|Williamstown Officials Express Regret Over Town Manager's Departure|
|By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff|
09:28PM / Monday, February 22, 2021
|Town Manager Jason Hoch, seen in this file photo, is leaving with praise from the Select Board despite a difficult six months when he came under fire from some community members about a lawsuit filed against the Police Department. |
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — Four members of the Select Board said Monday they regretted the departure of the town manager, and all five offered praise for his management as the board finished an evaluation process that began even as Jason Hoch moved toward a decision to end his tenure.
Calling the town's behavior over the last six months "appalling," Andrew Hogeland indicated that "bullying" played a role in forcing Hoch out the door
"If we're upset about this result, I think we all should be, we need to look at the bullying behavior, failure to listen, failure to speak in a way that people will want to hear you," Hogeland said. "I'm hopeful that we, as a community, take this loss, this huge loss, as a bit of a lesson going forward in how to speak better.
"I think the community at large needs to think about themselves and what did they do and what did they not do. The voices critical of the decision making were not numerous, necessarily, but they were consistent. And a lot of people said nothing. Over the last week or two, during the course of the assessment, we got some amazing tributes to Jason from members of the community he had worked with, from all the town staff. But I've got to say to members of the community, it would have been nice -- things would have been different, I think, if people had spoken up against bullying behavior months ago."
Both Jeffrey Thomas and Hugh Daley commented on Hoch's commitment to serving the town, even to the point of working to ensure a seamless transition to the interim town manager that the board intends to hire while it engages in a longer-term search for a permanent replacement.
"When we came to the conclusion that Jason was going to move on … we said, ‘Should we do the town manager review?' " Daley said. "He's like, 'Yes. You should listen to people. Go out and find out how we're doing. And make sure it informs the search for your next town manager.' Jason had already switched to: How do I leave this better than I found it.
"That's the type of guy we had working for us. And that is something I always appreciated, someone who tries to take the ego out of the job and see that, especially in public service, there's a job to be done that needs to be done regardless of how you feel about the person doing it."
In presenting the evaluation summary, Chair Jane Patton talked at length about Hoch's accomplishments over the last year as he led Town Hall through the pandemic without any apparent loss of town services. And she emphasized the respect that Hoch has earned from the people that he managed.
"To a person, and I think, in total, probably 20 or so staff members, even some former staff members, spoke about Jason as a manager," Patton said. "And, to a person, they were complimentary of his leadership and management skills, especially as relates to the fact that his is an inclusive and collaborative manager who invites his team to share their input and values their points of view.
"He invites them to participate while problem-solving and searches for consensus when developing strategies. He is a very supportive manager in all aspects of that function."
Patton also said she would be remiss if she did not include in Hoch's review the controversy that has roiled the town for the last six months and his perceived role in it.
She said there were "lingering problems" with his relationship to the board before his decision not to inform Select Board members of a complaint against the Williamstown Police Department before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination. And she referred to past failings in the communication between Hoch and the board.
"Past reviews have flagged communications with the Select Board as an area needing improvement and this need continues," Patton said. "In his 2019 … evaluation, Jason was asked to focus on building more open and collegial relationship with board members, asking for the board's input and opinions, particularly on matters that are likely to generate concern among community members."
Anne O'Connor also addressed the non-communication about the MCAD complaint that preceded a federal lawsuit that came to light in August. For O'Connor, that single decision was not reason to sever ties with Hoch.
"As a board member, I understand and do not judge the mistake he made when he did not share the MCAD filing with the board," O'Connor said. "When internal communications fail, there is never only one party at fault. I have always believed this board should own up to its own role in the failures of communication that have stained our record. I deeply regret that the town is losing an employee of Jason's caliber as a result of interpersonal tensions and communication breakdowns. This board has committed mistakes and has had structural failures of its own, which is a topic for another occasion."
O'Connor called Hoch a friend and said that she is "deeply saddened and angry at this outcome."
She also referenced the input of town employees and former employees in the evaluation process who said that the staff "became a family" under Hoch's leadership.
"They say Jason was approachable, super knowledgeable, smart and creative," O'Connor said. "His contributions went far and beyond the boilerplate work of a town manager. It will be a challenge for the next person to step into his shoes."
O'Connor spoke for more than seven minutes, mostly talking about Hoch's service to the town but also sharing insight into how the controversy that has consumed Williamstown has impacted her own life.
"Since the fall, my support for Jason has been treated as if I were giving tacit approval to a white supremacist status quo, as if I couldn't see implicit bias and white privilege at work in Williamstown," O'Connor said. "Honestly, I know and recognize the racism, and sexism, and ableism that still exists within me, never mind in this town. I have worked hard to grapple with myself on a journey that is still relatively uncharted for most white Americans — especially in New England. I benefit from my whiteness — and I am, by virtue of that whiteness, racist — in ways I will never overcome, no matter how hard I try. And I do try."
After each of the board members spoke, Patton offered Jason the opportunity to skip the regular town manager's report, much of which is publicly available on the town's website.
"Thank you all, so much," Hoch said. "It kind of makes it a hard act to follow when I look over the mundane in my report. So I think we can defer anything until the next meeting. It's all there for you to read, and I will highlight anything of note in our next meeting."