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Williamstown Select Board Reorganizes for 2023-24 Cycle
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
05:07AM / Thursday, May 25, 2023
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board on Monday quickly and unanimously voted to make Jeffrey Johnson its chair for the next year.
It took a little more time to settle on a vice chair.
Johnson, who is entering the third year of his first term on the five-person panel, abstained from a 4-0-1 vote to elevate him from vice chair to chair.
"Thank you," Johnson said after he was the lone member whose name was placed into nomination for the position. "If I'm lucky enough to get the vote, what I plan to do is make sure all voices are heard and that everyone feels welcome, especially in terms of agenda items."
In addition to running the twice-monthly meetings, agenda-setting is one of the chair's chief responsibilities. Traditionally, they have done so in consultation with the vice chair and the town manager.
Another tradition, though slightly less formal, is for members to cycle through a three-year "escalator," serving as secretary, vice chair and then chair in succeeding years — although that pattern has not always held.
On Tuesday evening, Andrew Hogeland nominated Jane Patton for vice chair, a motion that Johnson then seconded. But rather than going quickly to a vote, Randal Fippinger took the floor to explain why he wanted to be considered for the position.
Fippinger, who is in his second year of an initial three-year term, referred to the 2022 post-election organization meeting when it was suggested that he not take on the secretary role at the same time he served as the board's representative on the Diversity, Inclusion and Racial Equity Committee because both duties were too onerous.
"As I look at this table, I see the chair before Hugh [Daley] was Andy [Hogeland], and the chair before Andy was Jane [Patton]," Fippinger said. "If [first-year member Stephanie Boyd] is slotted into secretary, she'll be on track to be chair.
"The only person at this table not being afforded the opportunity to be chair is me, and I wonder about that, especially since Jane has been chair twice. I know I got within 40 votes of Jane [in the 2022 town election], so the residents believe I'm capable of doing this."
Stressing that he meant no disrespect to his fellow board members, Fippinger said he felt it was time for the town to have "new blood" in town government.
Patton, the board's longest tenured member, said she was interested in serving as vice chair to help Johnson in his first go-around as chair.
"Historically, in my tenure, it's worked out that there's been a somewhat experienced chair with a fairly experienced vice chair to help them through the process," Patton said. "I'm extremely committed, as I'm sure Randy is."
Patton noted that the board's most recent chair, Daley, did not serve as secretary either and ended up serving as chair his second year on the Select Board and once more during his tenure.
"Another option for [Fippinger] is to run for more than one term," Patton said. "If you want to be chair but don't want to run for more than one term, that makes me pause, no disrespect to you."
Fippinger said he promised his family he would serve just one year on the board and asked Patton to explain why that fact gave her pause.
"The level of commitment," Patton said. "If someone says they want to be chair but only want to do it for one term … The chair role is someone who is really committed and really wants to be a part of the process. That's just a me thing."
Fippinger replied, "I'll say, for the record, I'm committed to this work."
In the end, Patton was voted vice chair, 3-2, with Fippinger and Boyd voting in the minority.
Boyd then was nominated for the post of secretary but immediately questioned the process.
"I would be honored, but I guess I fundamentally have an issue with … Having that be an escalator to chair is kind of odd, that we decide three years in advance who the person is to be chair," Boyd said. "I'd happily do the role, but I wouldn't want it assumed that in three years time, I'll be chair.
"I understand there's historical tradition to that, but in a lot of ways it's unnecessary. A lot of things can happen in three years."
Johnson, who recognized the need both practically and legally to have a chair, said he regretted having any kind of hierarchy among the five board members.
"I hate 3-2 anything," Johnson said, referring to the vice chair vote. "I'm here to work with [Fippinger], just like I am with anyone else. I hope there will be faith that the leadership style I'll bring will be inclusive."
As the discussion on the secretary post continued, Hogeland offered to take the post if Boyd wanted. She said she could live with that decision and wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page that none of the votes on Monday were determinative of who might be chair next year or the year after.
After her name was withdrawn from nomination, Patton nominated Hogeland for secretary, a motion that was seconded by Fippinger. The vote was 5-0 to put him in the post.
The decisions on who will fill the board's seats on three other town bodies also were unanimous.
The board voted 5-0 to keep Hogeland on the board of the Affordable Housing Trust and Patton on the Community Preservation Committee.
It also decided that Fippinger should continue as liaison to the DIRE Committee, though not until after Johnson expressed a desire that all board members serve on the advisory panel at least once during their tenures.
"I strongly feel new Select Board members who haven't been on DIRE, I'd like them to do that," Johnson said. "I, as a person of color, was changed in that process."
Nevertheless, the board voted to continue Fippinger on the diversity group.
"One of the things DIRE needs is continuity," Boyd said. "My not jumping for [the liaison post[ is because I think it would be good for Randy to stay with it. And I'm still quite active with the Comprehensive Plan Steering Committee of the Planning Board and working on net zero with the COOL Committee. I think it's best if Randy continues his role with DIRE."
In other business on Monday, the Select Board approved a one-day alcohol license for a wedding at Cricket Creek Farm; set June 15 at 8 a.m. for its annual retreat to talk about priorities for the year ahead, and discussed forming study groups to look at a pair of issues: the dog leash warrant article debated at the annual town meeting and the Residential Exemption for property taxes.
On the dog leash issue, Hogeland noted that while the town bylaw allows dogs to be controlled by leash or "voice command," there is a separate bylaw on the books for town parks, passed by the Select Board in its capacity as the parks commission, requiring leashes in those parks.
"The bylaws are in three pieces," Hogeland said. "There's Select Board regulations, Board of Health regulations and everything else, which includes zoning.
"This is in the Select Board chapter. … I found out the next morning [after town meeting]."
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