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During the March 1, 2022, Reading Select Board meeting to approve a second driveway Special Permit for a proposed in-law addition, four seconds is all it took to exclude a longtime Reading family and neighbors, waiting on Zoom, from speaking. The family owned their home on 30 Deborah Drive, a single-family residential street, for nearly 50 years and was well aware of drainage issues within the wetlands aquifer district, but was muzzled at the meeting, their concerns dismissed.
The family was portrayed as uncaring and insensitive to the needs of the disabled and handicapped for emphasizing in an email the Reading Zoning Bylaw 220.127.116.11.G (…only one access driveway shall be permitted on a lot containing an Accessory Apartment unless the Board of Selectmen has authorized an additional access driveway….the location and appearance of such driveway shall not adversely affect adjoining properties or the single-family character of the neighborhood…) This abutter family was not given the opportunity to provide the Board with their unique background, training, and experience in special needs and aging in place. The Petitioner at 34 Deborah was invited later in the meeting to join the discussion during which he, in person at Town Hall, insisted that a second driveway was needed to make the proposed addition handicapped accessible. No such invitation was extended to the abutter family, though they clearly were present on the Zoom call.
A link to the RCTV 3/1/22 meeting video showing the four-second Public Comment period and discussion may be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6EozuPUhEdM
16:51 – 16:58 Select Board Chair Karen Herrick – “Moving onto Public Comment: Do we have any folks on Zoom or in the room who would like to speak for up to two minutes on any topic?”
16:59 – 17:03 (Silence for four seconds)
17:04 – Chair Herrick – “OK, none appearing, moving onto our Consent Agenda…”
At the Zoom Select Board meeting, without an audience camera also logged in, Zoom participants had no way to know who may be physically in the Town Hall Meeting Room also waiting to participate in Public Comment. Who would be called on first and how would that be accomplished? The process was not clear and potential participants, abutters, and neighbors present on Zoom were stunned when just four seconds passed and the Chair moved on with the agenda.
17:34 – The committee discussion “Approval of Deborah Drive Special Permit” commenced as a Consent Agenda item.
Those four seconds not only deprived the viewing public and the Select Board the opportunity to gain an important perspective from the abutter family regarding construction for those with special needs but also may result in an inferior project for the Petitioner. One daughter waiting to speak is a college professor who teaches Special Needs at the graduate/undergraduate levels. She cared for her wheelchair-bound mother right next door to the Petitioner, using an existing driveway to enter the split-level family home through the garage, a particularly important option during inclement weather. The family’s matriarch, who recently passed away, was a nationally recognized figure for developing diverse programs in nursing and human services; she has featured in the Spring 2022 The Readings magazine in the article “Mary’s Mission” which emphasized her lifelong efforts to educate, empower and connect within communities. Mary had a big heart and her students from varied ethnic backgrounds thrived.
The Reading Select Board should re-examine how participants and interested parties are treated in public meetings, particularly the issues in conducting meetings on Zoom and in hybrid meetings. They also need to revisit the public’s right to see and hear the work of committees (in keeping with the Open Meeting law) including the timely release of minutes, even in Draft form, control of public access to information, and the attending possibility of manipulated outcomes.
Some abuse of process has occurred during the pandemic and that needs to stop. All it took to trample rights at the March 1, 2022, Reading Select Board meeting was four seconds. Reading can do better.
Covey Hill Road