Reading, MA — After extended discussion and by a vote of 5–0, the Select Board chose the seven members of the Ad-Hoc Town Manager Screening Committee on Tuesday. The committee includes Moderator Alan Foulds, Select Board chair Karen Herrick, Select Board vice-chair Anne Landry, Fire Chief Greg Burns, Library Director Amy Lannon, and two residents-at-large, Christopher Fuedo and Emily Sission. Fuedo and Sission were selected from a field of over thirty candidates who applied for the roles.
Select Board member Christopher Haley challenged the notion that appointing the chair and vice-chair to the screening committee was following precedent. He referenced minutes from 2012, which had been provided to the board by Town Counsel Ivria Fried. Those minutes showed that the Board of Selectmen at the time appointed the vice-chair and another member to the last Town Manager screening committee. Haley then challenged Chair Karen Herrick for her previous statement that appointing the chair and vice-chair was previously done.
“You cited a precedent that does not exist.” Haley challenged.
Haley complained that Herrick’s error had opened Select Board member Carlo Bacci and himself to undue criticism in the community. After some heated exchange, Herrick apologized for the error then fired back as Haley continued to press the issue, “Are you here to help the town select a new town manager, or are you here to rake another Select Board member over the coals?” Herrick questioned.
Haley stated that he voted in favor of the final proposed committee in order to show board unity, even though he disagreed with the choice of the chair and vice-chair as the Select Board representatives on the committee. The board also voted 5-0 to accept the charge to the screening committee.
The Select Board voted 3-2 to recommend that Town Meeting exercise its right of first refusal to purchase five lots, totaling 2.5 acres, on Grove Street for $2.25 million. The Meadowbrook Golf Club currently owns the land. Haley and Bacci were the dissenting votes. The board also voted 4-1, with Haley as the dissenting vote, to present both the option of exercising the right and an option to purchase just one lot from the other potential purchaser of the property, Bancroft Estates, for $450,000. This would allow the town to develop parking for the Town Forest at the site. This plan could require an easement from Meadowbrook.
“I would like Reading to weigh in on the use of the property.” Herrick declared. Select Board member Mark Dockser agreed, “This is a chance for Town Meeting to really buy in and see where they want to go.”
Several residents spoke in favor of acquiring all five lots to use open space and connection to the town forest. Dockser noted that most of the emails to the board from residents stated the same, though Bacci pointed out that many emails also stated that, at a minimum, the one lot should be acquired. Town Forest committee member Jeff Lamson affirmed his position that all five lots should be purchased, “This is a no-brainer.” Lamson suggested.
Haley expressed concern over the cost of the lots at $2.25 million and the lost potential tax revenue from the houses that would be built on the lots. Haley favors accepting the offer to buy the one lot, “Safety and security [along Grove Street] for the $450,000 parking lot makes sense.” Haley shared. Dockser, Landry, and Herrick expressed the opinion that the right of first refusal should be exercised. “People do care about open space in this town.” Herrick opined.
The matter is on the warrant for the Special Town Meeting starting on October 18.
Electric Vehicle Charging Stations
Reading Municipal Light Department (RMLD) General Manager Colleen O’Brien presented plans for electric vehicle chargers to be placed in three locations in town, the depot parking lot on Lincoln Street, the Main & Haven Street parking area, and at the Library. RMLD has secured grants for the purchase and installation of the chargers and would be responsible for unit maintenance. As all three locations are on town-owned land, a license from the town will be needed for RMLD to move forward. Herrick will represent the board in negotiating a license for land use with RMLD.
Open Meeting Law Complaints
On the recommendation of the town council, the board voted 3-2 to offer mediation with resident Walter Tuvell regarding eight Open Meeting Law complaints in executive session. Town Counsel Ivria Fried shared that she was unaware of any mediations that had occurred in open session. Fried’s conversations with the Attorney General indicated that it is common for these mediations to occur in executive session. “If you want mediation in executive session, you are within your legal rights to do so.” Fried shared. Haley and Bacci voted against the motion, expressing the option that the mediation should occur in an open session, with Haley suggesting that the use of executive session is what generated the complaints in the first place.
State Legislative Delegation Visit
The board opened their meeting with a visit from Senator Jason Lewis and Representatives Richard Haggerty and Bradley Jones. The delegation members shared how they are working together to help provide resources for towns such as Reading, including the $7.6 million of American Recovery Rescue Plan funds recently allocated to the town. Both Jones and Lewis suggested more funding could become available through the state’s Fiscal Year 2021 surplus. Lewis also heralded the fully funded Student Opportunity Act legislation. All three members of the delegation expressed continued support for legislation that would aid towns with municipal electrical utilities to join the Green Communities effort.
The board voted 5-0 to accept the voting precinct redistricting plan resulting from the 2020 census. Town Clerk Laura Gemme reported to the board that the census indicated that Reading has a population of 25,518 people.
The Board also discussed plans for an Ad-Hoc Senior/Community center exploratory committee.
The Select Board adjourned at 12:35 am.