aware of all the Facebook stuff. I wanted to have that all at the same time. I apologize for asking you to wait. I acknowledge that, and I would ask you to reconsider and stay.
 
"You've been a stalwart of that committee for a while. I would hate to have that oversight on my part be the cause of [your resignation], so I would ask you to reconsider and stay."
 
The "Facebook stuff" Hogeland mentioned may have been the announcement, via Facebook, earlier in the day, that another member of the DIRE Committee resigned her position on the search committee for an interim police chief over concerns about the process the town followed in making the hire.
 
Ansari accepted Hogeland's apology and said he would think about the decision to resign. Reached by email, Ansari said midday on Tuesday that he had not yet made a final decision.
 
After expressing the hurt that the earlier snub caused, Ansari explained why he raised his hand in the first place.
 
"I was going to say thank you for acknowledging DIRE," Ansari said. "That's all I was going to say. Ten months. Thank you.
 
"I was outspoken about not being acknowledged. I'm just as loud when I am acknowledged. That was all."

Tags: DIRE,   

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Williamstown Fire District Looks at Recruitment Need

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Williamstown Fire District needs to work on the message it conveys to potential recruits and consider new models for service to make it a more attractive option for residents.
 
That was part of the message the Prudential Committee received last week from the community advisory committee the committee established last year.
 
Jeffrey Thomas, who chairs the advisory group, dropped by the Prudential Committee''s first in-person meeting since before the pandemic to share some input from his group.
 
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