WILLIAMSTOWN – Just under two years ago, in August 2020, Robert Menicocci and his wife quickly packed clothes and personal items into a few backpacks, jumped into the car and fled their home in Bolder Creek, Calif., after watching a forest fire descend the mountainside toward their neighborhood.
When they returned a month later, everything they and their neighbors had left was reduced to ashes.
Now that he started his new job as Williamstown city manager on July 1, the panic and trauma has passed, and he is focused on updating the city’s various challenges.
Menicocci, a Massachusetts native, and his wife had thought about moving back east, and after the wildfire, they felt more motivated to do so. After searching for some time, they bought a house in Bennington, Vermont as a second home, a vacation spot close to family and friends.
Menicocci noted that they looked at homes all over New England, but Bennington’s home “checked all the right boxes.” So they bought the place.
A few weeks later, he noticed city announcements for a new city manager in a location near their Bennington home. He applied and after an intensive interview process he was hired.
“We were already in that mindset with the pandemic that made us focus on coming back (to New England),” he said. He already had 15 years of experience working in the Massachusetts government at the Department of Transitional Assistance in Boston in three different positions, the last being Director of the Office of Budget, Cost Control and Procurement. After that, from 2012 to 2014, Menicocci worked for the Massachusetts Department of Mental Health in Boston as Deputy Commissioner for Management and Budget.
Williamstown voters returned Jane Patton to the select committee, giving her a fourth three-year term, and elected Randal Fippinger to a first term on that higher council, in a three-way contest on Tuesday.
His employment contract was unanimously approved by the Williamstown Select Board for a one-year term with an annual salary of $155,000. The contract can be renewed by mutual agreement for two additional years.
Menicocci quit his job as director of the Santa Clara County social services agency in San Jose, Calif., which employed 3,000 people and had a budget of about $1 billion — a position he occupied since 2015 – to work in Williamstown.
Having started about a week ago, he’s been working hard to catch up on the challenges facing the city.
“People are very kind to share the issues we have here,” Menicocci said. “At this point it’s about moving forward, and how we do that in a positive way.”
He said the key will be to move forward, but in a transparent and methodical way, and let the difficult conversations continue until consensus can be reached and everyone has had their say. .
“It has to happen, but it’s not a quick process,” Menicocci said. “The key word is patience – what we come up with will be the result of this conversation we have with the community.”
As for issues with the police department and hiring a full-time police chief, Menicocci said that was another difficult conversation that needed to take place.
Voters again rejected an attempt to reduce housing lot sizes and increase housing density, both in the central and more rural southern sections of the city.
“I respect the urgency, but we have to take the time to listen to all voices,” he said. “It’s a painful lesson here that needs to be learned. But we have to get it right to move forward.
When he was hired in April, Select Board Chairman Andrew Hogeland said he was very pleased with the outcome of the search process. “We are very pleased to have reached an agreement with Bob Menicocci and we feel fortunate to have been able to attract a manager with his vast experience in the public sector,” said Hogeland. “He has a strong background in budgeting, public sector management and social services, which will serve Williamstown well.”