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Dear Reading Voters –
Have you noticed the dramatically negative change in tone in Reading politics that followed the election of Donald Trump in November 2016? It seems that President Trump’s election unleashed a backlash of resistance and negative energy among many progressives in this community. Motivated largely by their hatred of Trump and their love of candidates like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, they began to organize locally using tactics perfected by national Progressive groups such as the POP Huddle and Sister District. For the first time in my memory, national progressive politics became writ large on our community.
Out of this political cauldron was born the candidacy of Andrew Friedmann in early 2017. Mr. Friedmann was a fairly unknown Chairman of the Board of Health until he was recruited by the Reading Progressives to run against incumbent Selectmen Kevin Sexton and John Halsey. Andrew actually bragged to a friend of mine that running for Selectman was easy: “I just go where they tell me to go and say what they tell me to say”. With the organized assistance of the Reading Progressives, Andrew won the race over Kevin Sexton and began his tenure on the Board.
From the start, Mr. Friedmann’s priorities on the Board seemed distinctly different from those of his fellow Selectmen (myself and John Halsey included). Instead of viewing as priorities things like fostering budgetary discipline, solving the downtown parking problem, stabilizing water and sewer rates, promoting commercial development in the Walkers Brook area, maintaining RMLD payments to the Town, and working productively with the Town Manager, Mr. Friedmann talked about promoting vague terms like “transparency”, “inclusion”, and other such progressive buzzwords. When two members of Friedmann’s former Board of Health abused their office by engaging in a personal vendetta toward our newly hired Health Agent, the Board of Selectmen voted 4-1 to remove one of those members – Friedmann voted against the removal. Then the Progressives had their issue for the next election: they began claiming that the Selectmen had committed a “war on women.”
After Vanessa Alvarado’s narrow election to the Board in April 2018, things got much worse. Friedmann ascended to the chairmanship of the Board of Selectmen following a tumultuous Select Board meeting in June 2018. The first thing he did was freeze the Town Manager out of the Board’s agenda setting process, something that had never been done in the past. Many agendas became filled with discussion about “goals” and how to address the “hateful graffiti problem,” to the exclusion of the essential duties and priorities of the Board that I mentioned above. Our meetings became filled with minutia and unfocused on priorities. Friends of mine began to tell me that our meetings had become too painful to watch. The cherry on top was when both Friedmann and Alvarado refused to renew our widely-respected Town Manager’s contract in early 2019, despite an excellent annual review. They both claimed they “didn’t like the process that was followed.” Sound familiar?
Vanessa Alvarado continued Mr. Friedmann’s divisive practices when she became Chair in April 2019. In fact, Alvarado worsened the relationship between the Chair and the Town Manager and other Town staff that had already begun to deteriorate under Friedmann. In a stark departure from past practice, neither the Town Manager nor relevant Town staff were invited to Select Board subcommittee meetings. This had a huge, negative impact on Town staff morale. Alvarado continued to not collaborate with the Town Manager on setting Select Board agendas. Alvarado and Friedmann even pushed the notion of appointing out-of-towners to voting positions on Select Board appointed committees, until one long-time Town Meeting member threatened to have Friedmann recalled from office because the Reading Home Rule Charter prohibits such appointments.
You already know the story about the delays in the Police Chief appointment. But did you know that assignment of the Town Manager’s goals and his annual review were also delayed by Chair Alvarado for four months in 2019, in direct violation of Select Board policy and the Town Manager’s contract?
It is time for all Reading voters who are tired of this nonsense to rise up and be heard on March 3. In my opinion, there are only two candidates for Select Board who can reverse its dysfunctional culture, the worst I have seen in my 15 years of service on the Board. You may have only been intending to vote in the Presidential Primary, but please take a Town Election ballot too! And then join me in showing Mr. Friedmann the door by voting for Select Board candidate Carlo Bacci and write-in candidate John R. Halsey. Let’s take our Town back and restore common sense to the Select Board!
Select Board Member 1989-1998 and 2013-2019, and three-time Chair