Williamstown gains residents

Williamstown has not one, but two top leadership positions vacant or about to be vacant.

WILLIAMSTOWN — With vacant positions at two of the top leadership slots in town, officials are moving forward with four candidate searches to fill the jobs.

In order to fill the essential administrative roles of town manager and police chief without hampering operations, town officials will conduct short-term searches for an interim town manager and an interim police chief at the same time.

Then the town will conduct searches for full-time candidates, taking the time to consult with advisory committees consisting of a diverse group of community members to help establish criteria and policy goals, and to aid in selecting the final choice.

Following a difficult period that started last summer — an intense controversy over allegations of past sexual and racial harassment in the police department roiled the community — former Police Chief Kyle Johnson resigned from his post in December. Town Manager Jason Hoch resigned his position Friday, effective in 60 days, in more fallout from the police department controversy.

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.

“In order to continue operations of the Town, I will serve for up to another sixty days while the [select] 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 noted that the select board has already been making some inquiries for an interim town manager. His hope is that an interim will be chosen in about a month to give him time to train and inform the new hire of the tools at their disposal and the people on the team.

“I want to make sure that when I leave, the transition will be as easy as possible,” Hoch said.

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Select Board Chairwoman Jane Patton said there would not be an advisory committee to aid in the selection of an interim town manager, but that there would be an advisory committee appointed to help in the search for a long-term town manager.

Hoch noted that he is on the cusp of appointing six people from 21 interested community members to an advisory committee to help in choosing an interim police chief. He said that “ideally” the final candidates would be interviewed by the committee, and meet with the select board and other key town personnel.

Then the hope is that the advisory committee would come to a consensus on the best candidate, and Hoch would make it official, since he is the hiring authority for that position.

“While it remains my responsibility, it wouldn’t be fair to make that decision unilaterally,” Hoch said.

Patton said that the searches for both interim positions would happen at the same time. She contacted the search firm contracted to find candidates for an interim chief, and they said they can do the same for an interim town manager at the same time.

She added that advisory committees would later be appointed to help choose the right person for both long-term jobs. The two searches for long-term candidates is expected to take three to six months, possibly longer.

That process will likely last longer than the interim search because before they find candidates the goal is to examine job descriptions and related town and department policies to be sure they reflect the wishes of the community regarding equity and justice in policing and conducting town business.

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

Scott Stafford has been a reporter, photographer, and editor at a variety of publications, including the Dallas Morning News and The Berkshire Eagle. Scott can be reached at sstafford@berkshireeagle.com, or at 413-496-6301 and on Twitter at @BE_SStafford.