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New Interim Williamstown Town Manager Outlines Goals

Six people in a Zoom meeting.
Josh Landes
The March 29th, 2021 Williamstown, Massachusetts virtual select board interview with Charles Blanchard.

Charles Blanchard is the new interim town manager for Williamstown, Massachusetts. After Jason Hoch resigned due to a series of scandals related to police department misconduct, the select board tapped Blanchard to steer Williamstown’s day-to-day operations while it searches for a new permanent manager. WAMC spoke with Blanchard about his philosophy on town management, and how he envisions his role in the community during a fraught period in Williamstown.

BLANCHARD: I'm an experienced town manager. I've been in municipal government for quite some time. So you know, I have some good background and knowledge, and I like to listen to people. I’ve been out to Williamstown, it's a beautiful community. And I'm hoping that I can provide, you know, some help during this transition to a full time permanent town manager.

WAMC: Do you have any interest in that position?

No, no, I don't. I've been, you know, retired. And I just thought it was a good time, with the COVID, you know, getting better, and so forth, to go out and look for an interim position. And this came about, and so I'm very happy to be able to serve.

Now you're entering this position at a time of a lot of controversy and tumult in the community. How do you see yourself as a municipal leader during this time?

Well, you know, I certainly want to listen to both sides, you know, get what the facts are. Not having, you know, been familiar, really, with the community at all, I have kind of an open mind. You know, I've been on board now since April 12th, when they actually appointed me. So I've been working with Jason, the current town manager, to get up to speed on issues, meeting department heads and so forth. So, you know, I bring an open mind, and certainly some interest in trying to do what I can to help.

There's been conversations about transparency, conversations about communal healing- do you see yourself as an agent in any of those efforts around those themes?

Well, I certainly hope that I can be. You know, there is a lot of information. This WilliNet thing is great. I mean, I've watched a lot of meetings, I've watched a lot of the different boards and committees. And so now, there's a lot of information out there, and I'm trying to get up to speed on everything.

From your vantage point, what's at the top of your list for the town of Williamstown for the interim town manager?

Well, really to work with the department heads to get through this period. You know, the town meeting will be coming up in June. We certainly want to get through that. Jason has done a great job, you know, working with the Finance Committee, the Advisory Committee on getting the numbers together, and so forth. So I think it should be, you know, a good town meeting, and then, you know, working to fill that gap for that transition. I know that, you know, the select board will certainly be working hard on trying to come up with the right person to fill for the full time permanent position for town manager.

You’ve worked in communities like Palmer and Paxton. How does Williamstown stack up to other communities you've served in the past?

Well, it's kind of right in the middle as far as the size. Paxton was a little bit smaller and Palmer was a little bit bigger. You know, Paxton is home to Anna Maria College. So there's that, you know, town-gown relationship to a certain extent. And so, you know, it fits in very well with the experience I've had. You know, prior to working as a town administrator and town manager in those towns, I was a selectman in Sturbridge for over 18 years. So, you know, Sturbridge is around the same size community. So, you know, there's a lot of similarities. Sturbridge is a tourist community, just as Williamstown is, and so is this really a lot of synergy there.

Now you're working sort of a unique schedule. Can you break down for me when exactly you're on call, so to speak, for Williamstown, and from where?

Well, actually, it's normally 25 hours a week, and I'm out there one day a week. Right now it's Wednesdays. It could change, you know, depending on whether or not the board, the select board, gets back to in person meetings, and so forth. And, of course, any other time that I need to be out there, you know, for an in-person physical meeting, I certainly will be. But other than that, it’s remote. You know, we have email, we have, you know, Zoom meetings, and so forth. And so, basically, you know, I’m available anytime during the week, Monday through Thursday, and, again, present in the community on Wednesdays.

Getting back briefly to some of the ongoing situations in Williamstown, there's been a lot of conversation about investigations, about working to sort of air out some of what's been going on in the police department and elsewhere. Do you have a hand in that process? Or is that something that falls in the lap of the select board?

Well, you know, certainly they've been the ones that have instituted, you know, the investigations, but I will have a role in getting those investigations when they are completed and working with the select board into, you know, what is the result of those investigations. I know, they are ongoing. They certainly are being carried out now, and I'm not sure really when the schedule is when they will be completed.

Have you had the opportunity to meet a lot of folks in the community during this process?

Well, mostly it's been department heads. The two Wednesdays I’ve been out there I spent a lot of time meeting different people working for the town. I would be happy to get out and meet people but I haven't had much of an opportunity to meet other people in the community other than the people who are department heads and on boards and committees.

At this point, do you have a sense of how long this interim period is going to last for?

Well, the contract is for six months, plus or minus. If the search goes well and they get somebody on board, it'll be, I'm sure, closer to the four months, maybe. If it goes longer, I’m flexible to extend it beyond the six months. But hopefully, you know, that four to six month range would be a good time.

With municipal elections coming up on May 11th, there's a chance that some of these relationships, certainly on the select board, that you you've cultivated may be changing sooner than later. Any thoughts on what it means to have that change come so abruptly into this interim period?

Well, because, you know, I'm really just meeting every selectman right away. I didn't know anyone beforehand. So I don't think there's that much of a difference. I mean, you know, certainly two of the seats, you know, the select persons are not running for reelection. So there will be two, you know, new people on the board, and I look forward to, you know, meeting them and finding out what their priorities are.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.