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Williamstown Town Manager Search Group Sets Survey, Listening Sessions
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
06:36PM / Wednesday, July 21, 2021
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The committee advising the Select Board on the selection of the next town manager is launching a multi-front effort to gather input from the community about its priorities for the next occupant of the corner office at Town Hall.
 
On Tuesday, the Town Manager Search Advisory Committee finalized the questions it wants on a survey being constructed by the town's headhunting firm, GovHR. On Thursday, a couple members of the 11-person panel will hold the first in an anticipated series of online listening sessions via the Zoom platform. On Saturday, members of the panel will occupy a table at the town's farmers market, where constituents will be encouraged to share their thoughts about what the town needs in a town manager.
 
Earlier this month, the TMSAC nailed down the language for a position announcement that GovHR posted on the town's behalf to let prospective candidates know that the job is available.
 
That initial job posting will be followed by a more detailed community profile, a brochure that the search committee hopes will be informed by the results of the community survey.
 
Since the position announcement lists a deadline of Aug. 30 for applicants to apply, that means the survey — and the brochure it informs — needs to be completed in a timely fashion.
 
The consultants from GovHR have recommended a 10-day period for the survey to be active, a time period that got some pushback from committee members on Tuesday.
 
"Why is it 10 days?" Abigail Reifsnyder asked. "Why are we in such a rush?"
 
"To the degree the survey is going to influence the community profile, we need to get that done in lockstep," Hugh Daley answered. "The faster we get through that, the faster the screening of the candidates happens. We are on a timeline. … It's difficult to take a week off."
 
Susan Puddester and other members of the committee asked how the committee could get the word out to the community about the survey — expected to go live online by the end of this week — in such a short period of time.
 
The committee has discussed promoting the survey on social media, hanging posters with a QR code to direct people to the survey, reaching out to Williams College to see if it can include the survey in its daily email to staff, asking the Mount Greylock Regional School District to promote the survey to its staff and families and putting hard copies of the survey in places like the Milne Public Library and the Harper Center, home to the Williamstown Council on Aging.
 
Jose Constantine was one of the voices suggesting that extending the survey's time period also is necessary.
 
"The concern [expressed by Daley] was that for every day we delay the turnaround, it slows up the process," Constantine said. "I guess my only counter is each day we extend this deadline may ensure we are as inclusive as far as who participates as possible.
 
"The benefit of waiting two weeks might be that our community profile is much more reflective of our community."
 
Daley acknowledged that he was pushing to stay on the tighter 10-day time frame but said it was up to the pleasure of the committee.
 
"The survey can be available [this week], but we might take an extra week while we get our marketing plan in place," Daley said. "It seems like it might be the right thing to get [GovHR's Lee Szymborski started on publishing the survey. We might want to get him to extend the deadline from, say, 10 days to 17 days.
 
"We do have a timeline we have to keep. Is that an acceptable compromise?"
 
The committee took no formal votes on the question, but no one objected to the course that Daley laid out.
 
In the meantime, he pushed his fellow committee members to do their own research in their social circles about the priorities that community members want to see for the next town manager, and the Thursday listening session and Saturday availability at the farmers market factor into that effort.
 
The committee set an agenda item for next week to begin conversations about what they want to go into the community profile — including the town's challenges and opportunities — that they want to project to potential candidates. Daley said the community profile can both help the committee frame the process of selecting finalists to send to the Select Board and help potential candidates decide whether Williamstown is a good fit for them.
 
"This is where the community describes itself to prospective employees, and the prospective town managers self-select," Daley said. "They say, for example, ‘This community says it has $30 million of infrastructure to do in the next three years. I'm a builder. That's for me.' Or another community might say they're really concerned about public safety, and a candidate says, ‘I've had great success working with police departments. This sounds like my opportunity.' "
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