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Williamstown Select Board Extends Interim Town Manager's Stay

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass.— The Select Board voted to keep current interim Town Administrator Charles Blanchard on the job with eyes on a more all-encompassing permanent search in the future.
The selectmen had even fewer choices Thursday with candidate Barry Del Castilho pulling his name from consideration and with a 4-1 vote, the selectmen slotted Blanchard back into the town manager seat. 
"I am very comfortable with Charlie in the interim. I am comfortable that he doesn't want to be the permanent town manager," Board member Jane Patton said. "...I have a lot of faith in town hall, and I will continue to be vigilant in what we are looking for with the permanent town manager. But I think right now, in the next few months, I am more than ok sticking with Charlie."
The original search was on to replace Blanchard, who was expected to leave the post in December. 
The board interviewed North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard and former Amherst Town Manager Barry Del Castilho. But after this round of interviews, there was a suggestion that the town should keep Blanchard at the helm for the time being.
This decision was delayed from Monday, Nov. 15.  
Board member Andrew Hogeland announced before the special meeting Thursday that Del Castilho wished to no longer be considered for the position, meaning Bernard was the only alternative. 
He noted that Bernard would be able to transition into the position in December on a part-time basis as he finishes his term as Mayor of North Adams.
The select board agreed there was a long list of things that needed to change in town, but the majority of the board members favored consistency in the short term.
Although "underwhelmed" by the decision selectmen Jeff Johnson preferred a steady hand at the wheel in the interim.
"I vetted Tom, and I talked to a lot of people...quite honestly, at this point in time, I am not going to say this is decision," Johnson said. "But talking to the people in town, going into the most critical budget that has probably been in this town in my lifetime, town hall is concerned about the continuity...I am torn, but I think the continuity sticks out."
Patton agreed and said Blanchard's consistency is important while the town sets its sights on a permanent manager.
"My desire is for a new model of town manager with fresh eyes...but that is really more about the permanent manager search," she said. "For the interim manager, I don't think we have to find the 1000 percent hits every button candidate."
Board member Wade Hasty was the lone negative vote and read a lengthy statement indicating various concerns he had with Blanchard in regard to communication, dealing with the police department, and the chief search process. 
He said Blanchard did not provide the immediate change he felt the town needed.
"Charles Blanchard has shown himself at several critical times to not only remain in lockstep with the traditional approach, but he has prevented myself and other volunteers from being able to accomplish our work," he said.  
The selectmen did not nail down a time frame in which Blanchard will stay on, but Hogeland did say there was some flexibility. Originally Blanchard offered to stay on full-time for another four months, but Hogeland said he was willing to drop down from full-time to extend his stay without increasing his salary.
In terms of the contract, Johnson asked that only a permanent manager would be able to hire a permanent police chief.
"We are trying to make a marriage between a new town manager and whoever they are going to be working with," he said. "The permanent town manager should pick that person...I think we need something in the interim contract to prohibit that choice."
Board member Hugh Daley added that the town needs to follow an aggressive schedule in regard to the permanent town manager search, however, was a discussion for a future meeting. 
"We are going to have to move in lockstep," he said.

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Historic Store at Five Corners Reopens in Williamstown

By Brian RhodesiBerkshires Staff

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Under new ownership and management, the Store at Five Corners reopened Tuesday morning for the first time in more than two years. 

The store and cafe, built in 1770 and located in the town's Five Corners Historic District, had been closed since July 2020. The 252-year-old building, originally a tavern, went through several recent owners before being purchased by the nonprofit Store at Five Corners Stewardship Association in January of this year. 

"It took us a few months to get it to where it is right now but I feel like our hard work paid off," said store operator Corey Wentworth. "I feel like it's really nice in here." 

The association had done an email survey of residents in October that had an 85 percent return, with most giving the store a high rating for its importance to themselves and the community and that it remain independent. The nonprofit, first working through the South Williamstown Community Association, has been working to raise the more than $1 million needed to purchase the property and secure its future. 

The stewardship association chose Wentworth as the store's new operator in April. He has several years of experience in restaurants, including the Salty Dog and Flour Bakery and Café in Boston, Duckfat and Fore Street Restaurant in Portland, Maine, and Tourists resort in North Adams.

There were some renovations, Wentworth said, to get the building ready for reopening day. Additionally, he noted that works from local artists are displayed on the walls across the store. 

"So far, it seems like, what we have been working toward, is working," he said. 

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