Williamstown Select Board Finalizes Charge for Town's Diversity Committee
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board Monday concluded an effort that dates back to early summer when it unanimously approved a revised charge for the town's diversity committee.
Chairman Hugh Daley drove the effort to revise the document that outlines the purpose of the Diversity, Inclusion, Race and Equity Advisory Committee.
Although the Select Board had the authority to unilaterally change the charter for a body it created in the summer of 2020, the board engaged in a dialogue with its colleagues currently serving on the DIRE Committee to find language that made sense to all parties.
Right up until the final moments before Monday's vote, the board made substantive changes to the final draft based on recommendations from one of three current Select Board members who have served on DIRE.
The change that led to the most discussion was Johnson's concern about language on the third page of the three-page charter. Prior to Monday's meeting, it read, in part, "the [DIRE] Committee is encouraged to include recommendations of actions to be undertaken by other entities or groups, if so requested by the other entity or group."
Johnson, who served for a year on the first incarnation of DIRE before his election to the Select Board in May 2021, pushed back against including the phrase "if so requested."
"Basically, what it signals is a committee does not have to, if it doesn't want to, focus its attention on improvements in [diversity, equity and inclusion]," Johnson said. "That's what you get when you say, ‘as requested.'
"DEI work was voted in to be undertaken by the town in 2020. I would like to be consistent with that. I don't think it's a request."
Johnson referred to the overwhelming annual town meeting vote of 2020 to approve Article 37 on that year's warrant. The article talks specifically about all town boards and committees making quarterly reports to the (yet to be named) diversity committee about DEI efforts.
His reference to Article 37 led to a discussion about the fact that many town committees have never taken the step of submitting reports to the DIRE Committee, and Select Board member Andrew Hogeland noted that the article itself does not require the reports but instead said they "should be shared with the Race and Equity Advisory Committee … "
Daley said that the "if so requested" phrase was meant to encourage other town boards and committees to make the request and use the DIRE Committee as a resource.
"All I was trying to put in here was to remind ourselves that the best form of help is when we're working together," Daley said. "It conditions the work on being an engaged partner with the board. Neither side is dictating to the other that they have to do something. They're teammates.
"If it doesn't fit with what the board wants, we can put the period a couple of words later."
That is what the Select Board did before moments later approving the charge on a 5-0 vote and clearing the way for, among other things, appointing new DIRE Committee members to fill a pair of vacant seats on a body defined as a seven-person panel in the charge. It has had just five members for months, but Daley earlier this year said it made sense to finalize the enabling document before accepting commitments from residents to serve on the committee.
In other business on Monday, the Select Board, sitting as the town's Road Commission, approved the location of a utility pole on Blair Road. And the board finalized a new process for appointing board and committee members under the Select Board's jurisdiction that emphasizes publicizing vacancies to a wide audience.
The board also received a number of updates from its own members and the town manager.
Randy Fippinger reported that the working group examining potential changes to increase the efficiency of and participation in town meeting is ready to present proposals to the Select Board at an upcoming meeting. Hogeland reported that on Thursday, the Town Charter Review will hear a presentation by its consultant at the Collins Center for Public Management at UMass-Boston.
Town Manager Bob Menicocci reminded the board and viewers watching the meeting of the prevalence of a new variant of the COVID-19 virus in Massachusetts. He said that the most recent booster is effective against the BQ1.1 variant and emphasized the importance of residents staying current with their vaccinations.
Menicocci said that the town's wage and classification study for municipal employees is underway and that Williamstown and its partners in Adams and North Adams are close to appointing the first shared employee to cover the human resources needs of the three communities.
He also said that the town received 10 applicants for its open police chief position and that he hoped to conduct interviews in the second week of December.