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Williamstown Board Names New DIRE Member, Supports Cable Mills Project
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
04:12AM / Wednesday, January 12, 2022
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board on Monday appointed an official at the Williams College Museum of Art to fill a vacant seat on the town's diversity committee.
Noah Kane-Smalls joins the Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee after receiving the wholehearted support of the Select Board and the only other candidate to come forward for the vacant spot.
"Noah Smalls is my competitor?" asked Bilal Ansari, a founding member of the DIRE Committee and the first of two candidates to come before the Select Board at Monday's virtual meeting. "If Noah Smalls wants to be on DIRE, let me move out of the way and let him be on DIRE. That's awesome. I just found this out right now. Had I known that, I would have bowed out and made room for a new voice and new energy.
"Noah Smalls is an awesome person to have on DIRE. … He has my vote."
Smalls is the director of exhibitions and collection management at WCMA who has focused on "healing communities through engagement with the arts" according to the application he submitted to the town.
On Monday, he told the Select Board that he and his wife have two sons in the local schools and he is interested in helping address the issues that DIRE has been tackling since it was formed in the summer of 2020.
"I'm from Philadelphia, and I still own and operate an art gallery there," Smalls said. "And I direct another community art gallery that's a non-profit. And the focus of both galleries is community building. That's my focus in my career in the arts.
"I really am hopeful to become a part of this committee to move the ball forward, if you will … just the continual evolution of Williamstown into exactly what it needs to be for everyone, especially for me and my family."
A vacancy on the DIRE Committee opened up when another original member of the group, Kerri Nicoll, decided to step down this winter. Although Ansari's withdrawal made Smalls' appointment a foregone conclusion, several members of the Select Board talked about their reasons for endorsing him before participating in a 5-0 vote to formally appoint Smalls.
"I appreciate your perspective and your willingness to serve," Hugh Daley said. "The town is made better by the active service of residents like you."
The Select Board also took a couple of steps toward providing more documentation for Smalls and his colleagues to consider in their DIRE discussions.
An article passed overwhelmingly by town meeting in 2020 called on all town boards and committees file quarterly reports to DIRE "to address progress toward" goals like structural racism and making the town more accessible
Select Board Chair Andy Hogeland said Monday he knows of just one body, the trustees of the Milne Public Library, which has completed such a report. But in consultation with chairs of other committees, Hogeland drafted a form that those panels can use to produce those reports in the future.
The Select Board also took a first look at the form Hogeland hopes it will approve for use by town boards at its meeting later this month. He also presented a draft three-page report that he proposed the Select Board use for its initial report to DIRE on the diversity, equity inclusion work the Select Board has undertaken in the last 18 months.
"It was surprising to me how many things had been initiated or actually completed," Hogeland said. "Once I pulled them together, it got to be a pretty long list."
Jeffrey Johnson said the reporting process, rather than burden for committees, should be a tool that those bodies can use to think about their own activities.
"It's not like a checklist where we say, 'This is done. This is done,'" Johnson said. "Let's say we did something for accessibility. It doesn't mean we're done with it.
"I think [reports are a way] to keep the continuity as chairs change, board members change, to make sure we don't lose something in the cracks. … When these reports come in, I think it's up to the Select Board to work with those particular committees and their chairs to say, 'You have a recommendation or you have something you want to work on,' and they may need something from us. It's not just documenting what we're doing. Sometimes, we might need help, and it's outside the parameters of our committee."
The Select Board took no action on the reporting question. It did vote to sign on to a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Housing and Community Development supporting Mitchell Properties' application for government funding for a 54-unit apartment complex on Water Street where the developer plans 27 units available to residents making 60 percent or less than the area median income.
In light of a pending request to the town's Community Preservation Committee for $400,000 in CPA funds to support that project, Daley suggested that the board's letter include language saying it expects Williamstown residents will have first crack at the income-restricted units.
"I'm very much in favor of a commemoration of our expectation that it's an important thing," Daley said. "We're going to put Williamstown citizens' money in here, so it's our expectation when it's built that the first people who go into the units are people who paid for the units."
Hogeland said he was not sure such a preference could be built into the financing of the project.
In 2014, town officials pushed for preferential treatment for former residents of the Spruces Mobile Home Park when the Highland Woods senior housing project was in development. The developer was able to negotiate a "weighted lottery" that gave some advantage to those displaced by Tropical Storm Irene when filling the 40-unit complex.
Town Manager Charlie Blanchard pointed out that while a potential $400,000 contribution from the town is significant, it is less than 2 percent of the projected cost of the River Lofts development at Cable Mills.
Jane Patton and Johnson both said they were uncomfortable including language about a preference into the letter of support, and Wade Hasty contributed, "A stranger is a friend you haven't met yet."
In the end, no one supported Daley's suggestion, and the board agreed unanimously to sign the letter of support essentially as drafted.
In other business Monday, the Select Board heard from a resident concerned about a lack of transparency and responsiveness from the North Adams Airport Commission. Hogeland said he has asked Williamstown resident and commission member Dan Caplinger to update the board at a future meeting.
Blanchard told the board that the town expects to have a final draft of proposed human resources policy revisions available for review in the next couple of weeks. The revisions are a product of an HR audit ordered by the Select Board in 2020 – one of the action steps listed by Hogeland as a response to the August 2020 passage of Article 37 by town meeting.
Daley said the town's second advertisement in less than a year for a town manager will go live this week with hopes of doing interviews in March.
"Charlie sent a note today noting that at the [upcoming Massachusetts Municipal Association] conference, there are already 10 towns in our region looking for town managers," Daley said. "It is still a tight market. It is still an in-demand service. We're going to have to compete for our person.
"But we feel we're pretty well positioned as a community in terms of size and salary offered. We'll have to see how it goes."
And Hasty and interim Police Chief Mike Ziemba joined the meeting to announce that the public is invited to a daylong conversation about policing at Mount Greylock Regional School on Saturday, March 12. The workshop is the core of the Strengthening Police and Community Partnerships initiative, a program of the Department of Justice that the WPD brought to town.
"The Department of Justice has been working in communities across the country to hold events such as this as an outgrowth of the Civil Rights Act of 1964," Hasty said. "The SPCP program was developed on the premise that everyone desires a safe community. For over 40 years, the Community Relations Service of the United States Department of Justice has recognized the value of utilizing productive dialogue to assist community members in identifying and addressing  public safety through problem-solving and police and community partnerships."
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