WILLIAMSTOWN — Three days after submitting his resignation, Town Manager Jason Hoch received unanimous praise during Monday's meeting from members of the Select Board for his performance during his more than five years as head of town operations.
Select Board member Anne O’Connor said that, as part of his employee evaluation, she spoke with a number of current and past employees and several committee members and community members who have worked with Hoch.
“The warmth with which they speak of Jason Hoch as town manager was overwhelming,” O’Connor said. “They described how much he cares about his staff, how he respects and listens to them, how he is ‘The best boss we’ve ever had.’ They say that they became a family under Jason and that he helped them heal from a legacy of autocratic management.”
“I am deeply saddened by this outcome and also angry,” she said. “Jason has been a good town manager, and despite what some think, he has the capacity to be the town manager at this point. He is paying a high price for past managers of this town.”
A lawsuit filed in August sparked controversy over allegations of past sexual and racial harassment in the Police Department. In the wake of that, former Police Chief Kyle Johnson resigned in November.
Hoch resigned his position Friday, effective in 60 days, his departure also fallout from the Police Department controversy. Part of his reason for leaving, Hoch said, is that it became apparent during community discourse on equity and race that he had become a focus of the discussion. Remaining in his post would be an obstacle to allowing the discussion to move forward, he said.
Chairwoman Jane Patton summarized the employee evaluation conducted on Hoch’s performance, compiled shortly before his resignation.
She noted challenges the town faced during the past year, including the coronavirus pandemic, the emotions surrounding the death of George Floyd while in the custody of Minneapolis Police and the worldwide movement it sparked, and revelations of sexual and racial harassment in past years at the Police Department.
In March, the pandemic shutdown required town management to pivot to remote employee work and to arrange for the new technologies and procedures.
“Through all of this, Jason has performed admirably,” Patton said. “Staff people were very complimentary about his leadership and management skills.”
She noted that staff used terms like “inclusive” and “collaborative.”
“They were very supportive in all aspects of his job” Patton said. “His support for staff has been exemplary, truly laudable.”
She noted that while past evaluations also have been complimentary, there have been requests that Hoch should be more communicative with the board. And his failure to notify the board about the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination complaint filed by Sgt. Scott McGowan, which led to the August lawsuit against the police chief and the town manager, was an indication that the issue remained a concern.
Board member Jeffrey Thomas said he has been observing Hoch’s performance through it all, describing his demeanor as “grace under pressure. I’ve seen time and again Jason putting the community’s interest ahead of his own.”
Hugh Daley, another board member, agreed. “I don’t think anyone here believes that the benefits this town has received with Jason are outweighed by the negative. I am going to be sorry to see him go.”
Hoch has had a “phenomenal run,” added Select Board member Andrew Hogeland. “I don’t think we’ll find as good a manager as Jason.”
Some members of the board had instructive words for community members as well. Some members of the community have been focused on finding a way to eject Hoch from his position for what they perceive as failures to rein in the Police Department, and have been aggressive in making that point.
“I am sad [Hoch] is leaving,” O’Connor said. “But, I am even sadder for our town. I am afraid the fighting and distrust and accusations will continue. I believe that lack of civility in the public sphere and social media is hurting us all. I am praying that healing can come to this town and all its residents. We can do better.”
“I think people who are not happy with this result should ask themselves what role did they play in creating an atmosphere where Jason would think the best thing for him and for the town is that he go,” Hogeland said.
“I hate bullying, and we’ve seen horrible bullying played out over the last six months or so," he said. "If we’re upset about this result — and I think we all should be — I think we need to look at bullying behavior, failure to listen and failure to speak in a way that other people would want to hear you.”
He noted that, in talking to folks about Hoch’s performance, there were multiple compliments and praise from community members. But, none of that came out during the periods of acute criticism of Hoch that people were expressing during the past few months.
“The community at large needs to think about themselves and what did they do, and also what did they not do,” Hogeland said.