2020-10-5-WILLICHIEF

To help find an interim police chief, 22 Williamstown residents have volunteered to serve on an advisory search committee.

WILLIAMSTOWN — Three candidates for interim police chief will be interviewed Friday by the eight-person advisory committee.

The names are confidential until the town decides to release them.

According to Anne O’Connor, the liaison from the Select Board, there have not been any responses to ads seeking applicants for the position. The three existing candidates had applied for the job before the advertisements ran in a variety of trade publications.

“The whole goal is to help the [Police] Department — they’re a little understaffed,” O’Connor said.

The Williamstown Police Department has been through a litany of issues since last summer, when Sgt. Scott McGowan filed suit against Police Chief Kyle Johnson and Town Manager Jason Hoch. McGowan alleged a series of incidents of sexual and racial harassment in the police station that, he said, occurred several years ago.

Coming in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement and the coronavirus pandemic, public outrage surged. Johnson resigned in December. Hoch resigned in March, hoping to leave his job in late April. Then three officers were put on leave for using a criminal justice data system to look up basic information about 20 of the department’s detractors. Soon after, allegations arose from police records and complaints filed by fellow officers of McGowan’s past actions that mirror some of the charges he leveled against others.

With an interim town manager recently hired, that leaves Williamstown in a hurry to hire an interim police chief. Lt. Michael Ziemba is serving as the acting chief, but that leaves the department with a few empty slots.

To help find an interim chief, 22 residents volunteered to serve on the advisory search committee. Appointed to the group were Barbara Carr, Aruna D’Souza, Hugh Guilderson, Ralph Hammann, Wade Hasty, Erin Keiser-Clark, Jay Merselis and Natalia Romano.

“It’s a diverse group,” Romano said. “We all have different perspectives in terms of age, education and race, and we’ve developed very good lines of communication. Everybody’s been really receptive to all perspectives.”

Already, the committee has finalized the language of the job posting, has drawn up a job description and has developed criteria of credentials and skills that the committee feels would be necessary in an interim chief.

The ads were posted in publications for the Massachusetts Chiefs of Police Association, Massachusetts Association of Minority Law Enforcement Officers, the Hispanic American Police Command Officers Association and the Massachusetts Association of Women in Law Enforcement.

There were no applicants responding to the ads.

The committee whittled a list of 40 questions to eight, O’Connor noted, and heading into Friday, it was ready to interview the three candidates. She said they would like to have someone finalized by the end of April.

“In terms of policing, this would be a challenge for a good law enforcement professional — an opportunity to show what you have to offer,” O’Connor said.

If the committee likes one of the candidates for the job, it would recommend that person to the town manager, who is the town’s final hiring authority.

If no candidate passes muster by the end of the review period, the committee, town manager and Select Board will determine whether to continue the process or skip right to the search for a permanent chief, which is expected to be a longer, more-involved process.

Scott Stafford can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com or at 413-629-4517.