The Select Board voted 5-0 to postpone Town Meeting until June 15. The April 14 decision was made after concerns were expressed by board members regarding the potential safety in hosting a large public gathering. The Board will reevaluate the June 15 date in late May and may choose to delay Town Meeting further at that point. Moderator Alan Foulds had reported to the board two weeks prior regarding plans for a possible truncated meeting if needed. It would focus on warrant articles necessary for maintaining town services, pushing off other matters until November Town Meeting. Town Manager Robert LeLacheur shared that the legislature has voted to allow municipalities to operate on month-to-month budgets based on the previous fiscal year. “It would be better to have a [FY2021] budget approved in June,” LeLacheur commented. Foulds informed the board that a budget would have to be voted on by June 23 to be effective on June 30.
After Select Board member Vanessa Alvarado recused herself, the Select Board engaged in a discussion regarding the petition to hold an election to recall Alvarado. Town Counsel Ray Miyares clarified that the second letter of notification was sent to Alvarado regarding the certification of the petition because a letter from Alvarado’s attorney challenged the interpretation of the clause in the charter that defined when the Select Board had been notified that the petition had been certified. Miyares said that a second letter was sent so that there would be no legal confusion over the issue.
Miyares also shared that the board’s requirement to set a date for the election is not “legally intertwined” with a challenge to the signatures on the petition that has been filed with the Board of Registrars. According to Miyares, an election must be held by early October at the latest, and within 64 to 90 days from the vote to set the date “Once you set a date, it is set in concrete.” Miyares stated. He also shared the opinion that the charter gives no other time frame in which the board needs to set the election, though to meet the charter requirements, a date must be set by early July. If the challenge is successful, then it would effectively cancel the election. “There would be no question to present to the voters,” Miyares stated.
Select Board chair Mark Dockser expressed concern over setting a recall election date when little is known about what the situation will look like in the coming months. He stated that holding a safe campaign and election in this time of social distancing could be challenging. “It is difficult to force people to decide to be healthy or be disenfranchised.” Dockser opined. Member Anne Landry shared concern that some residents may express frustration over the delay, “I’m willing to take the heat for [the delay] and not risk the lives of my constituents.” Landry stated.
The board voted 3-1 to revisit setting a recall election date on May 27 or the first meeting after the schools open, whichever comes first. Member Carlo Bacci was the only dissenting vote. “Our job is to set an election,” Bacci said.
Economic Development Director Erin Schaeffer reported on her continued work during the shutdown. She also shared the Massachusetts Department of Transportation website mapping tool which will allow resident feedback regarding the trial “road diet” for Main Street during the repaving project. LeLacheur reminded the public that the diet is a state project and that opinions regarding it should be directed to the state. He also said that the $7,000,000 project is funded by the federal government, which required the experiment in order to qualify for the funds. Bacci clarified, “Understand that the town of Reading did not ask for this.” Leacheur concluded the discussion, reminding the board that the road diet is a trial, not a final decision.
Town Staff will be drawing up language to postpone all public hearings in the short term to allow for continued social distancing. The Select Board will review the language at a later date. The Select Board adjourned at 10:45 pm.