WILLIAMSTOWN — Slightly less than two years ago, in August 2020, Robert Menicocci and his wife were quickly packing clothes and personal items into a couple of backpacks, jumping into the car and fleeing their Bolder Creek, Calif., home, after watching a wildfire move down the mountainside towards their neighborhood.
When they returned a month later, everything they and their neighbors had left behind was reduced to ashes.
Now, having started his new job as Williamstown town manager on July 1, the panic and trauma are past, and he’s focused on getting up to speed on the town’s various challenges.
Menicocci, a native of Massachusetts, and his wife had been thinking about moving back east, and after the wildfire, they felt more motivated to do so. After looking for a while, they bought a place in Bennington, Vt., as a second home, a place to vacation near family and friends.
Menicocci noted that they had looked at homes all around New England, but the house in Bennington “checked all the right boxes.” So they bought the place.
A few weeks later he noticed the town’s ads for a new town manager in a spot close to their Bennington home. He applied and after an intensive interview process, was hired.
“We were already in that mindset with the pandemic driving our focus on returning (to New England),” he said. He already had 15 years of experience working in Massachusetts government at the Department of Transitional Assistance in Boston in three different positions, the last one being director of the Office of Budget, Cost Control and Procurement. After that, from 2012 to 2014, Menicocci worked for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health in Boston as deputy commissioner of management and budget.
Williamstown voters returned Jane Patton to the Select Board, awarding her a fourth, three-year term, and elected Randal Fippinger to a first term on that top board, in a three-way contest Tuesday.
His employment contract was approved unanimously by the Williamstown Select Board for a term of one year with a yearly salary of $155,000. The contract can be renewed by agreement for an additional two years.
Menicocci left his job as agency director of the Santa Clara County Social Services Agency in San Jose, Calif., which employed 3,000 people and had a budget of roughly $1 billion — a position he had held since 2015 — to work in Williamstown.
Having started about a week ago, he is working hard on getting up to speed with the challenges facing the town.
“Folks are very gracious about sharing the issues we have here,” Menicocci said. “At this stage it’s all about moving forward, and how we do that in a positive way.”
He said the key will be to move forward, but in a transparent, methodical way, and to let the difficult conversations continue until consensus can be reached and everyone has had their say.
“That has to happen, but it’s not a quick process,” Menicocci said. “The key word is patience — what we come up with will be a result of that conversation we have with the community.”
Regarding issues with the police department and the hiring of a full-time police chief, Menicocci said that is another difficult conversation that has to happen.
Williamstown residents still not ready to revamp zoning to increase density and diversity of housing
Voters again turned away an attempt to reduce housing lot sizes and increase housing density, both in the center and in the more rural sections in the south end of town.
“I respect the urgency, but we must take the time to listen to all the voices,” he said. “It’s a painful lesson here that needs to be learned. But we need to get it right going forward.”
At the time of his hiring in April, Select Board Chairman Andrew Hogeland said he was very happy with the result of the search process. “We are very pleased that we have come to an agreement with Bob Menicocci, and feel fortunate that we have been able to attract a manager with his depth of public sector experience,” Hogeland said. “He has a strong background in budgeting, public sector management and social services, which will serve Williamstown well.”