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Williamstown Select Board Names Three to DIRE Committee

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board on Monday appointed three new members to the town's diversity committee to bring the panel to a full membership of seven members.
The board voted unanimously to support the three candidates moved by Jeffrey Johnson, who served on the Diversity Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee for one year as a community member before continuing his role on the DIRE Committee as the occupant of the Select Board's chair on the body.
Johnson put forward Andi Bryant, Shana Dix and Carolyn Greene after noting that two of the seven residents who applied to serve on the board had withdrawn their applications for personal reasons.
Johnson noted that both those individuals and the two candidates who were not chosen on Monday night have contributions to make to the town and he looks forward to working with them.
"All-star teams that have all the best players aren't always the best teams," said Johnson, a youth sports coach. "The three people I nominate, these are the people I want to work with. I have a vision. I'm owning DIRE. My conversations with candidates were really about what work we're going to do."
Johnson spoke briefly to make a case for each of the three people he did nominate.
"Andi Bryant, I've been talking to her for months," he said. "I talked to her throughout the process. I go to events in the community, and I see her there. I think she provides a voice for the town. I feel strongly that, like me, she's a townie. She gets it.
"I like the diversity work [Greene] does. I like that she's on the [Mount Greylock Regional] School Committee. I know there's stuff [Superintendent Jason McCandless] is doing at the high school. I think she can lead a working group.
"The work [Dix] does with the Western Mass Labor Action and the Northern Berkshire Community Coalition really speaks volumes. Shana is a person of color, but, in my eyes, and I say this because I'm a tri-racial person, diversity should never be about the color of your skin. It should be about your heart and your mind. That being said, Shana represents something we don't have as a single mom. There are things related to her children that give her more insight into some of the things related to diversity."
Before appointing the new members to the DIRE Committee, the Select Board tied up a loose end from last summer, when it appointed the initial committee members without attaching terms to their appointments.
The board Monday voted to set an expiration date of June 30, 2022, for the three current members who are holdovers from the initial group. It appointed each of the three new members to two-year terms that expire June 30, 2023, thereby creating a staggered term system that will preserve some continuity on the advisory body.
After the three new members were decided, Johnson said he hoped the other four people who initially expressed interest in DIRE's work will remain engaged.
"To me, it's never been about the people on the committee," Johnson said. "I put a 'P' in front of DIRE. It's the People's Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee. It's about the attendees at the meetings. Hopefully, it will bring in new voices. We have a lot more in common than you think, and we can bring along some projects that are going to benefit everybody."
Hogeland noted that the other people who expressed interest in filling the DIRE Committee seats this time around also may be tapped in the future.
"These slots will open up every year," Hogeland said. "Don't go away."
In other business on Monday, the Select Board met in a joint session with the Williamstown Fire District's Prudential Committee for the bodies' annual tax classification hearing.
Both panels chose to follow the advice of the Board of Assessors and keep a single tax rate that does not assess commercial properties at a higher rate. The bodies also voted against an open space discount, a residential exemption or a small commercial exemption. Those votes were unanimous for the Prudential Committee; Select Board member Wade Hasty voted against the unified tax rate and against the decisions to eschew a residential exemption or small commercial exemption.
The Select Board also Monday unanimously voted in favor of sending a letter to the legislature in Boston supporting state Rep. John Barrett III's bill to create a path for homeowners to strike antiquated language around restrictive covenants from their deeds. And the board voted 5-0 to send responses to the Berkshire NAACP and Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law replying to those groups' calls for the firing of a Williamstown Police Department officer.
Hogeland reported on Monday that the town had received in August the reports and recommendations from an independent investigator the Select Board hired to look into allegations raised in a Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination complaint against the WPD. He said the report is being reviewed to see if its findings need to be addressed with disciplinary actions and to see if there is confidential personnel information that needs to be redacted before the findings can be released publicly.
"The intent in my mind has always been to release as much as we can as early as possible," Hogeland said. "I don't have a date just yet. I suspect [the findings] may come out in stages."


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Williamstown Planning Board Continues to Grapple with Dimensional Change Proposal

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff

The Williamstown Planning Board and Community Development Director Andrew Groff meet virtually earlier this month.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Planning Board this month continued to discuss major revisions to the zoning bylaw that it could bring to town meeting as early as this May.
But a familiar difference of opinion continues to keep the panel from agreeing on one of the more sweeping changes on the table.
Chair Chris Winters, who went through the entire bylaw and proposed a series of changes to give the board a starting point for its discussion, has advocated for reducing the frontage and area requirements for housing lots in all the residential zones.
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