Williamstown Select Board Finds Diversity Training Program for Town Personnel

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board on Monday expressed its commitment to provide ongoing diversity, equity and inclusion training for town employees.
And the board members promised in a formal statement to participate in that training themselves.
Andy Hogeland and Jeff Johnson took the lead on finding a firm to train town personnel in how to treat one another and members of the public in a way that upholds DEI values — as mandated by a pair of articles overwhelmingly passed by town meeting in 2020.
"We discovered three or four months ago there was a gap in our DEI training," Hogeland said Monday. "In the course of the last three months, we talked to various people who do this. We have come down to recommending this particular one."
The one they chose, Diversity Builder out of Nashville, Tenn., is a 19-year-old workplace training firm whose clients have included, among others, the Williamstown Police Department, which made its own push to establish DEI principles in the wake of revelations in a 2020 lawsuit that roiled town government.
"I was pleasantly surprised by the volume [of trainers] out there, which made it a more difficult decision for us," Johnson said. "This is about getting us up to par with modern trainings.
"It is not anything against our town employees. But it's our job to get them training."
The $1,800 price tag for online training was less than the board expected, Johnson said. And, as a bonus, the expense can be covered by the fiscal 2022 budget that ends on Thursday. That leaves untouched the $7,000 that the town allocated to diversity training in the FY23 budget.
Board member Randal Fippinger objected to the idea that the training will be conducted online.
"This sort of work needs to be done in person, in groups, preferably in smaller groups," Fippinger said. "It's significantly different than the kind of training you do online."
Johnson and Hogeland agreed, but Johnson noted that with in-person training, "zeroes add on to that cost."
Both emphasized that the initial online program from Diversity Builder is the beginning of the town's process, a point echoed by incoming Town Manager Bob Menicocci in the statement the board approved 5-0 on Monday night.
"As Bob said, this is a start," Johnson said. "You can take that initial training, and it puts something in our files that people can be held accountable to because they've had the training.
"This is just a start to get us going."
Monday's statement on DEI training dovetailed with another item on the agenda, a review of last week's joint meeting between the Select Board and the Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee.
Select Board Chair Hugh Daley said it was a productive exercise in crystalizing the purpose of the DIRE Committee as it begins its third year.
That purpose was left largely undefined by the Select Board itself when it created the advisory committee in the summer of 2020 after residents expressed concern about equity issues in the town as the country grappled with race relations in the wake of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis
"If you ask 10 different people in town what the purpose of the DIRE Committee is, you get 10 different answers," Daley said, repeating a comment he made in last week's joint meeting.
He said even the DIRE Committee and Select Board members who attended the joint meeting had trouble expressing a succinct mission for the advisory committee. Daley argued that a clearer remit will help DIRE Committee members.
"It's not that we're totally far apart, but if it's not something where people can say, 'I know why we're doing this,' you're stuck."
Fippinger, who chaired the DIRE Committee before his election to the Select Board in May, pointed out that attendees at last week's meeting agreed that DIRE is empowered to pursue its own projects in addition to answering specific questions posed by the Select Board.
Last week's session was the first part of a dialogue about the DIRE Committee's role in town government. On Tuesday, June 28, the Select Board was to hold the first of a series of public listening sessions to receive input from residents about how they saw the diversity panel's purpose.
In other business on Monday, the Select Board approved a utility pole move on Berkshire Drive, reappointed some incumbent members of town boards and committees, expressed its appreciation for the service of interim Town Manager Charlie Blanchard, whose term ends Thursday and discussed the town's approach to expenditures of American Rescue Plan Act funds.
The board also talked about how things went at this month's annual town meeting, which was both longer than usual and, for some, frustrating for its inability to decide on a number of proposed zoning bylaw amendments.
The issues arising out of the June 14 meeting, coupled with longstanding concerns about low attendance at the meeting, have sparked interest in either reforms to the town meeting model, consideration of charter changes that would alter the meeting's role in town government or both.
Daley suggested on Monday that the board look at undertaking parallel studies: one to review the charter, which is largely unchanged since 1956; and one to consider reforms to the meeting, including, as some have suggested, moving to Saturday or even breaking the process into two sessions.

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Mount Greylock Gets Final Tab for School Building Project

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The final bill to Williamstown and Lanesborough for the construction project at Mount Greylock Regional School came in at $33 million, according to a final audit presented to the School Committee on Thursday evening.
The Massachusetts School Building Authority gave the district its final audit on July 28. Superintendent Jason McCandless told the committee that the final cost of the renovation/addition project at the middle/high school is $64,693,600, just more than $44,000 less than the budget approved back in 2016.
But the MSBA's contribution is about $1.5 million lower than the maximum grant projected by the state agency at the outset of the project.
McCandless, who joined the district well after the school opened in September 2018, said he discussed the final numbers with Lanesborough's Stephen Wentworth and Williamstown's Hugh Daley, who served on the finance subcommittee of the School Building Committee that oversaw the project.
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