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Dear fellow Reading voters,
September 1, 2020, will mark an unprecedented moment in our town’s history: a special election to recall a local elected official for the first time since our Town Charter was adopted more than thirty years ago.
As former elected officials in Reading, we urge you to reflect on two important ideas before voting in this election: proportionality and precedent.
The recall election is the nuclear option of local politics; it is enormously disruptive to the business of town governance. Like most towns in our Commonwealth, Reading places no limit on the grounds for a recall election. Because a recall petition can be issued for any reason, it requires voters to “self-police” the deployment of the recall mechanism to ensure that the grounds for recall are serious enough to justify the inevitable disruption of town government that results from this process.
If the recall succeeds, a replacement town official is installed in office with less than a full term to “learn the ropes.” If the recall is unsuccessful, we end up back where we started with the same group of elected officials. In either event, this process has two significant costs. First, we invest about $20,000 of taxpayer money to conduct a recall election, a financial expense we must balance against other possible uses of these funds in our community government. Second, there is the non-financial opportunity cost of conducting the recall process – the significant time and energy which could be spent on other initiatives that would improve our community.
To be sure, this high investment of time and treasure is entirely appropriate in some circumstances. Each of us, upon our election, made a solemn commitment to the voters of Reading. Before taking office, every local elected official must swear an oath to uphold the Constitution, Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the Bylaws of the Town of Reading.
Violation of this oath or the law by an elected official is a serious matter at the core of our representative government, requiring immediate and permanent remedy to maintain good governance in any town. Violations of this oath or the law – such as theft, hate speech, or use of elected office for personal gain – have no place in governance and are rightly and proportionately met with voter outrage and removal from office through recall.
A group of 10% of Reading voters from across the Town may trigger a recall election to remove an elected official before the next election for any reason. As far as we know, Reading has never recalled an elected official. This suggests that past Reading voters have determined against the use of a recall election to remove an elected official, opting instead to wait until the end of the elected term of each official to decide whether to return to office those seeking re-election. Regular elections provide our local democracy with important stability and predictability – both voters and elected officials know the exact duration of the elected term of any given official.
Local elected officials in Reading serve on a volunteer basis, taking significant time away from family and career to serve the community. A strong local government relies on the willingness of individuals to step up and serve. The political culture in our community impacts our ability to retain excellent public employees and our ability to attract strong business development. In order to continue to attract smart, qualified, selfless volunteers to serve in local government, we urge Reading voters to be thoughtful and intentional in the use of the recall mechanism.
For the first time in memory, Reading voters are now asked to decide whether the stated grounds for recall of an elected official are a good and sufficient basis for removing one particular official. We urge you to consider proportionality as described above in making your own determination. The outcome of this election could establish a new precedent for current and future elected officials – we ask you to also reflect on this before casting your vote.
Thank you for your consideration.
Reading Select Board 2015 – 2019
Reading School Committee 2016 – 2019
Reading School Committee 2013 – 2020
Reading School Committee 2004 – 2014
Reading Select Board 1986 – 1992
Reading School Committee 2015 – 2016
Gary Nihan, EdD
Reading School Committee 2014 – 2018
Sherri VandenAkker, PhD
Reading School Committee 2017 – 2019
Reading Select Board 2013 – 2015