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Prognostication, Recognition, Mistaken Identity at Williamstown Town Meeting
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
04:57PM / Thursday, May 18, 2023
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Tuesday's meeting attracted 380 of Williamstown's 5,068 registered voters, a 7.5 percent participation rate.

James Kolesar accepts the Scarborough Salomon Flynt Community Service Award.

Robert Orell accepts the town employee of the year award on behalf of the DPW's snow removal team.

The four members of the Select Board returning for the 2023-24 term, from left, Jane Patton, Andrew Hogeland, Jeffrey Johnson and Randal Fippinger.

Two screens in the Mount Greylock Regional School gymnasium were used to display results of votes compiled on electronic voting devices.

First-year Moderator Elisabeth Goodman and first-year Town Manager Robert Menicocci check out the results of a vote.
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — There were some unresolved issues from Tuesday's annual town meeting.
But the meeting members did find consensus on one point: They really don't like the Boston Celtics' chances of winning an 18th World Championship next month.
In order to give residents a chance to try out the town's new electronic voting devices on a low-stakes question, meeting organizers devised a couple of sample questions to kick off the meeting.
Members were asked whether the peak of nearby Mount Greylock is the highest point in the commonwealth and whether they think the C's will win the NBA title.
Most passed the pop geography quiz in the gymnasium of, appropriately, Mount Greylock Regional School. By a vote of 253-18, Williamstowners agreed that, in fact, Mount Greylock is the highest peak in Massachusetts.
As for Jayson Tatum and company? The vote was 149 to 125 that the Celtics will stumble against either the Miami Heat in this week's Eastern Conference Final or the West Champion in the NBA Finals.
It was less clear the extent to which that reflected anti-Celtic sentiment or typical New England sports fan pessimism.
While the clickers themselves represented a break — and not universally favored break — from the traditions of town meeting, the gathering did begin with two time-honored customs: recognition of outstanding work by a town employee and outstanding service to the community by a volunteer.
Anne Skinner of the local chapter of the League of Women Voters presented the group's Employee of the Year Award to a group of public servants, the Department of Public Works' road crew.
"You probably don't know their faces … because they are out doing their work at all hours of the day and night," Skinner said. "But you know their work, which makes it possible for the rest of us to go about our business. This winter provided a couple of real challenges for them to meet, which they did with their usual professionalism.
"For keeping our streets clear in trying circumstances, we present the Employee of the Year Award to the snow removal crew."
Robert Orell accepted the award on behalf of his colleagues.
First-year Moderator Elisabeth Goodman, who had the unenviable job of explaining the clickers and shepherding the meeting through their usage, also had the happy task of recognizing this year's recipient of the Scarborough Salomon Flynt Community Service Award.
James Kolesar, a longtime administrator at Williams College who functioned as the school's liaison to town government, was honored for the many ways he served the town outside his official capacity as Williams' vice president for public affairs.
"You have a long history of public service in Williamstown and throughout the region," Goodman said. "While at the college, your passion extended far beyond what was necessary to discharge your duties. You believed that a stronger community meant a stronger Williams. You were both a quiet advisor and a public advocate for the town."
Kolesar has served on the boards of Berkshire Health Service, "A Better Chance" and St. John's Episcopal Church.
"You worked tirelessly to seek out funding and pursue building of Williamstown Elementary School and Mount Greylock Regional School, the Williamstown Youth Center, the town's landfill solar project and the police station," Goodman said. "You played a key role in making the affordable housing project known as Highland Woods happen from inception through land transfer."
More recently, Kolesar served as a member of the Williamstown Fire District's Building Committee, helping the district win overwhelming support for its bonding request to build the Main Street station in a special district meeting earlier this year.
Goodman also remarked on Kolesar's humility, which showed in his brief remarks accepting the award.
"It's a really, deeply meaningful award given that, in this community, there are so many active citizens," Kolesar said. "On nights like this, we have a lot of work to do, so I say, 'Let's get to it.' "
Perhaps Kolesar had a premonition that Tuesday's meeting would go past 11 p.m.
Among the reasons why it took so long was a typically lengthy, if unexpected, debate on zoning bylaw amendments proposed by the town's Planning Board.
Although this year's proposals had nearly unanimous support of the five elected Planning Board members and drew no negative feedback at the board's pre-town meeting public hearing, a number of residents rose to argue against a bid to allow manufactured homes on any residential lot in town where a conventional, "stick-built" home can be erected. That measure earned a majority vote in favor but not the two-thirds majority needed for passage.
The discussion of a different zoning bylaw amendment featured some of the most impassioned commentary of the night.
Former Select Board member Jeffrey Thomas went to the microphone to challenge not the intent of the Planning Board's proposal but the fact that the change was being pitched only for the town's General Residence district and not its Rural Residence districts.

Outgoing Planning Board Chair Stephanie Boyd speaks from the floor of Tuesday's meeting.
Planning Board Chair Stephanie Boyd explained that the panel's intent was to promote infill housing and densification of neighborhoods that have services, like public water and sewer, and are walkable to things like the elementary school, local businesses and the town's largest employer, Williams College.
Thomas was having none of it.
"To make housing more available, we all have to make sacrifices in different ways, and I accept that," he said. "The Rural Residence zones need to come to the table and address this housing problem. I don't accept that because there isn't a sewer there that the Rural Residence zones shouldn't have to participate in this community sacrifice.
"In future town meetings, I'll be back and fight really hard against things that are GR only and exclude Rural Residence. We have two towns now: The fancy people, who live in Rural Residence, and the rest of us, who live in GR. And I'm not OK with that."
There was some levity in the otherwise serious proceedings.
The highlight came when Goodman twice referred to Select Board member Jane Patton as "Ms. Allen."
"Did you just refer to me as Jane Allen?" Patton said. "That's the biggest compliment of my life. My work here is done."
"You have found your way into my heart," Patton said after the second time Goodman mistakenly referred to her by the surname of the former Select Board member.
"I shudder to think what Ms. Allen thinks, though."
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