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Patton lays out Williamstown select board re-election pitch before May 10 vote

Jane Patton (R) with her wife Emily Eakin (L).
Jane Patton
Jane Patton (R) with her wife Emily Eakin (L).

An incumbent on the Williamstown, Massachusetts select board is seeking a fourth three-year term in the May 10th town election.

Jane Patton, 59, is the general manager of Taconic Golf Club. She has sat on the Williamstown select board through a tumultuous stretch that began in summer 2020 with a lawsuit from a former officer that led to a series of scandals in the police department around racism, sexual harassment, and illegal searches of community members.

“You know, a lot of the dirty laundry that came out was stuff that happened long before I was on the select board," she told WAMC. "I would be shocked if there were people who didn't say, well, you know, maybe she's part of the problem. Maybe she's, you know, she's part of the institution that's part of the problem. I would say I understand that, and everybody's welcome to their opinion.”

The ensuing controversy led to the resignation of the town manager and police chief, and was a focus of the 2021 select board race.

“I have learned so much over the last two years, and have consistently shown the willingness and the tenacity to take in all of that feedback," said Patton. "A lot of it was not easy to hear. Some of it was said in ways that were not always kind, some folks made things very personal. But I listened to what they had to say, I saw past some of those personal things, and have been making strides towards making things better.”

Patton says that when the issues about policing in the community came before the select board, she and her colleagues acted quickly to launch the town’s Diversity, Inclusion, Racial Equity Committee.

“From the time of that first select board meeting when we heard some of these things to the first DIRE meeting, I think was right around four weeks," she said. "I mean, really quickly. And as chair of the board, I drove that, I insisted on that, and made it happen. So, yes, I was there when this stuff came about, came to light. But I also was there to dig in and do everything I could to be responsive and hear people and then try to make whatever actions necessary to make it better.”

She says after much discussion, it’s time for the town to start to act.

“Whether it's trust, transparency, and just find the ways to make the marginalized not only feel seen, but be seen and heard and encouraged to speak, and to get Williamstown to where I think we, the majority of people, want it to be, which is a very inclusive community that is mindful of the things that have gone wrong in the past, willing to learn from those mistakes, change behavior going forward, so we can get where we want to go,” she said.

Patton also says a conversation about affordable housing is overdue.

“We're losing too many of our young people who go away for college and don't come back,” Patton told WAMC.

She’d also like to see more recreational spaces for residents that belong to Williamstown, not Williams College – the private liberal arts institution whose campus dominates the town’s core.

“The college is very generous by letting the town use so many of those facilities, but we found out in a hurry with COVID that we had to play by the college's rules, or in this case, not play," she said. "So I just think it's a shame that a town like Williamstown with the resources that we have has not really just looked at, what does that space look like?”

After the bruising debate within the Williamstown community over the past two years, Patton says she is hoping for a more respectful tone in this election.

“I want there to be spirited debate," she told WAMC. "I want to hear points of view that are different than mine. I would like it to be in a way that- Attack the concept, not the person. Disagree with the idea without tearing somebody down. Really, really listen, and try to understand- And if you don't understand, don't assume, just keep seeking clarity.”

Two three-years seats on the five-member select board are up for election on May 10th. Along with Patton, Randall Fippinger and Bilal Ansari are standing for them. Also up for grabs are a seat on the planning board, as well as town moderator, library trustee seats, and Northern Berkshire Vocational Regional School District committee.

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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