Select Board Declares State of Emergency

Select Board has first virtual meeting

Reading, MA — By a vote of 5-0, a state of emergency due to the spread of the coronavirus was declared by the Select Board on April 1. A similar declaration had been made earlier in the day by the Board of Health. Select Board chair Mark Dockser explained that similar declarations have already been made by 197 of the 351 municipalities in the Commonwealth. Dockser also shared that he believes that the declaration would emphasize the significance of the situation for the community as well as show unity and cooperation between the Board of Health and the Select Board. The state of emergency will last until lifted by the board, or by the governor, whichever occurs first. The board also determined that it would meet weekly for updates on the situation, with the next meeting planned for April 8.

State of Emergency text here

Upon the request of the police department and the Board of Health, the Select Board also voted 5-0 to ban door-to-door solicitation and canvassing in town until further notice. Beyond the concern for public safety, the measure was taken due to the fact that the police department fingerprinting function, with which solicitors are required to participate, has been shut down for the duration of the coronavirus situation.

Select Board Chair Mark Dockser

The board also voted 5-0 to allow the town manager to provide relief from fees and late charges from April 1 to June 1 for late or unpaid property tax, water, sewer, and stormwater bills which cannot be paid due to financial problems related to the pandemic. This vote was made assuming the state legislature will vote to allow the relief, which is expected to occur on Thursday. The governor may sign the bill as early as Friday.

Health insurance premiums for municipal employees were also accepted by the board by a vote of 5-0. There will be a 2.23% increase in premiums, a deal negotiated by a joint committee of town officials and representatives of 16 unions and retirees. Town Manager Robert LeLacheur pointed out the timing allows for the advantageous rate and commended the committee for its hard work.

The board officially acknowledged receipt of the petition to recall member Vanessa Alvarado and voted 4-0 to direct LeLacheur to make official notification to Alvarado, who has five days to decide her next steps. According to Dockser, the Board of Registrars is reviewing objections it has received to the petition. The timing laid out in the charter would place the next scheduled discussion of the matter at the April 14 Select Board meeting. 

Incident Command System – Unified Command

Police Chief Greg Burns

The bulk of the meeting consisted of reports from various town departments as to what is being done to keep the municipal government functioning during the coronavirus outbreak. Town officials have established a unified command with Fire Chief Greg Burns leading the group. Every department is implementing its continuity of operations plans, doing remotely that which can be accomplished remotely.

Board of Health

Board of Health Chair Emmy Dove

Board of Health chair Emmy Dove reported that her board has met 18 times since March 10, and has issued orders to close parks, town buildings, and hair and nail salons. It has restricted the ban on plastic bags, and door to door solicitors. As of April 1, there were 31 reported cases of the virus in Reading. They are working to get the new public health nurse fully trained on the required software so she can perform her duties. A temporary public health nurse will be used until this is completed.

Police Department

Chief David Clark

Chief of Police David Clark emphasized that the department continues to do its work, in a modified manner. Dispatch has been isolated and traffic enforcement and school safety officers have been reassigned to allow for added patrols. “We’re here, we’re on the road, the town is safe,” Clark confirmed. He also stressed the need for parents to help enforce social distancing and stay at home guidelines with their children.

School Department

Superintendent John Doherty

Superintendent of Schools John Doherty said that he and his staff are busy “building a virtual school” for Reading’s students. He indicated that an expanded update would be presented to the School Committee at its meeting next week. Doherty also emphasized that the district was making sure that students have access to food and technology. Finance director Gail Dowd has overseen the distribution of “grab and go” meals to students in the free and reduced lunch program and the deployment of more than 50 laptops to students.

Town Hall

Town Manager Bob LeLacheur

Eighty-five percent of town hall operations are functioning according to LeLacheur. The town clerk’s office is staffed daily. Permits, inspections, and voter registration are occurring electronically. The public works department is working on rotation. The library is closed but is offering virtual services daily. The facilities department is hard at work cleaning and sanitizing schools and town buildings as well as maintaining their regular scheduled maintenance. 

Reading Light Department

RMLD General Manager Coleen O’Brien

The Reading Municipal Light Department (RMLD) is at full operation. RMLD General Manager Coleen O’Brien shared that payment plans may be set up for customers in financial distress due to coronavirus concerns. She also warned ratepayers that bills may be higher than is typical because of increased usage due to people working and going to school at home.

The Select Board reviewed updates to the town website ( with resources for residents. There is a new red bar just under the banner which provides links to all the local, state, and federal information that residents could need. Residents may also direct questions or volunteer to a new email address For those without Internet access, a new phone number, 781-942-6680, has been established to help residents with questions or concerns. The board stressed that residents should call 911 for emergencies only.

The board concluded urging residents to comply with social distancing and stay at home guidelines. “What we do now will have an impact on the capacity of our health care system.” Select Board member Anne Landry commented. “We as Reading residents need to heed advisories,” Dockser concluded.

The Select Board adjourned at 9:30 pm.

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