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Williamstown DIRE Committee Questions Lack of Response from Select Board

By Stephen Dravis
iBerkshires Staff
02:19AM / Wednesday, May 05, 2021
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. -- The town committee devoted to inclusion Monday expressed frustration that its recommendations are not being included in discussions by the Select Board.
The Select Board last summer created what became the Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee as an advisory panel. Members of that panel this week questioned why the Select Board has not appeared willing to consider the advice the DIRE Committee has provided.
"I actually don't care how the Select Board feels about the resolutions," Aruna D'Souza said. "But if they're saying they're recommendations, so [they] don't have to act on them, it seems to me that, procedurally, there should be a point at which they decide, 'We don't have to act on them,' and that should take place at an open meeting.
"They can't decide not to decide on our recommendations outside of an open meeting."
Since it was established, the DIRE Committee has passed seven formal resolutions addressing topics ranging from acknowledging "the presence, sovereignty and accomplishments of the Mohican people" to calls to update the policies of the Williamstown Police Department to a recommendation that the town launch a third-party investigation into allegations raised in a federal lawsuit against the town.
The Select Board, arguably, did address a couple of the resolutions. For example, it addressed the issue of a third-party investigation, declining to take that step in August, when DIRE made its recommendation, but doing so in January, after the lawsuit was dropped. And the Select Board did commit to appointing a member of the DIRE Committee to the town manager search committee (a component of DIRE's March 15 resolution).
On the other hand, the Select Board has not addressed many of DIRE's recommendations and has not formally voted one way or another on any of the resolutions in the board's meetings.
DIRE Committee member Kerri Nichol said she has received feedback from members of the Select Board indicating that they perceive DIRE's resolutions as demands.
"The response I've heard is, 'We know you've made a recommendation, but it's a recommendation. We don't have to follow it,' " Nichol said. "I agree with that. We are here to provide advice. What I would like is an acknowledgment that the recommendation was made and some sort of conversation about the decision of why it's being followed or not followed."
D'Souza questioned the motives for rejecting the DIRE Committee's recommendations and the legality of those decisions not to act.
"There's a lot of, we can call it defensiveness but I would call it other things, that may go into a Select Board deciding that they don't like the 'demanding tone' of the single committee in our town that is composed of majority people of color, majority Black folks," D'Souza said. "They can decide they don't like the tone, and that's their [thing] to deal with. But right now, we're a town-appointed committee, and they're deciding outside of an open meeting not to deal with our resolutions, and that is a procedural [thing]."
Jeffrey Johnson, who is running for an open seat on the Select Board in the May 11 town election, joined others on the DIRE Committee in noting that last August's annual town meeting overwhelmingly passed Articles 36 and 37, directed town officials to adopt the Not in Our County Pledge, "reexamine and continue to create their policies and practices according to a commitment to accessible living" and provide "equity training for Town employees and public office holders."
Johnson said that eight months after those votes, there was little sign of progress.
"It was very PC to make a DIRE Committee," Johnson said. "Do we really want a DIRE Committee? I feel like our resolutions are falling on deaf ears. You're going to hear me get a little louder. This is not a negotiation of, 'Should we or should we not?' We voted on this."
The resolutions are not the only example of where DIRE Committee members feel they are being ignored.
Andrew Art on Monday updated his colleagues on his efforts to follow up on an information request filed by DIRE in March. Art said he and DIRE Chair Mohammed Memfis clarified to the town that the committee wanted information about policies that may have been produced with respect to Articles 36 and 37. Despite repeated communications between the committee and Town Hall, no information has been produced, Art said.
"There's nothing beautiful about this," Bilal Ansari said, referring to the town's "Village Beautiful" nickname. "There's nothing transparent about this. But it is consistent. I can say it is consistent. This is the same response the Williamstown Police Department gave to your request for information about the 20 people who were violated [with illegal data searches]. It's consistent."
Art asked for and received the committee's blessing to file an appeal to the commonwealth's Secretary of State over the town's failure to reply to the committee's information request in a timely manner.

Tags: DIRE,   

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