|Williamstown Employees Resign After Complaint; Board Member Leaving|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
09:52PM / Monday, January 25, 2021
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Two employees of the town resigned Monday in the wake of a complaint about employee conduct.
And one member of the five-person Select Board will be leaving his post a year ahead of schedule.
Those were the surprises to emerge from a meeting that mostly focused on the town's efforts to investigate accusations of wrongdoing in its police department and develop a plan to replace its recently retired chief.
Select Board Chair Jane Patton announced the employees' departure at the start of the meeting.
Patton later said the town is just at the start of investigating the latest complaint and she was not at liberty to provide any details, including the department where the accusation arose.
But in her initial announcement, she did refer to "another town department," implying that the new complaint is outside the Williamstown Police Department, which has been under the microscope townwide since August's announcement of a federal discrimination lawsuit brought by a sergeant in the department.
"We are in the midst of an investigation, and when it is appropriate to provide more information, we will do so," Patton said during brief remarks at the top of the two-hour meeting. "We are not taking public comment on this issue at this time."
Nevertheless, a reporter for a radio station who attended the virtual meeting did seek and receive recognition from the floor and asked Patton for more details.
"This is extraordinarily new news," Patton said in explaining her inability to provide details. "We are literally hours into this, the investigation phase. I am not ready at this time to identify the department because we are trying to be mindful of everyone involved.
"We wanted to give as much information and transparency as we could, understanding that might generate additional questions. I'm confident that in the reasonably near term, we'll be able to be more forthcoming."
Select Board member Jeffrey Thomas anticipated that his unexpected announcement would also generate some questions.
"I will finish my service after the next town election," Thomas said as an aside while casting the last roll call vote on a motion to adjourn the meeting.
In a followup email to iBerkshires.com, Thomas addressed what questions he thought the decision might raise.
He stressed that the growing demands of his "day job," as the chief executive officer of North Adams nonprofit Lever Inc., and the increased time needed to devote to Select Board work drove his decision.
"My professional responsibilities have grown substantially since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic," Thomas wrote. "Last year Lever, the organization that I lead, helped dozens of Massachusetts companies bring to market products and technology to keep people safe from the virus, including face masks, protective barriers, next generation air purification systems and more. Our work will expand further in 2021 to support economic recovery from the pandemic in the Berkshires and throughout the state. We've always worked hard to support innovators who are BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, and from other underrepresented groups. This year we are redoubling our focus on diversity and inclusion, most notably in our Berkshire Interns program. My day job is as exciting as any job I've ever had.
"At the same time, the obligations of service on the Williamstown Select Board have also grown. Increasingly I am challenged to fulfill this important responsibility. This past year has been particularly demanding because of the pandemic and the controversy at the WPD. We're now on solid ground in both areas, so it's a good time for me to step away."
Thomas said he was announcing the decision now so that the remaining year left on his three-year appointment can be filled by a vote in May's town election. That would mean there will be two spots on the Select Board on the ballot
up for grabs: his one-year seat and the seat currently held by Anne O'Connor. Candidate papers for all positions on the May ballot will be available this Friday.
Thomas said he expected some in the community might ask if he is resigning because of the Williamstown Police Department controversy.
"No," Thomas wrote. "In fact I have tremendous confidence in the work of Town staff, including the Police Department. Having served on the Select Board, I have had a direct view of their solid, day-to-day work. I'm confident that the steps being taken by the WPD, the Town Manager, and the Select Board will ensure that the WPD operates without bias.
"I think some in the community have been unfairly critical. Those folks don't seem to understand the impact of their harsh words on morale. If it keeps up, I fear we are going to lose some very talented staff, some of whom have served our community for many years."
Thomas in his email also expressed his support for Town Manager Jason Hoch, who he said has been "unfairly lambasted for problems that pre-existed when he took the job as town manager."