WILLIAMSTOWN — The Select Board has authorized the hiring of a private investigator to explore allegations of racial and sexual harassment at the Police Department, as revealed in a lawsuit against the police chief and the town manager.
The lawsuit was dropped shortly after former Police Chief Kyle Johnson resigned in December, but its claims brought calls from residents to look into the allegations, and to examine the status of the Police Department now, to be sure that incidents no longer are occurring.
As a result, the town sought out several investigators who could take on the job. The board selected attorney, investigator and trainer Judy A. Levenson, one of seven parties that submitted proposals.
Select Board member Andrew Hogeland noted that Levenson has the right expertise for what the town needs. He noted that the cost likely would wind up at $12,000 to $20,000 and would take about two months.
The board voted unanimously to approve the Levenson proposal.
The allegations came out as part of a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in August by Williamstown Police Sgt. Scott McGowan. The suit maintained that McGowan was retaliated against for decrying racial and sexual harassment in the Police Department by the police chief and that McGowan was denied a promotion to lieutenant as a result.
The harassment charges refer to incidents more than a decade ago in which McGowan charges that Johnson, on occasion, engaged in sexual harassment of employees, that he made jokes at the expense of a Black officer, and that a dispatcher used a racist epithet in the presence of that officer, who was giving a tour of the station to a Black college student.
The allegations raised a furor in the community, with calls for Johnson and Town Manager Jason Hoch, who oversees the chief, to be placed on administrative leave and for an independent investigation of the charges.
In other business, the board supported a plan to purchase all of the streetlights in town from National Grid for $1. Going forward, a plan set up by the COOL Committee would replace the current high-pressure sodium bulbs with LED fixtures that are more adjustable for brightness and direction of illumination.
“They’re old, they’re inefficient, so, we’d like to upgrade them,” said Stephanie Boyd, a member of the COOL Committee, noting that it would save the town money and reduce the use of electricity.
First, the Williamstown Fire District has to hand over maintenance and payment duties to the town through an intermunicipal agreement. Once the poles have been purchased and the switch-over is complete, the town would seek manufacturers to set up demonstration of their products.
The project has been moving forward because LED lights will save the town about $60,000 yearly. Initially, there was pushback, but the COOL Committee identified an LED product that is a better quality of light.
Installation would cost about $195,000 after a $50,000 rebate. The savings would pay back the investment over three to five years.
An article would be added to the Town Meeting warrant to allow voters to consider the idea.
If approved, the town would move on to the next step. A local contractor would be hired to maintain the streetlight network of 553 poles, at a cost savings of about $43,000 per year over what National Grid charges for the same maintenance.
Town Meeting is anticipated in June. Hoch said that, if approved, the project would move forward in July.