You’re listening to the “Top Left Corner” on The Greylock Glass.
Editor’s Note: At this time, we are able to provide a rough transcript of interviews. By choice, we edit the text of our conversations to remove verbal pauses (um, ah, uh, you know, etc.) and fragmented phrases not to make the speakers look smarter, but to make it easier for audiences who are unable to listen to the podcast and must rely on the transcript. We attempt to remain as faithful as possible to the speakers’ original meaning, and apologize for any errors of transcription.
And this is the top left corner episode, number 154. I’m your host. You will ask us. And I do thank you for tuning in. This was going to say tuning in on this Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022, which is when this episode dropped initially originally official pub date. But I don’t know when you’re listening, so whenever you’re listening, I hope you enjoy the show.
Randall Fippinger is announcing his run for select board here in Williamstown. And it occurs to me that I have done next to no interviews, candidate interviews in Williamstown. I’ve done a whole bunch of North Adams, but none. Well, I’d have to. I’d have to think back. I’m not sure when. Maybe, maybe one election I did, but gosh, not many in the seven years we’ve been doing this. So I’m very, very pleased to be covering some some Williamstown politics.
Jay Velázquez: It’s going to be a tight race. And this is the first conversation that I’ve had with the candidate this season. And we’ll be getting the other two who are running for that seat, hopefully in the next couple of weeks. But our show is going to be 100% that conversation, which I think you’re going to find very informative. And and without further ado, let’s get to that interview with Randall Fippinger. here on the top left corner.
Randal Fippinger: Thanks.
Greylock Glass: Randall Fippinger, welcome to the top left corner. Thanks for coming on.
Randal Fippinger: Good evening. Thank you for having me.
Greylock Glass: Well, we are just coming out of a planning and zoning meeting in Williamstown that we both attended virtually via Zoom. And it’s probably still going on. It’ll probably still be going on for at least another hour or so unless they decide to, you know, to delay discussion until the next until another time. What was your take on the on the sort of the tone of that discussion, which was primarily about. Encouraging or allowing for growth in in the town. What’s your what’s your take on on how that conversation was going?
Randal Fippinger: For starters, I was impressed with the robust conversation. There were so many different viewpoints. It was nice to have a civil conversation where everybody, it appeared, could have their comments heard. So I was very encouraged by that. I was very encouraged by more than a couple of folks saying, hey, I don’t normally agree with this person, but they made a really good point, so I’m going to agree with them on that. And there was so many people taking positions or offering comments and perspectives that I think shows that you can’t really categorize people like they are always this or they are always that, and so on that level, I am very encouraged by this conversation.
Greylock Glass: It is a standard Norman Rockwell, New England sort of democracy. So I will say this. I mentioned in the lead in to this to our conversation that you are, of course, announcing your candidacy for select board of Williamstown. First of all, as I as I do to every single candidate, I wish you the best of luck. But tell me is is an issue as this weighty doesn’t issue as as weighty as this give you pause because that’s there’s a lot of people who are going to be really deciding who they vote for based on the position on this issue.
Randal Fippinger: And I can see that. I can see that this is a very important issue. I think we have so many important issues to face with this town. And if people are going to come down on this issue, then that’s great if it gets people out to vote. So we get as many people as possible into the electoral process. I favor that.
Greylock Glass: I’d be I’d be so tempted to say I’d be so tempted to say, you know what? This was not something that I wanted to to make part of my platform. You’ll just have to wait and see how I how I feel. No. But let’s talk about your decision to enter this this race. First of all, for those people who are not aware of your sort of your involvement in the town, why don’t you give us a little bit of your background here where you’re from? I know that you weren’t always in Williamstown and you weren’t always in charge of that, that big performing arts center on campus. What? Who is Randolph Eppinger?
Randal Fippinger: Well, and just as a caveat, know there’s sort of no one in charge of it. I mean, the fact that he’s in charge. But what’s nice about the SC2 centre is that it houses many different constituents and there are different people, so there’s no one in charge. I.
Greylock Glass: That’s very generous of you to say. That’s very generous of you to say. But I have seen you running around trying to make sure that things happen like they’re supposed to happen. So. So you’re the guy who’s not in charge, but but you certainly are involved in a lot of what’s going on over there. So I’ll accept that. I’ll accept that. I’ll accept that caveat. But let’s go let’s do the let’s do the back story. What’s your origin, your superhero origin story?
Randal Fippinger: Well, I worked in the performing arts in the nineties. I was very lucky to get jobs sort of off-Broadway in the early nineties after I got out of college and I worked for American Ballet Theatre. So I worked off-Broadway as a stage manager, and then I worked for American Ballet Theatre and got it first stage being a stage manager and running their tech and then ended up winding up going on the road on tour for the better part of five years. And then as luck would have it, that was during the first dotcom boom and Wall Street was hiring tons and tons of people at the time. And I sold myself to Goldman Sachs in 1997 as someone who could manage large based technical projects, which I could. And I got hired on at Goldman Sachs to work on their global review system for their fixed income division. And from there, I progressed to helping manage their physical infrastructure. And so I was working on trading floors in New York and in London. In fact, on 911 I was standing on the currencies, currencies and commodities trading floor in London, and part of my job was to help manage disaster recovery for all of the European offices. So I did that for a number of years and it was awesome, but I needed to get back into the arts. And so I got recruited to go to an arts management program at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, which I did, and started a family. And from the Kennedy Center, I went to New York City to become the general manager and then eventually the executive director of the Jose Lehman Dance Foundation.
Randal Fippinger: And by that time, we had two children, and it became increasingly unaffordable for me to live in New York City. And then when the job here at Williams came available in 06–07, I took a stab at it and got the job. And we moved the family up here in February of oh seven and started raising kids here. And so my life here at Williams progressed with how the job changed at Williams over the years. So first it was a very narrow kind of job. And then with the adding of the outreach part of my job, I got to start making collaborations around North County. For example, one of the very first things that I did was start a collaboration with Mount Greylock Regional High School to get all of our artists to go to a class, some class with Mount Greylock. Coach Gill I have put him in so many different types of dance classes over the years. He is such a trooper, and so that’s the first thing I did. But then over the years, I’ve come up with different types of initiatives and different partnerships with different groups listening to their needs and trying to first use the arts and then other types of collaborations to bring people together. And I have to say one of my favorites, and I’m so happy that it is surviving, that it’s surviving. Covid is a project with Brighton Elementary School. We are working with a group of us are working with the 21st century after school program over there. And what we’re doing is and we’ll get back to this after COVID is lifted, is bringing elementary schools, students to Williams because we did this just before COVID started.
Randal Fippinger: So we’re going to get back to it where we would have a cohort of these elementary school students and we would teach them dance classes in our large, beautiful dance studio. And we would teach them for. I think it’s 12 weeks is the program. And then at the end of the program, we would have a performance on our stages and invite all of their families and have a pizza party for them. And the idea behind this program is, besides the fact of using performance to help young people feel confident about themselves and their growth. But the other sort of subversive part of the program is to make them feel confident about being in a college setting. So the program is not about us going there, but very intentionally then bringing the students to Williams, for example, the costume for the performance is a Williams College T-shirt, and we want them to be able to walk around their school saying, I earned this shirt, I earned this right to own, to be part of the Williams community. And I want to their families, many of whom don’t feel comfortable coming into a place like the SC2 Center. I want them to feel comfortable saying, Oh my child is there. I see a place for myself here. So the subversive part of this program is to say, Hey, you have a future at college. It could be Williams or it could be another place, but this is a future for you. And that’s sort of what the arts does.
Greylock Glass: That is, you know, that’s that’s an important part of I think, the the fact that there are groups of folks who just expect that they’re going to college. It’s just so it’s assumed and they may have, you know, been on college campuses when they were little for various reasons, the, you know, maybe even attended some sort of alumni event with their parents. Who knows what? But it’s just it is part of the reality. And for other groups of kids, it’s not necessarily part of the reality. I know just living here in town and just knowing that my kids can walk around town and walk on campus, do different events on campus, it’s going to change what their perception of of what’s available to them. And like you said, they may choose to go somewhere else besides Williams, but but it’ll be in part because they just assume that they can have it. Now, I want to bring back I want to sort of bring this back around to something that you said, that you you connect people as part of your job. That also, from my experience with you, has always been your personal characteristic of you as well.
Greylock Glass: You’ve always been very excited to say, Hey, Jason, do you know this person? Do you know that person? Let me introduce you to so-and-so. Come over here, you know, and you’re always connecting people together. I don’t know if you realize that it’s a it’s a personal characteristic, but you’re very good at it. I will say that. Thank you. Not everybody. It doesn’t always occur to everybody that that they can do that and they can create a network of of new acquaintances, new professional acquaintances, new friends, really, just with just bringing two people together for a handshake that can do it. Now, you take that. You have already taken that that gift, and you have applied it to town. I don’t want to say politics because I think it transcends politics to town initiatives and the town sort of. Personality and growth going forward in various initiatives that you’ve been part of, and in particular the Dyer Committee. And you’ve also worked with the police department. So why don’t you shift and let us know a little bit about how you started to get involved in the sort of care and feeding of this town.
Randal Fippinger: Well, as I started, especially during COVID and after George Floyd, I was very much part of the activist community in Williamstown, and I marched on Colonial Village. I marched on the police station, and I started to build connections there and get to know people. But what became apparent for me is as smart, thoughtful and passionate as that community was and still is. And I still call all of my friends and I respect them so deeply. But that was sort of only one part of the conversation that I saw happening in town, and that’s why I wanted to reach out to and that’s why I volunteered to be part of Dyer and also accepted the invitation from the interim police chief when he asked me to join the committee, the Special Police and Community Partnerships Committee that just recently had its event at Mount Greylock Regional High School. I remember when Interim Chief Zvimba sent me that invitation and he showed me the list. My initial reaction was, Oh my gosh, I really don’t like some of those people or I feel uncomfortable. That was my initial reaction. But I went into it and we were meeting on a regular basis since last summer and we have all come to get to know each other and changed our perspective of each other. And that for me just reinforces the value of getting to know somebody and spending time talking to them and it shifts your perspective so much.
Greylock Glass: Well, did that experience do you feel did that manifest in an effectiveness? We have we have gone through a couple of years of real, real backbiting and some and some real vitriol. Have we come out the other side of that, or do you think that progress and adequate progress has been made?
Randal Fippinger: Well, I don’t think we’ll ever come out of a situation where everybody will agree with each other and will live happily ever after. I actually don’t want to live in a world like that. I want to live in a world where there are people passionate on both sides, but a U-shaped curve, where there are passionate arguments on both sides, but the majority is sort of clustered around the center, sort of pushing around, but trying to create a consensus around a community. Because I believe, you know, to govern, you need a coalition of many different voices. And I don’t think any governing coalition should be all of one party or another. I think it’s very valuable to have contrarian voices or opinions. And as long as we can all respect each other’s perspective, then I think that’s valuable. And that only adds to the conversation.
Greylock Glass: Hmm. Well, that’s. Well said, I think. I don’t think you’re going to get to too many people who would disagree with you, at least not publicly. There are a lot of folks who would like there to just be one party or one set of ideals. But but, you know, we can’t have that in in a pluralist, plural pluralism as we have here. The the issues, though, I mean. I don’t imagine that your your passion, your fire is to sort of immerse yourself in administration and administrative responsibilities. What are some of the things that maybe they are? Maybe that really is what you’re all about. I like paperwork. I like signing forms. No, it’s it’s a big job. I mean, you know, you really do give up a little bit of your life. And as much as you want, actually, as much as you can, you can afford to be on the select board in any town. But this particular town has a has a particular set of issues that are sort of on the table now. What what were the the one or two or even three things that really made you decide this is the time for for Randall to to to get to get in the game.
Randal Fippinger: Right. But before I answer that, I do want to give a shout out to our town administrators, their awesome public works town clerk, all of them, the people that are the professional administrators. They keep this the deep state.
Greylock Glass: The deep state here in the deep state of Williamstown.
Randal Fippinger: Gets the yes. But first for me it was issues such is the issues of the Dyer Committee diversity, inclusion and racial equity. Those issues are super important to me, whether it’s about race, LGBT issues, social, economic issues, class issues. Those issues have played out and have intersected with my life in many different ways. And so to be part of this in a more formal way. So, for example, I did a show with the dining services folks at Williams a number of years ago, and so much of that wrapped around social issues, class issues, how people feel respected and cared for as individuals. And to have someone mop a floor and have an audience celebrate that person, I think that is wonderful and beautiful, and I’m glad we did it. But on some level, that’s as far as it goes, despite how much I bring to that. And so being on a committee like the dark committee and then eventually hopefully on a select board, I can say, well, I see these issues, I’m interacting with these. And so how can I address systems that make people feel uncomfortable that are dividing us, whether it be by class or race? What are the inclusivity issues? I really admire the superintendent and the cameras. The position that they’re talking about there is DBE, diversity, inclusion, equity and belonging. And I think belonging is a really important thing that we need to be adding to this. We all need to feel like we belong in this community.
Greylock Glass: But do you suppose the difference is between inclusivity and belonging?
Randal Fippinger: Inclusivity is. I think more of a system. Is a system of saying, okay, there is a place for me here. So I think that one is a systemic issue and one is maybe a little bit more cultural. I look at belonging as we have a cultural. We are saying everybody belongs is here, and we are actively trying to change our culture to make everybody feel like they belong. Where inclusivity may be about the structures that allow people to be here or are capable of being here.
Greylock Glass: Your parents say that you have to let your little sibling play with you a game that’s inclusivity. You happily inviting your little sibling to play with you is belonging.
Randal Fippinger: You are so good at this. Much better than me.
Greylock Glass: Oh.
Randal Fippinger: Should be ready to selectboard, my friend.
Greylock Glass: Never. It’s not going to happen. It’s not going to happen. You know, I might be willing to do another stint on the on the assessors board because, you know, being a tax assessor, that’s how you make friends. I’ll tell you that right now. Make a lot of friends quick that way. No. So anyway, the the point here is is well taken that these. The Williamstown. It is a. It is a place where there are some really amazing people with amazing intention and amazing sort of systems of, of of being open to change and to progress. But intention, as you say, in your press release. That it’s hard to govern from the picket line. It’s hard to govern from a place of good intentions or even acting on good intentions. What do you suppose? The opportunity is right now to sort of codify a lot of the good intentions that people have expressed. Through some of the different. I’ll just come out and say some of the conflicts that we’ve been going through. What do you think the opportunity here is to make those make progress stick?
Randal Fippinger: Well, I think, for example, I was so heartened to select board meeting a couple of weeks ago or maybe a month ago, a couple of meetings ago, where there was an extensive conversation about town D-I training, diversity, equity and inclusion training. And what impressed me about that was not the conversation about if we should be having it or why we are having it, but what type are we having and who is included in that to what level of town government and potentially even to the larger community outside of town government. So I think that. The activist conversations. I celebrate their work and I celebrate the community. Feedback to that has helped bring us to that point. So when we talk about codifying it, it’s things like that. It’s things like working with the Stockbridge, Muncie community. The fact that Williams has offered them a toehold on Spring Street and that the town has been open to to Indigenous Peoples Day projects in Field Park. And I’m sure there are other initiatives as well. So I think we are. Moving forward in that direction. We’re starting to codify some of the changes that make this town more inclusive. I think we have so much more work to do and so many of these hot button issues. I mean, we have so much work to do just in the police department. I think the interim chief is trying real hard and I look forward to a robust conversation when we get to that search process. But that needs to be changed. The policies need to be updated, and they haven’t been updated in almost two decades. So I think we’re we’re starting to gather momentum. And I think the town is supporting that momentum. And I think that’s the opportunity for the Selectboard candidates and other government candidates.
Greylock Glass: Hmm. Now, you know, Chief Z is walking a razor, razor thin line.
Randal Fippinger: Yes, he is.
Greylock Glass: And I’m aware of that. I don’t know how many people understand just what kind of pressure he’s he’s under from places that you see, from angles that people can see and from angles that they can’t see, that that should be taken into consideration. That said. What? There’s a lot of folks who don’t feel like enough has been done, that certain issues did not get addressed thoroughly or to their satisfaction. What was what has been good? What still is not quite up to your satisfaction in the in the discussions around policing in Williamstown. Both the the last well, the various conflicts and controversies and also the question of what we want policing to look like going forward.
Randal Fippinger: Well, let’s take for example, there are a number of pieces to that, but I’ll just take one slice to start at least is the CARES Act and having social workers participate in some potential conflict resolution when because when things get elevated or when there is a situation in town and there’s potentially a mental health or mental illness related issue or some other issue that is not necessarily in violation of a law. It’s just a conflict. Our police officers are asked to do so much and solve every problem. They are the first line of defense and the first responders for such a spectrum of issues. And I just can’t imagine how challenging intellectually and emotionally their jobs are. And so the fact that there is discussion about having social workers support that and support conflict resolution, I think is awesome. And I think that is a direction that we need to be going in and diversifying how we respond and how we support conflict resolution to some of the other issues. I think we just need to have a clear understanding. So expressing a frustration is not hearing enough about police policies where all the policies are at the moment. The Dyer Committee, and especially in its first year, was so vocal, appropriately vocal about wanting to highlight how things have not changed and how things have not come to light. And I support that. I support the efforts that they did. And I would want to see more of the change happening in the police department brought out publicly so we can all participate in the revising of the policies.
Greylock Glass: Hmm. Well, there’s there’s no question that there was a lot there was a real appetite for public contribution to the to the discussion around what we want, because this is a once in a generation chance to make a decision about what what the flavor of our of our policing should be. Do we want to be more like, you know, Andy Griffith or do we want to be more like Barney Miller or do we want to be more like NYPD Blue? I mean, you know, there’s there’s a lot of different styles. I can tell you that having having had friends who were both in local police departments and state police departments, the the secrets that they’ve told me is that there’s a lot of animosity that’s sort of baked into police work these days. I have a friend who said that in the academy. And throughout his tenure in the in the Hartford, Connecticut Police Department, there is a the the public is your enemy. Every single assume that every single one of them is on is on crystal meth and is carrying a loaded weapon. Doesn’t matter whether they’re little old ladies or whether they’re six foot seven black guys or whether they are they are seemingly pregnant. You know, 30 year olds treat everyone like they are a potential death, you know, death threat. And that is across the board, that’s across the nation. And that kind of policing is just not exactly, I think, what Williamstown is looking for.
Randal Fippinger: Right. And also, you know, I point out that there are many in our community that feel like policing is being handed out unevenly. There are many minority members of our community that feel very specifically targeted by police. So there is a real discrepancy in that. And that also needs to be a vital part of the conversation about police reform in this town.
Greylock Glass: Yeah, well, I’m sure it’s going to go on for some time. This is a conversation that has a lot of moving parts. Let’s talk a little bit about a couple of issues that are near and dear to both of us. I’m sure education. I have heard this complaint from a number of parents who, while they praise individual teachers and individual initiatives, certainly the you know, the two Jakes over there at Greylock are there. They have made some some improvements, I will say, especially in terms of communication, which is getting better. But I’ve heard a lot of parents suggest that for the reputation that Williams that that Williams that Williams lends to Williamstown, I should say, the school system is not as as five star as we as we could have. Yes. Given especially the property taxes that we take in.
Randal Fippinger: Right. I would 100%. I have an 11th grader, Mount Greylock, and I am sorely disappointed at some of the lack of infrastructure that he is receiving. So I would agree with that 100%. I try not to be too loud of a parent, but I am very frustrated with some of the things and I need to advocate more for my son and hopefully that will support other parents. But I agree with you completely.
Greylock Glass: Yeah, I would say to of course, advocating for your child is not something that everybody can do at the same level, nor should they have to feel like they’ve gone. They have graduated from a, you know, a mediator training course to go in and talk to the administration. Or sometimes it feels like a hostage negotiation course. But certainly. There are questions about things like Why is only Latin and in Spanish offered? In this this world that we live in today, while Spanish is certainly you know, I encourage I encourage people to learn Spanish. It’s not the only language I would offer as a school. I would think that, you know, Chinese Mandarin would be an exceptionally useful language, as would Arabic, and today perhaps even Russian. So why? What do you think? Do you feel and I know that there’s like a school committee and people can get involved in a lot of different ways. But as you look toward a potential seat of sort of the, you know, the the overarching administrative power there of the select board, do you feel like you have a a duty to try to bring more of the town’s resources and willpower to bear on creating an educational system that will actually and I know that we’ve talked about this and we will talk about this when we talk about the zoning, the planning and zoning issues. But that will be attractive to people who want to move their families here.
Randal Fippinger: I think that if you’re talking about the Select Board’s specific role in that, I think that what the Select Board so obviously as you mentioned, there are other governing authorities such as the school board and the council that. Support, manage and oversee the school systems and regional school systems with the superintendent. The Select Board has the bully pulpit. It has the ability to call attention to issues and highlight issues to support, to support and advocate change. Because as you noted, at the end of your question about bringing people into town and was noted in the planning board meeting just before we got on the call, is that tourism is very important for us. Yes, Williamstown. Sorry. Williams College is certainly an anchor, but tourism is hugely important to this town and this town. Having a reputation of being a place where parents and families want to be, whether it is in town or regionally and participate, is very, very important. So the select board, even though it may not be the person who goes and makes the change, it can advocate for change. It can set a standard of of. Quality and expectation for the school system.
Greylock Glass: Well said. It’s difficult because there are a lot of the the cables are sometimes sinewy between the different governing bodies. And I feel like sometimes that’s a good thing, obviously, to have some separation of powers. But sometimes I feel like what we really need is a little more sort of a unified, unified theory of progress, not to you know, not to suggest we could changing the bylaws today. But I do think that there are a number of. A number of areas that need to be addressed and they need to be addressed soon. I feel like there is an element of urgency. These days that I haven’t felt in a long, long time. Right. And I think that one of those areas is education. Another area is climate crisis remediation and preparation, which I think is tied into agricultural preservation also. And I will just say very briefly, in the thirties there was this thing called the Dust Bowl, and it happened in what used to be the breadbasket of America, all the soil up and blew away. And there are a lot of reasons for that bad soil management, etc. But we’re dealing with the situation where vast parts of arable land are either burning up or they’re being flooded every year. And in some cases, the drought.
Greylock Glass: It’s not so much that they’re burning, but the temperatures are so high that plants cannot physiologically come to fruition. Like literally in Florida. There were a couple of years recently where corn crops would grow, but because above a certain temperature they shut off. They don’t die, but they don’t produce fruit over. I think it’s like 118 or something, 115. They at a sustained high temperature, they stay alive, but they don’t put out fruit. Right. And that means that as parts of the country get get above that for long periods during the growing season, that means that the number of acres available to grow food to feed this this country diminishes not because it’s been developed, but just because of climate realities. And during the Depression, Oregon and Northern California and most of California fed the West Coast, New England and parts of the South really made up for the loss of productivity in the breadbasket and where the sharecroppers were were fleeing Oklahoma and western Tennessee and places like that. So this is a sort of a long winded lead in to the questions of climate crisis mitigation and preparation and agricultural preservation. What do you see as a concern and what do you see as possibilities for Williamstown in these these areas?
Randal Fippinger: Well, I celebrate the town having the cool committee and celebrating, highlighting the fact that we’re paying attention to it. But I think as a town, we need to do more and be more proactive about climate mitigation or climate preparation. I think climate preparation kind of change preparation because it is going to happen and I think this world is going to be a very different place climate wise ten years from now. And to your comments about city flight, it may have started because of COVID and it may take a lull as we exit from COVID. I think it’s going to start again. I think people are going to find places like Williamstown that have a relatively mild and stable or at least predictable climate and are socially very stable, are people coming? And so we need to be preparing for that through our town infrastructure and we need to be preparing it for it with housing and with having sensible climate issues in town that are realistic. What I mean sensible. I mean equating that with realistic that we can actually do as opposed to something that we wish for, but it’s just not going to happen.
Greylock Glass: Well, you know, I think to your point, if New York City were to see another, you know, say, Hurricane Sandy, yes, there will be climate refugees here and there could be hurricanes larger than Sandy that hit the city and or even even other other cities like Boston. You know, that could be a real disaster. The the issues of climate change and agriculture, I really think. My my own particular fear is that there will be because that there will be such a such pressure on the existing farms to produce food. And remember, we get a lot of food from other countries, especially Chile and other places, Mexico. And if anything were to happen. To the world economy or to those individual countries where and we can’t rely on that kind of export or importing ability, then we we’re going to have to make up for it somewhere. And good.
Randal Fippinger: That’s happening in Ukraine. A smart person just recently highlighted to me that they think that the Ukraine invasion is not at all about Naito or Nazis or anything like that. And it’s about food and it’s about the fact that Ukraine is the breadbasket of Europe. And so and we place we prices are changing. There was a story on I think it was Marketplace. It was either Marketplace or a PBS NewsHour in the last day talking about how the country how Zelinsky is trying to get the folks in the regions that are not under attack right now to at least keep on producing food for the country. So, yes, agriculture is so hugely important. It’s going to be shifting in Europe significantly. And what we’re doing in this country. You mean you look at the water in California, you know, the Colorado River is getting pulled so many different ways. And it isn’t the Colorado River, the one that is dry by the time it reaches the ocean.
Greylock Glass: Yeah, it wasn’t it wasn’t like that not to too long ago. Yeah. It’s and you know, and now you see why people don’t like to talk to me, because I bring up this, this kind of garbage and and I make I put everybody off the food. So that’s I think that that’s spot on. Now, granted, we do have a lot of people here who have, say, great big yards. And if they wanted to, they could believe it or not, they could. You know, I think that Williamstown could produce easily 80% of what we need. And a lot of people would laugh at that. And I say, don’t laugh at that, because actually the city of Paris, up until it really started experiencing a densification in the 20th century, the city of Paris grew all of the food it needed and exported to Great Britain during the winter months. They harvested their horse manure from their livery cabs, their carriages, and they composted it. And they had little farms throughout the city limits of Paris that are half an acre, one acre. Little things, itty bitty farms. And there was so much success that they were able to feed themselves. So a lot of people say, well, you know, what could Williamstown do? What could what could the Berkshires do to feed? Well, a lot, actually. We could do a lot to feed ourselves. So I just I really I like to be the one whose I’d like to be the squirrel who’s got, you know, a nest full of nuts over the winter. It’s always been me. Good.
Randal Fippinger: Yeah. And every little bit helps. You know, there are no silver bullets to say, okay, if we do this one thing, we’re. We’re solved. It’s just like with climate change and climate remediation or climate change remediation, we need to be doing lots and lots of little things because we miss the opportunity to do the big things. And so now we need to just do the best we can with the changes that are going to be happening to us, both in terms of climate and green food production.
Greylock Glass: Yeah, agreed. Agreed. And I think that that’s something that, you know, the has not been lost on our state legislators. I mean, there are a number of bills that have been some are still languishing in committees, unfortunately. But there have been a number of bills that have been brought brought before the the state House that discuss a lot of these things. And Western Massachusetts and the Berkshires have come up in some of these bills in terms of what can the state depend on if need be? So, you know, the people in the Berkshires, western Mass, we could be, you know, generating some healthy income, selling to the good folks in Boston if we were, you know, ever needed to. Right. Right. What about and I know that this. That, you know, you’re probably not able to talk all night since we’ve been we’ve been online listening to meetings, that meeting for a while. But that issue of of land density, since we just brought that topic up and housing, we listen to a lot of voices, as you mentioned at the top of the show, the top of the segment that you were impressed at the amount of civility that people displayed more or less. And I would say that there are a lot of voices there. Did you have any particular. Feelings about how much we how much ground we could cover in the next want to know say 2 to 5 years and adding What would you like to see in terms of new housing in this town you’re talking about? Do you think another couple of hundred units that could be, you know, 2 to 3 bedrooms, do you think another 1000 units? I mean, what would be what would be something worth shooting for or have? Or is it too early to to say?
Randal Fippinger: Right. I’m not expert enough to say we need 550 houses along a timeline, but I think we need I, I support Chris Winters and the other folks when they say we need to create opportunities for more affordable housing to be brought up, to be built in this town. And yes, some developers, there’s a chance to take advantage of that and not all of it will happen. I think some of these warrants won’t get passed at town hall, but this is an incremental step in that direction. But I think that we very much need to instead of it’s I think it’s less about a specific number and creating opportunities for people to build or for for there to be a sufficient rental market. The rental market in this town is terrible. And one of the small business owners mentioned that only one or two of our employees can even find a place to live in Williamstown. So we need to create an environment where people can build and we’re economic. I heard one definition of economics, and it’s the study of incentives. We need to create incentives where people will build housing, sensible housing, affordable housing, lowercase a affordable housing in this town. And so I think that’s the direction we need to be going in. And so I’m less in favor of saying, okay, we need to build 300 units in this in this town. I like the fact that, say, for example, 330 Call Avenue is built, but I wouldn’t say be an advocate. Okay. We need to go for more of those in the next five years. I think that isn’t necessarily the answer.
Greylock Glass: Hmm. What do you suppose? You know, there are plenty of ways that towns can offer incentives to, you know, say, manufacturers. You know, they can they can give them tax breaks for a certain number of years. Some of the language was very sort of Pollyanna ish that we can hope that the developers offer. Right. You know, which I feel like is come on, people, we’re not all babes in the woods here. We know what happens. Don’t don’t try to you know, don’t blow smoke, you know, sunshine around here. We we know that people do what is in their best interest if they if they have any possible means. And if you’ve got the money to buy a chunk of land and develop it, you typically do what’s going to make you the most profit. This is America. This is what people do. However, there are times when you can, as a town or a city, you can say to a corporation, Hey, I’ll tell you what, if you do X, we’ll give you a break in your taxes of this percent for this many years. Nobody brought that up. Is that something that that maybe should be thrown into the mix?
Randal Fippinger: Absolutely. I think that we should be trying a lot of different strategies, whether it is a developer who wants to do a larger unit, has a certain number of affordable houses or further units in whatever development and learn from other communities and do what’s available for us under our current state and federal laws. I grew up in I grew up in a in New York City, on Roosevelt Island. And it’s an island underneath the Queensboro Bridge. And when I was there in the seventies, in the eighties, it was a small development led by Housing and Urban Development’s housing program. And we lived in middle income housing, subsidized housing, and we bought an apartment and my parents, not me, bought an apartment. And part of the deal, the HUD deal, was that we had to sell it. My parents had to sell it for the same price that they bought it for, plus any capital improvements they made and they lived there for 15 years, I think was ten, maybe ten years excuse me, ten years. And they had to sell it, I think it was $25,000. And this is an apartment in New York City. And I think they sold it in the late eighties. And it was just shocking to me. Even the young me then was selling an apartment for $25,000 in New York City. So I think that there are a lot of incentive programs and a lot of clever ideas around the country that we can bring into this conversation.
Greylock Glass: Yeah. There were a lot of a lot of interesting ideas brought up. Also, I think somebody brought up the idea that we should allow farmers to teach. Well, one idea was that there should be perhaps a sort of a therapeutic community, a farming community, which I have said for some time would be wonderful. And it’s actually has its roots in New England. I don’t know if you know this, but many, many New England towns have something called Town Farm Road, and Town Farm Road is typically the place where the town set aside a farm to peop to to house people who lost their ability to, to provide for themselves. And they would often work doing whatever it was. Very often widows, war veterans who had nowhere to go and sometimes sometimes, you know, debtors. But the idea was that the town would create little, little shack houses for them, and at least they had somewhere to go and they would, you know, take care of some chickens and then take care of a garden. And, you know, there’s a certain authority and shame to it back in the day, but that doesn’t mean that it has to be that way.
Greylock Glass: There could very easily be a farm that is who is sole function is to sort of re reintegrate people back into society. I don’t know that you’re going to get a lot of buy in from Williamstown on that idea, but I can see it working. The other idea the other idea that somebody said was that we could allow farmers themselves to develop a certain amount of land for the purposes of having either interns or young, you know, whatever workers live there. You know, you could get really creative, potentially, and create a sort of a. A system where developers are able to develop on a farmer’s land. The farmer gets to keep those units and rent them out and the the developer gets to to sell them, basically. But the, you know, there’s all sorts of things that could be done. So without going into I realize I just gave you like a five minute lead in here, but without going into too much more detail, what do you think the right time frame for public input on this these issues is when it comes to the what’s before the planning board?
Randal Fippinger: Well, you know, the planning board has a set of warrants that many of them will make it to town meeting. But this isn’t the end of conversation. And I fear sort of the unwritten or the the unsaid message in some of these conversations is we either have to fix it all now or we have to stop it all now. As if what we do at town meeting on May 17 is the be all, end all. So much of this town has changed, you know, over the last hundred or so years. I mean, Hopkins Forest used to be clear cut. And so I think it is part of a larger conversation. We need to. I am in favor of experimenting and trying and doing things and but then continuing the planning process. So when I advocate in being in favor of many of these warrants, it’s not to say that I am not in favor of continuing a conversation, of planning and bringing up these ideas. But I think we need to try something. We need to do it right away or else we’re just going to keep on talking. But I love these ideas and I hope they come into the larger planning process next year and the planning board next year.
Greylock Glass: Hmm. Well, we shall see. I can tell that it’s going to be a set of a suite of issues that are. Going that they run the risk of bringing further division into a town that’s already seen an awful lot of it. Right. For a town of our size. I’ll tell you that the fact that we have weathered I don’t even know what would happen if people actually could could have met in person for some of these meetings. Maybe it’s a good thing that they were held on Zoom. If you’re looking for silver linings. So let’s talk just briefly before I let you go about your campaign. Obviously, people can read I have reproduced your press release in the show notes, show notes to this episode with a note that I’m just simply doing that. What what is the next step? Do you have a campaign manager? Are you going to you’re going to be hitting the yard sign shop wherever you want, even know where you get the yard signs. But where? What’s next and where do people get a hold of you?
Randal Fippinger: Well, I will be developing a website, but that is that I actually have the domain name, Randi and JD.com, and that will be up in the next day or so since I am at the point of ramping up the process in terms of a campaign manager, I’m taking a page out of Adrienne Marie Brown and looking at emergent strategy. And instead of being so hierarchical and saying, I’m going to have this one person as the campaign, it’s more of a campaign committee. I have quite a number of friends in town who want to contribute as they are able to be part of the dialogue and helping me think, think about it and think about how to what priorities and that we should be looking at in town. And I also have to confess, and I think this is speaking to some of your points, some of the people that want to help me don’t want to put out their name publicly, because there have been so many sort of harsh public attacks over the last couple of years. And so part of my candidacy is making it so that folks like we can get back to having a conversation where I feel bad that some of my friends don’t want to show their face or associate publicly, not because of me. They support me, but it’s because they don’t want the repercussions of it. And I think we all need to feel empowered to be part of the community dialogue, irrespective of race, socioeconomic class or or perspective opinion.
Greylock Glass: Yeah, I think it’s worth pointing out that the Norman Rockwell painting I referred to before, which is freedom of speech, it shows it shows a man very non self-aware, very non self. Yeah. A conscious individual in clearly what a worker’s clothes standing up at a town meeting and you know, there’s some people make giving him the you know, the side eye a little bit, but they’re not. They’re not looking like they’re ready to attack. And I’ve always, you know, call me naive. Call me, you know, hopeless romantic. But I still believe that that’s possible, that we can have respectful dialogue, that we can have disagreements that don’t end in a fractured community that takes a generation to repair. How are we supposed to get anywhere if it’s going to be another 30 years before two families will even speak to each other? I mean, there aren’t. Go ahead.
Randal Fippinger: You know, that’s that’s one of the things that that dire is doing. And I certainly don’t want to take outsized credit of it. I am just one person in a larger set of group of really smart, passionate people, but about giving a safe place for conversation and again, getting back to Adrian Marie Brown. You know, and it’s not just her, but other thinkers, but the whole notion of calling in instead of calling out and saying, well, in restorative justice, Bilal Ansari, who’s another candidate, was advocating this restorative justice when he was on Dire about trying to fix harm and fix these conversations. And so that it’s not trying to be divisive and that we’re trying to welcome people into a conversation. We’re going to be making mistakes and we’re going to because you just can’t get it all right all the time. And I think the Dire Committee wants to model this, but I think as a town on the select board, I want to continue to model having a safe conversation where we’re calling people into the conversation, even if sometimes we’re making some mistakes. Mm hmm.
Greylock Glass: I think.
Randal Fippinger: That’s. And Jane was saying I want to say sorry. And Jane, if I’m going to mention Bilal, I would also say Jane Payton as well. I think all three candidates I think this town will do great if whomever the two candidates, the two people that they elect.
Greylock Glass: I think that’s a great way to leave it. Randall, you and I are going to talk for just a minute. After I say goodbye on air. We’ll have our on air. Goodbye. But then. Then we’ll talk for a couple of minutes. So I’m going to redo that and just don’t go away. When I say goodbye, say goodbye, but then stay on the line. Well, Randall, I think that that sounds like a great place to leave it. I’ll tell you what. I will put Randy Pepper intercom in the show notes so people will be able to. And I’ll have a little note in parentheses that says may not yet be a live site. So I guess you better get your web designer on that and get something up there, because I’m sure people are going to want to find out more about you. And I’m sure you’ll have a newsletter and calendar of events where you’re going to be speaking. Do you have any speaking, you know, sort of meet the meet the candidate events lined up yet?
Randal Fippinger: Not public ones. I’m just trying to get out to places and have conversations, one on one conversations, you know, going to meet people in less public environments so we can just have private conversations, but the more public events will be happening soon.
Greylock Glass: Okay, so look for the sign that says free beer. And that’s what we’re going to find. No. Anyway. Well, Randall, thanks so much for speaking to the top left corner and we’ll talk again soon. Bye bye.
Randal Fippinger: Thank you so much.
Greylock Glass: And I’m going to shut down the recorder.
Well, there it is, as you can tell just from the conversation we’ve had with one candidate. This is going to be a race to remember. And I think it’s going to be a race that’s going to determine. Quite a bit that goes on here in Williamstown for well years to come. So I think this is going to be one that people watch closely. I know we will be. And as I said, we’ll be trying to get the other candidates on as soon as possible. Randall Ebinger says that he thinks there are no bad candidates and I think that’s very kind. It’s a very diplomatic way to approach the issue. I think it’s not everybody’s way to approach the issue. Some people take the gloves off and we’ll just have to see what happens as the days and weeks wear on. But in any event, a lot of these issues are going to be coming up over and over and over again.
Jay Velázquez: And we’ll just have to see what happens. Should I? Should I run a candidate debate? I have not done that yet. I should, I think, maybe host a debate from The Greylock Glass. And I don’t know where it hold it somewhere where there isn’t any alcohol, probably because we don’t want to get people too riled up. But we’ll see. We’ll see if I can come up with a venue and in a time and see how that goes. If you like this show, remember that this the stuff that’s good for the public. And this is Eat Your Peas journalism, you know, the the vitamins, the nutrients. This isn’t the stuff that gets tons and tons of hits. It’s not the stuff that gets shared around like cat videos. If you like this kind of program, if you think it’s important to democracy, to public involvement, please do your part and pitch in.
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For Immediate Release
[Williamstown, MA, March 22, 2022] Randal Fippinger is proud to announce his candidacy to serve as a member of the Williamstown Select Board. Fippinger has a long track record of building community partnerships, all grounded in deep, respectful outreach and relationship building and an abiding belief that all voices deserve a space. He is excited to extend the ongoing initiatives of the town’s Diversity, Inclusion, and Racial Equity Committee (DIRE) to his potential role as a representative of Williamstown residents on the Select Board, working in partnership with the Chief of Police for supportive police reform and with community members to find affordable and accessible housing solutions, among the many other pressing issues facing Williamstown.
“For me, there is a time to protest and there is a time to govern,” Fippinger observes. “I joined fellow community members in protest at the Williamstown Police station in 2020 and was a dedicated member of Williamstown’s Racial Justice Police Reform (WRJPR) activist group. We helped galvanize a community conversation around twenty-first century policing and the need for more transparency between the Town and its citizens. However, it is difficult to govern from the picket line. Important systemic change happens by building coalitions of engaged citizens. I want to continue to be part of that coalition building in support of progressive and inclusive community change.”
Fippinger is the current Chair of the Williamstown Diversity, Inclusion, and Racial Equity committee (DIRE), a member since August 2021. In this role, he is able to build upon his dedication to a wide range of community engagement work; he has served as a member of the recent Special Police and Community Partnership (SPCP) Committee (hosted by the Department of Justice and the Williamstown Police Department) and on the Board of Directors of the Roots Teen Center (2019-2021). With many years of behind-the-scenes facilitation at the ‘62 Center at Williams College, Fippinger brings his supporting-role mentality to the many partnerships he has fostered; with Williams’ Davis Center to help create Williamstown’s 2019 and 2020 Indigenous Peoples’ Day exhibits at Field Park; with Williams College Museum of Art to wrap the ‘62 Center for Theatre and Dance with images celebrating essential workers during COVID; with Brayton Elementary School to create a program that validates and empowers students and their families through dance; with Mount Greylock Regional High School and the Center for Learning in Action for the last 10 years to bring world-class artists into the classrooms; with Williamstown Elementary School’s Words Are Wonderful program to provide a performance space for schoolwide participation; and with Williams’ Dining Services to celebrate their vital work by producing an original piece created and performed by food service professionals. A common vision and guiding principle Fippinger brings to these initiatives and projects is his enthusiasm and ability to always ask, “What can I do to help?”
Fippinger has lived in Williamstown since 2007. His wife and partner, Sarah McNair, is an Occupational Therapist working in Pittsfield. Together, they have three teen boys who have attended three north county public high schools, McCann Technical School, BART Charter, and Mount Greylock Regional High School. At Williams College’s ‘62 Center for Theater and Dance, Fippinger is the Visiting Artist Producer and Outreach Manager. Prior to calling Williamstown home, he lived in Washington DC and New York City, working for some of the country’s leading arts organizations including the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, American Ballet Theatre, Manhattan Theater Club, and the José Limón Dance Foundation. Fippinger says, “I studied performing arts curation, but years earlier received a practical education in finance developing trading floor infrastructure for Goldman Sachs. Fippinger worked at Goldman Sachs from 1997 to 2000, in both New York and London, where he rose to the level of Vice President. When not busy parenting or working, he loves to run, cycle, read, and enjoy the beauty and culture of the Berkshires. Fippinger looks forward to many conversations with members of our diverse community and welcomes your outreach at [email protected].