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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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Williamstown Releases Findings of Investigations into Police Department

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — A pair of concurrent investigations into the Williamstown Police Department found "credible testimony about … racially charged incidents in the Department" but raise issues about the credibility of the self-described whistle-blower who brought those incidents to light.
In the aftermath of the August 2020 release of a federal discrimination lawsuit against the town by then-Sgt. Scott McGowan, the Select Board promised to order an independent investigation into what the lawsuit characterized as "an atmosphere in which racial harassment and hostility to persons of color are tolerated and perpetrated at the highest level" and "a blind eye to sexual assault and sex discrimination" at in the department.
On Aug. 10 of last year, Boston attorney Judy A. Levenson submitted the results of her probe that began in February. Four days earlier, on Aug. 6, private investigator Paul J. L'Italien gave the town the results of his five-month investigation into McGowan after the sergeant was the subject of a March 1, 2021, letter of no confidence signed by full-time members of the police force.
Levenson had asked Pembroke's L'Italien, a licensed PI and retired law enforcement officer with more than 27 years of experience, to look into the allegations against McGowan in the letter of no confidence.
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