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Williamstown Select Board Postpones Town Manager Decision
By Tammy Daniels, iBerkshires Staff
02:45AM / Tuesday, November 16, 2021
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The Select Board is considering keeping the current interim in place part-time until April.

WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board postponed a decision on the next interim town manager until Thursday. 
 
If it makes a decision. 
 
Town officials were searching for an interim to replace current interim Charles Blanchard, who was expected to leave the post in December. He was hired last April. 
 
But after interviewing North Adams Mayor Thomas Bernard and former Amherst Town Manager Barry Del Castilho on Monday, some board members floated the idea of keeping Blanchard in place. 
 
"Once we're just looking at interims it seems to me the person that's been doing it for the last six months is the fairly obvious choice," said board member Hugh Daley. "All of them are great people but with Charlie, I have great confidence because he's been here, there is no learning curve, there is no second transition period. There is no 'I didn't know you didn't do that.'"
 
Chairman Andrew Hogeland said Blanchard's "drop dead date" was April 30.  
 
"So there's a contingency plan and it's ready to go," he said. 
 
Del Castilho, a Buckland selectman, had at first considered he could be available two days a week but after finding the drive over the mountain wasn't daunting thought he could do three or four. Bernard, who's term ends at the beginning of the year, posited the interim post as a time to get to know each other if the board did not wish to mount another full-time manager search. 
 
The town is looking at interims again after passing on the two finalists for town manager interviewed last month. The several months search for a replacement for Jason Hoch ended with board discussing a long-term interim town manager to take the town through the next budget and town meeting season.
 
But the pickings — for interim and full time — have been pretty slim, acknowledged Hogeland. 
 
In addition to the two candidates interviewed, a third application was received over the weekend but the members decided to reject it for not being timely. 
 
"This is a fourth search where we've ended up with only two candidates," said Hogeland. 
 
Daley said they had to face that there is a problem in finding suitable applicants — Williamstown has a great location, great environment, people and community but it's remote. 
 
"We are remote. We are far away. We're hard work to get to," he said, noting he'd contacted the Massachusetts Managers Association to find out about the marketplace and gotten some of that as feedback.
 
They have also have been seeking what member Jane Patton called a unicorn — someone with both hard and soft skills who can help heal the town after last year's fallout from lawsuits and complaints from a now former police sergeant. But they've run up against the fact that human resources has become an expertise that doesn't always fall in with a town manager's operational skills. 
 
"To find the perfect person to fill this crazy job is to accept the fact that there's town manager stuff and then there's the HR and if we are able to separate those two things, I think it makes the town manager search easier," said Patton. "Because the current slate of town managers out in the world right now are, for lack of a better term, more traditional."
 
Member Jeffrey Johnson wondered if they should be hiring two people to fill out the different needs. 
 
"I know where we're lacking some pieces and my question really is, we were prepared to hire a full-time town manager at a full salary," he said. "Have we ever thought about getting somebody else on to help, having two people just because of the magnitude of what's going on?" 
 
Daley agreed in concept, noting they didn't need full-time people in certain posts but half- or quarter-time people. 
 
"You don't need an HR person. You need half an HR person," he said. "Getting those halves is the part which [I] would go back to the regionalization of services and I would potentially talk to the Collins Center." 
 
He was referring to the Edward J. Collins Jr. Center for Public Management at the University of Massachusetts that provides studies and services to local and state government. 
 
"I personally believe that choosing Charlie is a good choice, not the least bad," said Daley. 
 
Blanchard would give the town time to perhaps connect with the Collins Center and look at what the town's organizational structure is missing and delve into some of the changes Blanchard has already made. This would prepare them for another round of permanent candidates. 
 
Patton wondered if keeping Blanchard on was really pushing things forward; Johnson and member Wade Hasty also expressed some reservations.
 
"I want to try to help us continue to push ourselves to not just go back to the same model," Johnson said. "Now there's no way to do it unless you go outside the box. And that's what I'm looking for us to do is to go outside the box and our thinking because our thinking so far gotten up to this point."  
 
Patton wholeheartedly agreed. The person they were looking for may not have 25 years experience because the world's changed. 
 
"I was the unconventional take-a-flyer candidate in my current job," said the clubhouse manger for Taconic Golf Club. "And I've done things that people did not think possible to get done because somebody made the box look like that." 
 
Hogeland said they picked Option C a month ago but now they're closing in on Thanksgiving and it was time to make a decision on Thursday. 
 
"I am fine with picking a safe alternative for the short run," he said.
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