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DIRE Committee: Williamstown Not Fulfilling Demands Of 2020 Citizen’s Petition

A screenshot of a Zoom meeting with 4 people in it.
Josh Landes
The Zoom broadcast of the Williamstown DIRE committee meeting on August 8th, 2021.

The Williamstown, Massachusetts Diversity, Inclusion, Racial Equity Committee met in person Monday night for the first time since it was founded last summer.

The DIRE committee enters its second year with a smaller and whiter body. Officially reduced to seven members from its original nine, its headcount currently sits at only four. Many of the people of color on the committee’s first incarnation – with the exception of recently elected select board member Jeffrey Johnson – have not returned for another term.

At its first meeting in the same room, the committee decided to renew its efforts by taking aim at a mandate leveled at the town through a citizen’s petition.

“Article 37 of the 2020 town meeting articles have obligates other town committees to report to us about things that they may be working on. And over the course of the last year, it has become clear that none of those reports have made it up to us and that they haven't been stuck in town hall," said DIRE committee member Andrew Art, who restated the key points of the article:

“The town of Williamstown recommends that fellow Williamstown boards committees and agencies, in particular the planning board, critically reexamine and continue to create their policies and practices according to a commitment to accessible living. That's part one. The town of Williamstown asks boards and committees to reflect on areas including housing and zoning and make changes that actively allow for town more supportive of a wide array of racial and economic backgrounds. That's number two.”

The third point encourages boards and committees to heavily consider community input, with a focus on marginalized groups, in collaboration with the DIRE committee.

“Four is providing equity training for town employees and public office holders," continued Art. "The training should and should prioritize trainees who interact with the public. The training should include information on local instances of structural racism, and should prioritize strategies to serve traditionally marginalized and underrepresented people. It should emphasize breaking down systemic inequities in our community rather than personal conduct and personal bias.”

The fifth part calls on boards and committees to provide quarterly reports on the execution of the previous points of the article, specifically detailing how access is being created for underrepresented groups.

“There has been very little that's been done," said Art. "The things that were cited back to us were the institution of the review of town policies by the outside consultant and there are recommendations in the outside consultant’s report back to the town, which is posted on the town's website, that relate to diversity in hiring and inclusion and also recommend certain practices for development of a HR practices and the hiring of a full time HR professional by the town as part of the town employees.”

Art says the town hasn’t delivered any quarterly reporting.

“And as far as the equity training for town employees and public office holders, I'm not sure what's been there," he said. "There have been some general trainings that were cited that were offered to the select board, that in our in response to our requests about what had been done, or provided back, but I don't think that those are directly addressing information on local incidences of structural racism, or prioritizing strategies to serve traditionally marginalized and underrepresented people.”

Art suggested the committee draft a resolution calling on Williamstown’s municipal leaders to explain how they intend to carry out the article.

“If you look at the heart of Article 37, it's really about community engagement," he said. "And it's about community engagement with people who may not be the ones you'd normally engage with. That's the gist of it. And so, you know, when things are happening, like, update of policing policies, or update of HR policies, you know, I think that article 37 is getting at is that it's good to have to maximize community input and to allow for that. And so I'm not sure we're very far down the road of actually doing that. But I think it's something that was embedded in that thing that the town voted on overwhelmingly to do.”

The committee also used the meeting to endorse a bill before the Massachusetts legislature through a resolution.

“The DIRE Advisory Committee supports the passage of Massachusetts legislation H1465, an act providing for the expungement of racially restrictive covenants and recorded Real Property documents, which was developed by some residents of the Williamstown neighborhood comprising Berkshire Drive, Colonial Avenue and Orchard Lane," read Art. "The legislation has been introduced by Representative John Barrett III. If enacted, the legislation will provide a legal mechanism to streamline the process for expunging racist language from restrictive covenants by allowing petitions to remove such language to be heard by the land court department of the trial court.”

The DIRE committee, which meets again August 16th, unanimously supported the resolution.

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.
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