April 26 Select Board Meeting: Board votes on draft warrant; continues search for town manager, police chief

Ella Marx and Emily Kuwaye

As part of its expanding coverage of Town news, the Record will report regularly on the Williamstown Select Board’s meetings with meeting summaries every two weeks. Suggestions and questions about our coverage can be sent to [email protected] and [email protected].

The Williamstown Select Board is an elected committee of five Williamstown residents, each of whom has a three-year term. The board oversees the executive functions of the Town government and appoints the town manager. It also fulfills various statutory duties in accordance with the town charter.

At its meeting on April 26, the Select Board reviewed proposed articles in the draft warrant that will be presented at the annual Town meeting on June 8. The warrant is the agenda for the Town meeting, containing articles to be voted on by registered voters in attendance. The board did not vote to approve the warrant at Monday’s meeting, but it voted for recommendations on each article in the warrant. The vote on the final approval of the warrant will likely occur at the next Select Board meeting, according to former Town Manager Jason Hoch ’95.

The board’s decisions on the warrant articles included striking the article proposing compensation for Select Board members and a vote against recommending a Zoning Bylaw article that would “establish strict regulations for both indoor and outdoor cannabis cultivation.”

Board votes on draft warrant recommendations

The Select Board unanimously recommended the adoption of 23 of the 24 proposed financial articles in the warrant with the exception of Article V, which was stricken from the draft. Article V considered the appropriation of funds to provide the chair of the Select Board with a $5,000 annual stipend and a $3,500 stipend to all other members of the board. Under the article, members of the Select Board elected in the future would receive the stipend. 

Select Board member Jeffrey Thomas initially suggested this measure at the March 8 Select Board meeting, arguing that it would make membership on the Select Board, which is currently a volunteer position, more accessible. “Why do I think this is important? One reason and one reason only: to broaden the range of community members who can consider serving on this board,” Thomas said on March 8. 

After debate on the article and a proposed alternative to the bylaw, which would allow for members’ reimbursement for Select Board–related expenses, the board decided to not include the article in the draft of the warrant. Instead, the board will look to authorize at Town Meeting a study to examine the compensation of board members.

The Select Board also voted on four community preservation articles (CPCs). CPC 1 and 3, which concern the appropriation of funds for committee expenses and historic preservation, were unanimously recommended by the board. CPC 2, which concerned funding for affordable housing, was also recommended by the board with a vote of 4-0-1. Select Board member Andy Hogeland ’76 abstained from the vote because of a conflict of interest; the article would direct money to Habitat for Humanity, and he is a member of the Northern Berkshire Habitat for Humanity’s board. 

The board engaged in some debate over CPC 4, which asked for the Town’s money to be used to reimburse a property owner on Blair Road who plans to put 18 acres into agricultural use for perpetuity. Although Thomas voiced concerns over how this parcel does not directly sit next to other agricultural lands, and Select Board member Hugh Daley expressed worry over how this move would affect affordable housing, CPC 4 was eventually put to a vote and recommended by the board with a vote of 4-1-0. Only Chair Jane Patton ultimately voted against the measure. 

The Select Board also discussed the Planning Board’s zoning articles. 

Zoning Article D sparked significant discussion. The article would “establish strict regulations for both indoor and outdoor cannabis cultivation,” the warrant draft states. “Both are currently allowed in Williamstown without special development standards unique to this particular use.”  The Planning Board unanimously passed the bylaw at its meeting on March 9.

The Select Board voted to not recommend Zoning Article D, with only board member Anne O’Connor ’86 in favor of recommendation. Despite the 4-1 vote against recommending Zoning Article D, the bylaw will nevertheless be presented to Williamstown residents at the Town meeting. It requires a two-thirds majority vote in order to pass.

Town residents Stanley Parese, Andrew Skinner, and Anne Hogeland asked the Select Board to vote against recommending the measure. Among their reasons was a concern that this would negatively affect the youth attending Mt. Greylock Regional School, as approximately half of the land surrounding the school would be open for marijuana cultivation if the article was adopted.

Planning Board member Stephanie Boyd expressed support for the measure, citing the fact that the new law would ensure that marijuana cultivation would be practically invisible due to the required setback from the road. Besides the measure having little impact on schools or residents, Boyd also said that implementing safeguards would ensure that local farmers could continue to benefit from marijuana cultivation. 

“Many people in the community have been complaining that what we are doing is going to end up inviting industrial cannabis growing to our town,” Boyd said. “In fact, if we don’t allow outdoor growing, all we have left is industrial cannabis. This is our only opportunity to give some benefit [from] this industry to our farmers.”

Nevertheless, several Select Board members were not convinced. Hogeland said that he could not support potential marijuana cultivation next to a school where students are taught not to do drugs.

“I do not think anybody should be voting to pass a bylaw that would say basically, ‘We’re fine with having marijuana grow next to the school property,’ where there’s a school building in which we teach students not to use marijuana,” Hogeland said. 

Zoning Articles B and C, which concern the rezoning of two business properties and the realignment of the Town’s legal terminology associated with marijuana related land uses with that of the state statute and the Commonwealth’s Cannabis Control Commission (CCC), respectively, were both recommended unanimously.

Zoning Article A, which would “rezone an area of Eastlawn Cemetery and Clover Hill Farm from Industrial to Residential,” was recommended by a vote of 4-1-0. The article had one dissenting vote by Thomas, who disagreed with the bylaw on principle because he said he thinks the land could be “developed into some job-creating opportunity.”

The Land Owners Request Zoning Bylaw Amendment was recommended unanimously without discussion. The last resolution that was recommended was a citizen’s petition (Article P-1) asking for Williamstown to develop a plan by 2023 to address how it will achieve Massachusetts’ goal of net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. All board members voted in favor of the Net Zero Resolution except for Thomas, who abstained. “If this were just to do a plan, I’d be all in,” Thomas said. “It’s making this commitment, and I don’t really understand what that word means in this context.” 

Articles in the draft of the warrant are lettered to avoid confusion with the finalized articles in the approved warrant, which will be numbered.

Town manager, interim police chief searches

The Select Board will assemble a committee of Town residents by May 3 to serve as the search committee for a permanent town manager, according to Patton. The deadline for Town residents to communicate their interest in serving on the committee was April 21.

The Town’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Racial Equity (DIRE) committee is interested in looking at the list of committee volunteers before the board makes final selections, according to Patton.

The Select Board is “affording [DIRE] an opportunity to have an eye on [the committee] from the Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity side of Town business,” Patton said. “And as I said and made clear, we’ll certainly take input. The final decision on the committee lies with us.”

The interim police chief search committee has interviewed four candidates for the position and recently received an application from a fifth candidate, whom the committee will interview this week. The candidates will also begin to meet with Town staff and members of the Williamstown Police Department (WPD), according to O’Connor.

“The committee will probably meet again this week after having interviewed the fifth candidate” O’Connor said. “Certainly by the next board meeting, hopefully, we can have some news to announce.”