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To the Editor:
Watching a replay of the September 26th Board of Selectmen’s meeting, I heard discussion and saw behavior that was truly troubling for the well-being of our town and future volunteerism.
During the meeting’s public comment section, members of the public who were present spoke to the board, as is the case at all standard Selectmen’s meetings. Many times these comments are made to be helpful, or to inform both the public and the board. Occasionally these comments are contentious but polite. In all instances, the board is interested in the public’s collective opinion.
However, in this case, the comments were neither helpful nor polite. They were disrespectful toward the Selectmen and called into question my competence and character because I sought to become a member of the Board of Health. I have never witnessed a volunteer be treated with such callous disrespect for his willingness to serve on any board, commission or committee.
More importantly, this incident has set a dangerous precedent for all volunteers in this town. If well-qualified residents see this behavior continue, why would they want to serve on any board, give up their free time to do so, only to be criticized for it? We have always been lucky to have a wealth of quality volunteers in this town, which cannot function without them. When we have volunteers step up to offer their time to serve, it helps take the workload off of our already thin staffing levels. Levels that are currently below what they should be.
Reading volunteers require no prerequisites in background or skill set to serve, by design of the volunteer office. That allows volunteers entering with the understanding of a member of the public, rather than that of the expert, which leads to solutions easily described and accepted by the citizenry. Simply because one lacks background in a subject matter is not disqualifying for office. Having a background is helpful but seldom a necessity in determining membership on our boards.
In our town, it should never be acceptable to publicly demean any resident who has volunteered their time in an effort to serve on any board…period!
Those who were so fast to lay blame on the Selectmen for my appointment, never bothered to ask why I chose to become a member of the Board of Health. Instead, they chose to create a false narrative around my appointment, rather than seek out the facts surrounding it. Allow me to make my case for serving on this important board.
My desire to serve arose from witnessing the actions of two Board of Health members who acted to undermine the hiring and early service of the new health agent by not allowing for her appointment to represent the board in all health matters. Their stated reasons for this conduct are clearly outside of the purview of the Board of Health. Matters of employment, time sheets and expense reports are an employee/manager interaction. In this circumstance, the Health Agent requested a newly revised expense report replacing an earlier version, which was submitted with an ineligible expense claimed originally. The employee submitted a revised claim and signed it. This five-dollar adjustment was the justification offered as to why two Board of Health members refused to motion to appoint the Health Agent. This finding, combined with earlier actions exhibited by these Board of Health members prior to the night of September 5th, convinced me they never had any intention to appoint our Health Agent.
Because of this inappropriate action, I decided apply to the board to allow the Health Agent appointment to move forward, and to ensure proper staffing for the health and well being of all residents in town. That decision was mine and mine alone in service of the town and its residents. These are the facts concerning my volunteering and appointment. Anything else you may hear is strictly false or worse, uninformed opinion offered by those who are either intentionally or unintentionally trying to divide this town. Such a division will undoubtedly have a negative effect on the future of our town and therefore cannot be allowed to be acceptable.
We all want to live in a safe town with good schools, and a responsive town government. However, in the last twelve months we decided it was okay to treat others with disdain for their views, without actually discussing them, and to assume the worst in people rather than the best. By acting in public and online as though we hate others for simply being or thinking differently, we send a terrible message to the community.
So here is a challenge to all of us, myself included: let’s start talking “to” one another, instead of “at” one another. Lets discover our commonalities rather than focusing on our differences. Let’s seek to find out all relevant facts before forming an opinion.
And most of all, let us be better role models of civic, and civil engagement in the town of Reading.
Kevin M. Sexton
Board of Health