Reading, MA — On Tuesday, March 1, by a vote of 5-0, the Select Board closed the warrant for the Annual Town Meeting, slated to begin April 25. Included in the 19 Town Meeting warrant articles are article 11, which would establish a community garden revolving fund; article 15, which is a 20-page set of zoning bylaw amendments related to the 40R smart growth district; and article 19, which is the Fiscal Year 2023 budget. According to Town Manager Fidel Maltez, town meeting will be held in person at the Reading Memorial High School (RMHS) Performing Arts Center for the first time since the beginning of the pandemic. Member Mark Dockser asked whether a hybrid option for town meeting had been considered. Maltez responded that the state legislature does not allow a hybrid format this year; in-person or remote models are the only choices.
Dockser also raised questions regarding article 15, specifically related to the parking provisions of 1.25 spaces per unit in the revised regulations. Dockser suggested that he had received community input that the number of spaces was too small and asked if the Community Planning and Development Commission (CPDC) was prepared to explain their thinking. Maltez answered that town meeting members are free to make amendments to the article but that the entire document was the product of over a year’s work by the CPDC, which held several public hearings on the changes, and that certain portions are subject to state regulations which seek to prohibit local regulations that are considered “burdensome” to growth. Maltez also indicated that town staff would be ready to address any questions posed on the issue.
After considerable discussion, the board also voted 4-1 to extend termination pay to former town manager Robert LeLacheur in the amount equivalent to one month’s salary, subject to town meeting’s appropriation. Select Board chair Karen Herrick, the one dissenting vote, shared that consultant Community Paradigm indicated that this is not generally done for outgoing town managers. She continued by stating that the provision for termination pay was placed in the charter to allow the Select Board to “buy” an amicable parting of the ways when there was a rift between a town manager and the board. Dockser agreed with Herrick, “We are not a company. We are a town government dealing with taxpayer money,” Dockser argued. “[We have a] responsibility to the town and a responsibility to equity.” Dockser continued, indicating discomfort with one employee receiving the benefit when others do not.
Member Anne Landry noted that LeLacheur gave a six-month notice, and LeLacheur gave the town time to do a complete search and create a smooth transition between town managers.
Members Carlo Bacci and Christopher Haley cited LeLacheur’s years of service during crucial times as reasons for an even greater termination pay increase. Bacci noted, “I think [no severance would be] a disgrace.” The termination pay will appear as a line item in the Fiscal Year 2023 budget at Town Meeting.
The Select Board also voted 5-0 to approve a second driveway only 40 feet from the original driveway, at 34 Deborah Drive. This distance between the two will be much smaller than the 125 feet required in the Select Board policy. The second driveway will provide ADA compatibility for an accessory apartment at the home.
The board voted 5-0 to approve a change of officers at the Longhorn Restaurant and voted 5-0 to approve four temporary light towers for the field at Coolidge Middle School. The towers will allow youth soccer and lacrosse practices to be held at the site during the reconstruction of the turf field at RMHS. Recreation Administrator Genevieve Fiorente explained that the towers will be 30 feet high, well below the tree line, and will be turned off at 9:00 pm each night. The towers will only be located at Coolidge from April 15 – June 15 and will be for practices only. Haley, who indicated that he is an abutter in the Birch Meadow Area, stated, “Compared to the high school, this is very minimal.”
The Select Board adjourned to executive session at 9:25 pm.