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Williamstown Fills Vacant Seat on Library Trustees Board
By Stephen Dravis, iBerkshires Staff
11:55AM / Wednesday, July 10, 2024
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WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The Select Board and Milne Library Board of Trustees on Monday unanimously appointed Ben Lee-Cohen to fill the remainder of a vacant term on the library board.
The vote came after a longtime member of the library board said Lee-Cohen is not necessarily better than the other three applicants for the office but could be a better fit for the board given its current membership.
"I'm so impressed hearing from all of you, and I'm really sincere trying to imagine all the ways you could contribute … in the future on a building committee or some other thing," said Bridget Spann, a former Milne board chair who was appointed herself to the body in 2015 and was elected to the office in 2016, 2019 and 2022. "This is an amazing problem to have.
"The thing that I'm really thinking about … is whether some of the skills and interests and experiences each of you bring would complement what we already have on the board."
Milne Board Vice Chair Jared Della Rocca made the motion to name Lee-Cohen from among the four applicants who addressed the boards at Monday's meeting. After the unanimous vote of four trustees and all five Select Board members in attendance, Cohen will serve through next May's town election, at which time he can run in his own right for a seat whose term expires in 2026.
All four of the candidates shared their passion for the Milne and their own relevant professional experience, ranging from Laura Dankner's decades as a professional librarian to Anne Nemetz-Carlson's tenure as the director of the Williams Preschool Center and, for 39 years, director of Child Care of the Berkshires to Katie Melanson's work as the developer of high school curricula.
Ultimately, the nine elected officials in the meeting went with Lee-Cohen, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley's School of Information who has worked in information technology and software since 2010.
"I've been fortunate to work on a lot of different aspects of engaging with community and technology, both professionally — starting my own education technology company, working with teachers on bringing technology into the classroom, working with educational services that way as well as through non-profit volunteering, bringing technology to underserved communities that didn't have access to at least some of the technology we were bringing," Lee-Cohen said.
"More recently, moving to Williamstown with my family, I now serve on the finance committee for my daughter's school. I'm not sure how relevant that is, but certainly fund-raising is an important piece of what needs to happen for all of these services."
Like all the candidates, Lee-Cohen talked about the library's place as a center of education and community engagement.
"I think the library serves as a hub, certainly for families," he said.
"When I think of the future of the library and its role within the town, I think extending that so that the library is a place where, whether it's a physical gathering place or a place that is providing resources for a the kind of programming that can touch everybody in the town"
In addition to thanking and praising all four applicants and encouraging them to find other ways to serve the town's library, Spann said the selection process was an opportunity to highlight the importance of the library at a time when advocates are getting ready to develop a capital plan to build a new Milne.
"If we think about the Fire Department as an experience, it was a many years project to get the message before the town about the need," Spann said. "I'd very much welcome participation [from all the applicants]. We have to get our plan in motion because we have to be ready the next time the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners announces a round of grant funding.
"We want to make sure the library is next in line before we're at the next [town] entity that needs a building."
Prior to taking their vote on the motion to name Lee-Cohen, Select Board members Jeffrey Johnson and Andrew Hogeland said that, while they would be happy with any of the four candidates, they would defer to the current Milne trustees on the question of what skill set their body needs at this time.
The Milne's predecessor, the Botsford House at 762 Main St., also was on the minds of the Select Board members on Monday night.
During its regular business after concluding the joint meeting with the library trustees, the Select Board continued a discussion about parking issues in and around Waterman Place, the small road just north of and across Main Street (Route 2) from Water Street (Route 43).
Resident Susan Hoellrich, the current owner-occupant of 762 Water St., was back before the board, this time in support of a proposal outlined by Town Manager Robert Menicocci to address the area.
Hoellrich agreed with the town manager that problems would be alleviated if the stretch of Waterman that runs north from the "horseshoe" turnaround onto Main Street was marked "No Parking" instead of marked OK for one-hour parking, a holdover from the Botsford House library days, which ended in the mid-1990s.
The board also talked about more clearly designating parking areas on the horseshoe to make sure the underutilized area handles parking needed during the day for the dentist office and Masonic Lodge at 772 Main St. and in the evening for the restaurant across Main Street.
Menicocci will bring a formalized version of the plan back to the Select Board, in its capacity as the town's road commission, at a future meeting.
He also promised to bring the board, serving as the town's alcohol licensing authority, a formal proposed regulation for expanded outdoor capability for local businesses, largely on Spring Street. Menicocci raised the issue with the board a couple of weeks ago and presented a draft plan included in the packet for Monday's meeting.
Menicocci encouraged members of the public to read the proposed regulation and provide feedback to the board.
In other business on Monday, the board:
• Discussed forming an informal working group with members of the Conservation Commission and other "stakeholders," like the Williamstown Youth Center and local youth sports groups, to look at, among other things, whether the town needs to create a staff position dedicated to parks and recreation.
• Learned from Hogeland, who serves on the board of the town's Affordable Housing Trust, that an abutter has filed an appeal of the Con Comm's order of conditions to allow a planned subdivision on Summer Street. Hogeland said the appeal, which could take up to five months to resolve, will push the Planning Board's Development Plan Review process to at least the end of the year. Based on past comments from developer Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity, the delay could derail the non-profit's plan to put shovels in the ground in 2025.
• Developed a plan to finalize the Select Board's goals for the 2024-25 year. Chair Jane Patton asked each of the members to send her their top five priorities from the lists published in the Comprehensive Plan and generated by the board at its meeting on the morning of June 5.
• Learned from Menicocci that Ken Ward, who has experience working in IT at, among other places, Berkshire Health Systems, has accepted the IT position at town hall and will begin serving the town on July 22.
• Learned from Randal Fippinger that Mount Greylock Regional Schools interim Superintendent Joseph Bergeron is in communication with the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington in hopes of bringing the DOJ's School-SPIRIT program to the district early this fall.
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