WILLIAMSTOWN — After serving for nine years on the Williamstown Select Board, Jane Patton has decided she’d like to serve one more three-year term to help complete a few more chores, like stabilizing the functioning of town government by getting the new town manager and a permanent police chief on board, among other things.
She noted that the resignations of the town manager and the police chief happened while she was chair of the Select Board, so she feels it’s her duty to help steer the community past the more than two-year trauma that had the town in turmoil through most of it.
“These things happened while I was the chair, so in good conscious I could not leave the mess,” she said. “We have to get a new town manager and police chief in place. And it’s not over. There are a lot more discussions that have to take place.”
The turmoil began with the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, which sparked outrage and protests around the globe, including in Williamstown. That outrage was accelerated by a lawsuit filed by a former Williamstown Police sergeant alleging racial and sexual harassment in 2020. Since then, many in town have been reflecting on questions about race.
Patton wants to raise awareness and understanding on the issue.
“We have gone through an accelerated master class about how much racism is there,” Patton said. “When it’s brought to your attention and you do see it, it’s like, oh my God. So we have to help others to see it using specific examples.”
She described her process of working through such discussions.
“I’ve learned to keep asking probing questions to get to the heart of the facts,” she said. “Emotion comes into play, but I want fact-based conversation and debate. And I want a town manager and police chief who share the facts, so I’m committed to asking more questions.”
The annual town election is set for May 10 at Williamstown Elementary School. Also running for the Select Board are Bilal Ansari and Randal Fippinger. The two candidates with the most votes will win seats on the Select Board.
Patton is anxious to address the lack of town-owned recreational playing fields. As it stands now, many youth sports teams have to use the two playing fields at Williamstown Elementary School. Those fields are not enough, so some use playing fields owned by Williams College.
“This is a puzzlement to me,” she said. “We should be ashamed of ourselves.”
The proposed zoning changes headed to town meeting — which would allow slightly smaller housing lots in South Williamstown, to the chagrin of homeowners there — have generated vocal opposition. Patton urges folks to be open-minded and look at all the facts.
“We should be open to change. Is every proposal perfect? Probably not, but we shouldn’t let the perfect get in the way of the possible.”
She said she loves the open green spaces of Williamstown, but she is also well-aware that “there is a shortage of all types of housing. But we can do both address the housing shortage and preserve the open spaces. To me, it’s not an either-or solution. Of course both of them matter.”
In discussing the housing issue, Patton wants the debate to be fact-based.
“I think it would be lovely if we all take a deep breath and ask ourselves whether we would be happier, and whether it actually impacts our daily lives, negative or positive,” she said. “The discussion needs to be more fact-based. I want to see more passion, but less emotion — more kindness and empathy. After the last two years we should have learned to be polite, be kind and be gracious.”
Patton is the general manager of the Taconic Gold Club. She and her wife are raising two daughters who are students at Mount Greylock Regional School, and a son who is in the theater arts business in New York City. She previously worked as a buyer for a number of retail firms, including Victoria’s Secret, Bloomingdales and J. Peterman.
But don’t expect to see her running for Select Board again.
“This is unequivocally the last time I’m running,” Patton said.