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    Politics/Public Affairs/Goverment

    Should Williamstown abandon its Town Manager residency requirement? Menicocci $155K contract and a $1.7M Bennington house force the issue

    Should Williamstown's next town manager live in town?  The answer is no, according to selectmen, who signed a contract with Robert Menicocci -- who lives in Bennington, Vt. -- to lead Williamstown's government starting July 1. But . . . but not as "Town Manager". That would be illegal.
    To make it legal, the Select Board have to get approval of Williamstown's voters to change a state law which, since at least 1956, requires "that the town manager shall be a resident of the town during the term of his office."
    Article 30 on the Williamstown Town Meeting Warrant, to be considered on June 14, appears to start that process by asking the Legislature to approve deleting the residency requirement from the town charter. It appears the town's voters will then have to vote at the next Town Election -- in 2023 -- to ratify the Legislature's action before it takes effect. So for all that time it appears Menicocci will be, legally, "Temporary Town Manager" -- unless he becomes a Williamstown resident. 
    That language is part of the 1956 state law which established Williamstown's "town manager/selectman" form of governance.  It also requires a confirming vote of the full Massachusetts Legislature to be amended and changed. Town voters must approve via a "ballot" vote at a town election.  So the typical sequence would be: 
    • The town's voters approve on a local election ballot a proposed amendment to the 1956 Town Charter, which is a state law. Then,
    • The Legislature is asked to also approve the amendment. The next town election is May 10, but this proposed change is not on the ballot. So it appears it would have to be handled at a special election or else held over until the May, 2023 town election.
    Why is this necessary? Because the contract signed by selectman Andy Hogeland for the town on April 26, and by Menicocci the next day (now a public record), hires him July 1 at a $155,000-a-year salary, but as "Interim Town Manager."  The word "interim" is important for two reasons: 
    First, he can't serve as "Town Manager" unless he lives in Williamstown, under the Town Charter.  So the contract adds the word "Interim." State law only mentions the possibility of selectmen appointing a "Temporary Town Manager" between appointments of a full "Town Manager." 
    The contract says the Select Board decided to employ Menicocci for a year as of July 1 "pending the above proposed charter revisions and, if and when the charter revisions are effective, to employ the manager as the Town Manager."
    The arrangement would be unnecessary if Menicocci were to become a legal resident of Williamstown as of July 1.  
    But instead of requiring that as a condition of employment, the selectmen have agreed not only to contract with him as "Interim" town manager -- a term not in the charter -- but also to ask voters to abolish the residency requirement so they can hire him full time. 
    That would also be unnecessary if Menicocci had any intention of becoming a town resident. 
    Menicocci's contract provides that if he is fired by selectmen anytime during the one-year contract, he will be automatically entitled to half-a-year's severance pay -- $77,500. 
    Menicocci, (PICTURED HERE) in the April 3 "meet the public" session before his hiring, emphasized his work experience in relatively senior roles in human services in both eastern Massachusetts and California.  He spoke about his desire to leave California because of its fire and water environmental challenges, and acknowledged that he and his wife had bought (a news story and other records show the sale occurred April 16, 2021) a $1.7-million, six-bedroom, five-bath house on 382 acres at 1510 Pleasant Valley Road, in Bennington.  
    A web search shows their "current address" as either the Bennington address or Santa Cruz, Calif. The address cited in the hiring contract is 1510 Pleasant Valley Road, in Bennington. (A detailed listing also uses a 1477 street number.
    A search of the web shows that bios of Menicocci do not describe any experience running a municipality. His work cited is in social justice, social welfare and financial management at the state or county levels. In 2015, a government-transparency nonprofit published his then-annual salary and benefits at $289,000. 
    Selectmen chose Menicocci ,  56, over one other finalist,  Alex Torpey, among a number of applicants in the latest search to replace former Town Manager Jason Hoch. Torpey, the other finalist, an adjunct professor, had years of experience in leadership of at least two municipalities in New Jersey.
    On the one hand, it is impressive that Williamstown attracted a Massachusetts native back from the West Coast at half his 2015 big-county agency salary to run a little town government. It says something about how many Californians are thinking twice about staying there. For a Californian, a traffic-free 20-minute commute to work may feel luxurious. 
    On the other hand, there must have been some reason why Williamstown voters in 1956 decided our town manager should live in town.  Some other Berkshire towns, such as Sandisfield, may have lost managers because of housing costs, and may have dropped residency requirements to cope. 
    But why should voters be asked to make that change after-the-fact of hiring someone who doesn't meet the requirement, and for whom the town will have to pay a $77,500 termination fee if voters don't accept that change?  And if dropping the residency requirement is OK'd by both town voters and the Legislature, shouldn't the town then re-advertise the permanent Town Manager job to what would undoubtedly be a larger pool of interested candidates? 
    There's a larger question posed by this contract: If we can't attract a qualified candidate to be $155,000-a-year permanent Town Manager -- who finds it financially feasible to live in town -- what does it say about our stock of affordable housing for people of average means? 
    Bob, has a Bachelor's in Fine Arts and extensive graduate work in management of human services. His interest in social justice, specifically in social welfare, has allowed him to spend all his career in efforts to reform and improve service delivery and systems of care.
    county of santa clara social services agency 
    Robert Menicocci is the Director of the County of Santa Clara Social Services Agency (SSA). Robert, who joined SSA in January 2014, has had extensive experience in social services, mental health, and other areas over the course of his career. This includes work in two California counties in fiscal administration and operations, and at the state level in Massachusetts in both the Transitional Assistance and Mental Health Departments. He has also worked as a consultant in the private sector.

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