As WAMC News first reported today, Embattled Williamstown, Massachusetts town manager Jason Hoch announced his resignation after months of controversy around a scandal at the police department. Hoch had faced calls to resign ever since a lawsuit from a town police officer accused the town and police department of maintaining an atmosphere of sexual harassment and racism. Hoch, who will step down in 60 days while the town identifies an interim town manager, follows former police chief Kyle Johnson, who resigned in December. The town manager had received criticism for initially standing by Johnson despite community outcry at the revelations in the lawsuit. Hoch spoke today with WAMC.
HOCH: As the board and I considered where the community was in conversations and sort of where expectations of government were, not just a Williamstown challenge, I think it was kind of this realization that for some my continued presence was a distraction to actually moving a constructive conversation forward. And the inability to kind of move past that it was, it was taking a toll on all of us. Certainly taking a toll on my staff as well. And it's just not a healthy place to be. So, you know, I am also not so stubborn to, you know, say, okay, just, you know, I'm just going to prove you all wrong. Because you know, it's an exercise and, you know, it was getting harder and harder to actually have people willing to engage in compensation.
WAMC: Looking back over the last few months. Do you have any regrets about how you handled the situation involving the town's police department?
Not particularly. I mean, I could pick any one thing with the benefit of hindsight, say, okay, we could have done that differently. But, you know, I think where all of us had been in terms of the way we've conducted business for the past five years- Yeah, we just, we're all well positioned for sort of the change in how we conduct government and sort of the escalation of national concern, running concurrently with that. And, you know, I think that's, that's been challenged for us to kind of find the right way to kind of meaningfully engage with people on that.
There were calls from some community members for your resignation. Was there any pressure from inside the town to step down?
No, I said, like I said, this was a- I asked the board to go this direction, and give us all the time to have an orderly transition.
From your vantage point, after this experience, what's important for the next town manager of Williamstown to understand about what went wrong with this situation to avoid a similar situation from emerging in the future?
All right, um, I think the I think that the probably the thing to be aware of with anybody that sort of has experience in being in the manager form of government is the traditional practices of engagement between manager, board, manager, community, board and community are changing quickly, and clarity about expectations and realizing that those are dynamic at a pace, very different than they have been in the past is probably important to pay attention to.
You’ve alluded several times to changing standards of governance and community conversations. Some of the things that identified in the lawsuit that led to this controversy certainly seem somewhat evergreen, as far as hanging a picture of Hitler in an office locker or allegations of sexual harassment or racism. That doesn't seem to quite square with a changing contemporary conversation.
All right, let me be clear, once again, those conditions in the lawsuit were present when I arrived, or had occurred when I arrived five and a half years ago.
And there's been a conflation in some of the dialogue unfortunately, of the position and the person.
Do you have a last message to the community of Williamstown? Obviously, you're not leaving immediately, but as you prepare for your departure, do you have a statement or something you want the community to understand about your decision?
I think- In our own, in everybody's own way, we all really do care about this community and spend- backing up and realizing that that's got to be the goal for all of us inside in government and outside of government. And the more time we spend on talking about vision and movement toward the future, and less on tactics and personalities, we'll get there faster.
Select board member Jeffrey Thomas tells WAMC that Hoch’s departure is “a significant loss for our community,” and stressed that the select board had been prepared to extend his contract after it was set to expire in June.
WAMC News Intern Jeongyoon Han contributed to our report.
The Complete Text Of Jason Hoch's Resignation Letter of February 19th, 2021:
At my request, the Select Board and I have mutually agreed on terms for me to separate from the position of Town Manager. We explored a variety of paths and alternatives before reaching this decision. It was important that there was a plan that allowed us to work on an orderly transition given the number of issues currently before us, the seasonal workflow of the municipal calendar and the added complexity of the ongoing pandemic.
In order to continue operations of the Town, I will serve for up to another sixty days while the Board seeks to identify an Interim Manager. Beyond that, I will remain through the end of May in a support role working on documenting and transition planning the many parts of the government operation that run through the Manager’s office.
It has been an honor to serve Williamstown over the past five and a half years. I appreciate how welcoming, supporting and engaging so many in this community have been over that time. We have achieved many things over that period, completing two major public building projects, significant economic development and multiple environmentally sustainable initiatives all while maintaining and enhancing the Town’s solid financial position and keeping the tax impact for the cost of town services nearly unchanged. This has only been possible through the support of the community and the phenomenal town staff with whom it has been a privilege to work alongside over that time.
I have tried to approach the position of Manager with empathy, creativity and a quiet efficiency. As expectations of government continue to change not only in Williamstown but around the country, it is likely that we are moving to a time where the fundamental relationships between communities and their government are changing with rethinking priorities, practices and forms of engagement. An opportunity to refresh the relationships between the Town and the community offered a healthier path forward to allow more people to fully and constructively engage in that work. I care deeply about Williamstown and am committed to work supportively in this transition to position the community and the organization for future success.