Select Board Considers Packet Changes

Reading, MA — The Select Board discussed possible changes to be made to the contents of its meeting packets on Tuesday, July 20. This has come about due to concerns regarding the amount and types of emails published in the packet. According to Select Board chair Karen Herrick’s research, emails began appearing in the packet as an attempt to streamline public access to correspondence with the board. Prior to emails being published in the packet, members of the public who wished to view letters sent to the board would have to come to town hall and view a correspondence binder. Herrick continued to explain that “there is no such thing as required Select Board packet content” beyond the board’s policies. “There is no requirement for all emails to be proactively published in the Select Board packet,” Herrick continued.

Herrick also reported that Town Counsel had advised her that Reading’s packet policies are “out of step” with other communities.

Over the years, the amount of “spam” emails sent to the board has increased dramatically. In Herrick’s view, the compilation and reporting of emails have become “a costly hindrance to effective government.” This was in reference to the amount of staff time needed to compile emails for publication and recent events in which emails have been sent to the board in the name of residents who did not write them.

In addition, it was noted by Select Board member Anne Landry that emails published in the packet have “become a vehicle for personal attacks . . . all kinds of shenanigans” and have taken the place of letters to the editor in local media. Member Carlo Bacci agreed, stating that some members of the public have taken to “weaponizing” the packet. Landry concurred, “[The Select Board] is not the intended audience [for some of the emails].”  Bacci did, however,  express concern that the lack of publication of emails in the packet would lead to a surge in public records requests that would have to be filled by town staff.

Select Board member Chris Haley suggested a compromise approach where a list of emails received could be published in the packet, but the text of the emails would not be. Herrick urged the board to consider simplicity in its approach. “Simpler gives us flexibility to respond to changing times,” Herrick observed. The matter will continue to be discussed at a future meeting.

Town Engineer Ryan Percival provided an update on the Auburn Street water tower project, noting that there has been a delay in waiting for a Department of Environmental Protection report. He also reported that delays, inflation, the cost of steel, and the project’s expanded scope have likely increased the project’s cost to an estimated $5.9 million. Town Manager Robert LeLacheur suggested that a special Town Meeting may need to be called for late September to authorize the additional spending.

The Select Board voted 5-0 to approve a new cable television contract with Verizon. Director of Administrative Services Matt Kraunelis reported that the new contract is for a term of five years and includes measures such as one high definition channel for RCTV, a $146,250 PEG grant, and a franchise fee of 5%. “It’s a good contract for the town,” Philip Rushworth, Executive Director of RCTV, affirmed.

The board also voted 5-0 to add a new Director of Equity and Social Justice to the non-Union Classification plan as a “Grade I” employee, similar to the Coalition for Prevention and Support Director. LeLacheur emphasized in his report that he hopes the community will give the new director, when hired, “the opportunity to do their job” as it did when the Coalition director came to Reading.

LeLacheur spent time giving the board a final report on his goals for Fiscal Year 2021, then led a discussion on what his goals should be in FY 2022. Some of these new goals could include website redesign, planning for economic development outside of downtown, and downtown zoning issues. The board will submit their comments to LeLacheur and hopes to finalize the goals by early fall.

During public comment, two residents, John Halsey and Bill Brown questioned the board regarding its vote to go to executive session at the last meeting despite no quorum being present. As this issue was not on the agenda, no comment was made by any board members.

The Select Board adjourned at 11:05 pm.

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