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Consultant Recommends Williamstown Create HR Department

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Town Hall needs to do a better job recruiting a diverse workforce and to update policies on harassment, discrimination and disciplinary actions, according to a human resources audit commissioned by the Select Board last year.
 
The board Monday reviewed recommendations from Andover-based Human Resources Services Inc.
 
Although the top line of audit's executive summary reads, "Town has a good grasp of human resources, overall," that summary also specifies a number of areas where the town's policies and procedures for personnel management could be improved.
 
The first recommendation on the list: create an HR department.
 
"Additional staffing and resources in human resources is needed to properly execute the provision of human resource management that is needed in Williamstown and to ensure compliance with state and federal laws," the summary reads.
 
The audit is one of several steps the Select Board pledged in late August in the immediate aftermath of news the town was being sued for violation of whistle-blower protection laws by a member of the Williamstown Police Department. The lawsuit since has been dropped, but the allegations it raised generated anger and fear among many town residents and became a focal point for conversations about inclusion and institutional racism in the town of 7,700.
 
The three-page executive summary lists a number of concrete steps the town should take to promote diversity in its staff.
 
"Train recruiters, staff and appointing authorities," the report reads. "Examine town advertisements. Review job requirements. Evaluate recruitment media. Use resource links. Examine workplace culture. Partner with outside groups, community organizations, etc."
 
It also includes recommendations for how better to manage the town's workforce, which includes the WPD, Department of Public Works and Town Hall staff.
 
"[Policy] areas that needed significant improvement included harassment, discrimination, social media, COVID, investigation, disciplinary action," the summary reads.
 
In addition to the executive summary, HRS provided draft revisions of the town's human resources policies to bring them up to date. Select Board Chair Andrew Hogeland said Monday that he hoped the review of those draft policies can include members of the town's Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee, which called for the HR policy review on Aug. 17, 2020.
 
"We're looking forward to reviewing these, working with DIRE on it and bringing them to the board for final adoption, hopefully, sometime next month," interim Town Manager Charles Blanchard told the Select Board.
 
Jeffrey Johnson, who occupies the Select Board's seat on the DIRE Committee, told his colleagues Monday that the diversity group is actively seeking replacements for members who have decided not to continue on the panel after their first terms expire on June 30.
 
Johnson said he was glad to receive a copy of the list of residents who applied to serve on DIRE at its inception last year, but the search for new members will not be restricted to that list.
 
"Anybody who wants to serve on DIRE should contact any of us," Hogeland said.
 
Hogeland repeatedly Monday encouraged residents to reach out to members of the Select Board between meetings with their concerns about town government, twice mentioning that he is available to chat most Saturday mornings at the town's weekly farmer's market on Spring Street.
 
As for formal communication during the board's twice-monthly meetings, Hogeland, who just began his second term as board chair, tried out a new strategy on Monday: designating two public comment periods — one at the start of the meeting to address specific items on the agenda and one at the end for general comments unrelated to specific business before the board.
 
No one took advantage of the former on Monday. During the latter, Arlene Kirsch questioned the wisdom of limiting public participation on agenda items to the beginning of the meeting.
 
"My suggestion about public comments is that they be allowed during an agenda item," Kirsch said. "If we don't know what you're going to say, it will be hard, at the beginning of the meeting, to address that. I think the most efficient use of public comment for you all is for us to be able to comment at the point of an agenda item before you vote."
 
Hogeland pointed out that what Hirsch was suggesting approximates how the board operated before the advent of virtual meetings last year. It was easier when everyone was in the same room to know who wanted to speak on which topics, he said.
 
On a related note, Monday's meeting marked likely the final time the Select Board will meet in an entirely virtual setting for the foreseeable future.
 
Gov. Charlie Baker's executive order suspending certain provisions of the Open Meeting Law due to the COVID-19 pandemic was set to expire on Tuesday. One of the provisions of the OML that Baker suspended specifies that while public officials may participate in meetings remotely, a quorum of any board or committee's membership must meet in person.
 
Currently, there is legislation on Beacon Hill that would extend a number of pandemic-related provisions, including the "physical quorum" provision of the OML.
 
The Select Board plans to meet June 28 at Town Hall. Hogeland Monday said he hopes at some point to be able to hold "hybrid" meetings that incorporate the technology used over the last 15 months with a traditional in-person meeting format.
 
"I think having Zoom capability made a huge difference in public participation even before the [August release of the lawsuit]," Hogeland said. "I personally would like to continue that. I don't understand the technology, but apparently we don't have the equipment yet, which would let you have an in-person meeting and simultaneous broadcasting and Zoom functionality all at the same time. There's hardware and software that lets you do that. There will be a lag in getting that up to date.
 
"For me, the goal is to get to Zoom participation from home, two-way conversation from home, but there will be some sort of pause before that's actually put in place."
 
In other business Monday, the board heard a report from members Hugh Daley and Jane Patton, who are serving on the Town Manager Search Committee. Daley said the town is a little behind its original schedule for posting the position but hopes to advertise for applicants by the middle of July.
 
Patton said the search committee is welcoming comments from residents with suggestions for the job description through a dedicated email address, tmsearch@williamstownma.gov.

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Clark Art, Images Present Norwegian Film Series

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Throughout August, the Clark Art Institute and Images Cinema present four Norwegian films in conjunction with the exhibition "Nikolai Astrup: Visions of Norway." 
 
This virtual film series is free, and each film can be viewed online for a week. 
 
"Astrup: Catching the Flame" (August 4–10)
The series kicks off with "Catching the Flame" (Astrup: Flammen Over Jølster) (2019), directed by Pål Øie. The film tells the life story of Nikolai Astrup, one of Norway's greatest and most original painters. Growing up in a strict religious community, Astrup broke with his father, a Lutheran priest, at a young age and escaped to the continent to immerse himself in the world of art. Returning to his native Jølster, he frequently clashed with the small-minded locals, but he also found inspiration in the love of his wife Engel and the natural beauty of the valleys of western Norway. Danish actor Thure Lindhardt stars as an artist who stands today as one of Norway's greats. (Run time: 1 hour, 19 minutes) 
 
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