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Yes Reading residents, it’s 1984 and Big Brother is watching you. Your town government, by way of Select Board members Carlo Bacci and Chris Haley, is keeping tabs on what residents do on Facebook, and if they don’t like your profile or they think your posts are too “political” they will work to keep you from serving on a board, committee, or commission, as Bacci and Haley did to one resident volunteer applicant at the June 29, 2021, Select Board meeting.
While many residents were appointed to volunteer positions at last evening’s Select Board meeting without controversy, one resident’s application garnered heated debate. There was a single applicant for the three vacancies on the Climate Advisory Committee; the applicant holds a PhD in Astrophysics, an MS in Electrical Engineering and a BS in Physics. Select Board member Bacci, who serves on the Volunteer Appointment Selection Committee (VASC) voted to not recommend the applicant because Bacci did not like the applicant’s use of a pseudonym for his Facebook profile, and found some his Facebook postings “too political.” Bacci also questioned the applicant’s motives for applying to be on the Climate Advisory Committee, expressing concern that the applicant may have a “hidden agenda.” Select Board member Haley voiced similar concerns.
Select Board Chair Karen Herrick noted that when she served on VASC, she asked the same questions of all applicants, which pertained to their experience, and desire and ability to serve on the board or committee. She noted that the Town might be opening itself up to liability if it is looking into applicants’ social media accounts to determine their ability to serve on a committee. Select Board member Anne Landry steered the discussion back to the applicant’s qualifications, as a scientist, to serve on the Climate Advisory Committee. Select Board member Mark Dockser, who also serves on VASC, looked into the applicant’s social media postings after the postings were brought up by Bacci, and stated that he found nothing unusual about them. The candidate was appointed to the Climate Advisory Committee with a 3-2 vote, with Select Board members Bacci and Haley voting against appointing the scientist to the Climate Advisory Committee, which had 3 vacancies, and this one applicant. Perhaps someone should look into why Bacci and Haley want to keep a qualified applicant, whose unrelated social media posts they dislike, off the Climate Advisory Committee. Perhaps someone should determine if they have a “hidden agenda.”
The Town is always looking for residents to step up and to volunteer to serve on boards, committees, and commissions. But potential volunteers, be advised – If you apply to serve on the Trails Committee because you love the outdoors, and want to volunteer, Select Board members Bacci and Haley may do a deep dive into your personal social media to check on your political affiliations before determining your fitness to serve on the Trails Committee. And if they don’t like what they see, perhaps they will do to you what they did to the applicant last night. We all should be extremely concerned about this type of surveillance by government officials into the private life of a citizen in order for that citizen to volunteer on a town committee. Yes, Reading, your town government is watching you. And that is a very scary thing.
Angela F. Binda
10 Orchard Park Drive
Town Meeting member, precinct 5