Selectmen Set Board of Health Hearing

After much discussion, the board of selectmen voted 4-1 to hold a hearing to consider the removal of Nancy Docktor as an associate member of the board of health at its meeting on September 5. The reasons cited for the proposed removal are the failure to act on the appointment of the health agent, Laura Vlasuk, as the authorized agent of the board of health and pursuing lines of questioning regarding the agent that have exceeded the Board of Health’s lawful duties and powers under Massachusetts General laws, Reading Home Rule Charter, and Bylaws. A similar motion was made regarding board of health chair John Costigan that failed by a 1-4 vote. A motion regarding Beth Shurland was planned, but Shurland resigned from the Board of Health during the public comment portion of the meeting.

The stated reason, explored in great detail at the prior selectmen meeting, stems from difficulties that the board of health has faced over the summer by not appointing the health agent and in response to executive session meetings held without Costigan where the health agent apparently was questioned with her attorney present. By charter, the health agent is hired by town staff through a process that includes the health board chair. Appointment is necessary to allow the agent to act on behalf of the board of health in issues needing a timely resolution. Selectman Barry Berman commented that he feels that members of the board of health “Tried to subvert the hiring process.” Selectmen John Halsey continued, “We found ourselves in this situation, and it is our duty to fix it.” The hearing will be held during the selectmen’s regular meeting on September 26.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, Docktor queried the selectmen as to why it was necessary to have a police officer at the July 19 meeting of the board of health and why the board members were not told in advance that there would be police presence at the meeting. She also asked why the selectmen had not acted on a request by the board of health to investigate why several health professionals had left town employ in the last six months. The board responded to the first by explaining that a town employee had requested police presence at the meeting because of a perceived threat, and that it is not typical policy to inform people in advance of an officer being present at a meeting. The second question was left unanswered because of the private nature of personnel issues, on advise from town counsel.

In other business, the board of selectmen declared September as National Recovery Month in Reading, made appointments to the board of cemetery trustees, climate advisory committee, and council on aging. The board also made two appointments to the board of health – one to fill an already existing vacancy and one to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Beth Shurland earlier in the evening. The board also received an update on the senior tax relief initiative. The town has received 194 applications for relief through the new program, ten of which have been denied.

The Board met in joint session with the historical commission and the historic district commission to finalize the historic preservation and restriction understanding with the purchaser of 186 Summer Avenue. The document had been edited, and the members of the commissions had not had the time to review it. Both commissions will attempt to have a joint meeting on September 13 to complete the work. The selectmen expect to vote on the document at their September 26 meeting.

The board finished with a discussion on splitting the fee for the compost/depot parking sticker, creating two stickers with different fees. Changing the demand fees for late payment of tax bills was also discussed. No conclusions were reached, though the board did request further information regarding the costs associated with maintaining the depot parking lots.

The meeting adjourned at 10:15pm.

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