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Williamstown select board sticks with Blanchard over Bernard for interim town manager

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

The Williamstown, Massachusetts select board has chosen to renew its contract with interim town manager Charlie Blanchard – passing on the candidacy of outgoing North Adams Mayor Tom Bernard.

Williamstown’s last permanent town manager was Jason Hoch, who resigned in April amid multiple scandals emerging from the town’s police department. Blanchard has served in an interim capacity since then, but with the end of his original contract approaching, the town has interviewed a number of candidates to replace him.

After rejecting several applicants and with former Amherst town manager Barry Del Castilho withdrawing his candidacy, the choice at Thursday’s select board meeting was down to sticking with Blanchard or going with Bernard. The two-term mayor of North Adams, who did not seek re-election this year, found his candidacy in the spotlight this week after he called for an ethics investigation against State Representative John Barrett for allegedly threatening his family and livelihood in a heated phone call on November 9th.

“Charles Blanchard has shown himself at several critical times to not only remain in lockstep with the traditional approach, but he has prevented myself and other volunteers from being able to accomplish our work," said Wade Hasty, who was elected to the five-member body running on a reform message amid public outcry over the town’s management. Williamstown is also seeking a new permanent police chief after Kyle Johnson resigned last year in the face of accusations of racism and sexual harassment in his department.

“During the interim police chief search committee, all of those hours spent to rebuild trust were compromised, when Charles Blanchard decided to disregard what former town manager Jason Hoch had agreed to for the process," said Hasty. "The result of his decision making left a split in the search committee and one member resigning prior to the conclusive reporting. This is an action that now reflects upon all of us. Since then, we've all seen the two new emails Charles Blanchard has sent regarding his new plan on the topic. Such a traditional approach is unbecoming, a further insult to the disrespect for our process.”

In an argument more against Blanchard than for Bernard, Hasty said the interim town manager would not oversee changes to the town that members of the community have called for over the past months.

“We all should know by now that it isn't copacetic," he told the board. "Our initial outcry denouncing this, wondering why basic inspections weren't being conducted that the WPD despite it being listed in their given handbooks, how due to the outcry of the citizenry, the prompting of illegal surveillance went under way, how a second outcry denouncing these actions have led some to volunteer for the select board service. Charles Blanchard has not helped the WPD. He has removed all integrity of the process in helping the WPD at the expense of the good name of the Williamstown Police Department. If you can put together a budget, fine, but let's stop pretending that that is all there is to our job and the people's expectations of us. See that Charles Blanchard has put us back where we started. Instead, choose to see further, see the need for someone with initiative, see the need to recognize harm done at moments of power.”

Board member Jeffrey Johnson said that Bernard’s decision to look for a new job before his term ends in January was a red flag.

“If I'm a citizen of North Adams, which I'm not, I’m saying, Why are you leaving before you've gone?” he said.

Blanchard found his share of support from the select board.

“I recognize that there are some who have issues with various ways Charlie has handled some things at any given point. I would venture to say everyone has issues with how people handle things. I am very comfortable with Charlie as the interim, I'm very comfortable with the fact that Charlie does not want to be the permanent town manager," said Jane Patton. “I have a lot of faith and confidence in town hall. I spoke with a department head yesterday regarding that, and I will continue to be vigilant on what we're looking for in the permanent town manager. But I think for right now for the next few months, I am totally okay, more than okay, with sticking with Charlie, and renewing the search in January with an eye towards in a commitment to what we what we've been discussing all along, which is you know, I'm all about budgets, I'm all about finance, I'm all about doing everything we can regarding taxes, but I also have a very strong commitment to finding ways to better address the the softer side or you know, softer is not the right word, but you know, HR policies, an environment where people feel like they can come forward if they have concerns with a boss or things that are going on in their department.”

The vote to move forward with Blanchard passed 4 to 1, with Hasty in opposition. Blanchard will continue as the interim town manager into next spring.

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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