WILLIAMSTOWN — Town Manager Jason Hoch has submitted a letter of resignation to the town Select Board.
He will remain on the job for 60 days to ensure a smooth transition.
“At my request, the Select Board and I have mutually agreed on terms for me to separate from the position of Town Manager,” Hoch wrote in his resignation announcement. “We explored a variety of paths and alternatives before reaching this decision. It was important that there was a plan that allowed us to work on an orderly transition given the number of issues currently before us, the seasonal workflow of the municipal calendar and the added complexity of the ongoing pandemic.”
Hoch was hired in 2015, but that wasn’t his first time in Williamstown. He first came to town as a freshman at Williams College. From his office window, he could see his old dorm room window.
During the past year, town government endured a tumultuous time, which included the coronavirus pandemic, and the sudden appearance of past sexual and racial harassment at the Police Department revealed in a lawsuit filed against the former police chief and Hoch.
Part of his reason for leaving, Hoch told The Eagle, is that it became apparent during the ongoing community discourse on equity and race that he had become a focus of the discussion, and that remaining in his post would be an obstacle to allowing the discussion to move forward.
Hoch had become a part of that discussion as some community members continued to express ire for what they perceive as his role in the Police Department controversy and have continued to call for his removal from office. The incidents in question occurred at the Police Department before Hoch was hired as town manager.
“In order to continue operations of the Town, I will serve for up to another 60 days while the Board seeks to identify an Interim Manager,” Hoch wrote in his announcement. “Beyond that, I will remain through the end of May in a support role working on documenting and transition planning the many parts of the government operation that run through the Manager’s office.”
Hoch has had a pivotal role in a number of town achievements, including the construction of a new police station without having to raise taxes, construction of the new high school, implementation of new laws surrounding the retail sale of recreational marijuana, guiding the bike path project through its final stages, and the repaving of Spring Street.
“It has been an honor to serve Williamstown over the past five and a half years,” Hoch wrote. “I appreciate how welcoming, supporting and engaging so many in this community have been over that time. We have achieved many things over that period, completing two major public building projects, significant economic development and multiple environmentally sustainable initiatives all while maintaining and enhancing the Town’s solid financial position and keeping the tax impact for the cost of town services nearly unchanged.
“This has only been possible through the support of the community and the phenomenal town staff with whom it has been a privilege to work alongside over that time.”
Select Board Chairwoman Jane Patton said that Hoch’s absence will be felt. She noted his work at improving systems, guiding public construction projects, improving town finances and his work on intermunicipal agreements.
“This was Jason’s decision,” Patton said, “as something that will help Williamstown get where it needs to go.”
She added that his failure to disclose the formal complaint lodged by police Sgt. Scott McGowan at the time, which was followed by the lawsuit, was a serious concern for her.
“I applaud Jason for wanting to make this a smooth transition,” Patton said. “The town is in a significant period of flux and change. It’s going to take all of us in town at every level to achieve the goal of starting to evolve Williamstown into the community we want and need it to be.”
“I’m saddened by the announcement of Jason’s departure but I understand his decision,” said Bilal Ansari, a member of the town’s Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity committee, which was assembled last year in response to the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis Police custody.
“Although difficult, it is the noblest action to take, given our town’s level of turmoil. I am grateful for his gracious offer to help shepherd a transition for our interim town manager. Our hope is our next town manager is as successful with restoratively joining hearts and minds as Jason was brilliantly with bricks and mortar.”
In a statement issued shortly after Hoch announced his resignation, Select Board Member Jeffrey Thomas said that “in the 5 years I’ve worked with Jason, I’ve never appreciated his service to the community more than I do today. I commend his exemplary leadership through the extraordinary challenges of past year. He will be missed. This is Jason’s decision alone. The majority of the Select Board was prepared to extend his annual contract.”
Hoch said that the Select Board likely will start an abbreviated search for an interim manager, ideally within a month so that the new hire will have time to absorb what Hoch can teach about town operations and institutional knowledge.
“I have tried to approach the position of Manager with empathy, creativity and a quiet efficiency,” Hoch wrote. “As expectations of government continue to change not only in Williamstown but around the country, it is likely that we are moving to a time where the fundamental relationships between communities and their government are changing with rethinking priorities, practices and forms of engagement. An opportunity to refresh the relationships between the Town and the community offered a healthier path forward to allow more people to fully and constructively engage in that work.
“I care deeply about Williamstown and am committed to work supportively in this transition to position the community and the organization for future success.”