Meet the Candidates: RMLD Board of Commissioners

Reading, MA — Three of the four candidates for the two three-year seats on the Reading Municipal Light Department (RMLD) Board of Commissioners met at the Reading Public Library on March 30 to meet the voters and answer questions regarding their views on the issues. Candidate Sal Bramante was unable to attend, but event host Sherri VandenAkker read an introductory statement on his behalf.

Bramante’s statement shared that he has been a Reading resident for thirty-three years and is an operations professional for a large company. Bramante cited his experience in hiring and mentoring thousands of employees and is committed to looking within the RMLD as well as within the greater community for a replacement for retiring RMLD General Manager Colleen O’Brien. Bramante stated that the new general manager must be a person of “exceptional capabilities, proven leadership, and ethical standards.” Bramante confirmed that he will be an advocate for negotiation with power suppliers for the best rates and that he will also advocate for more efficient equipment in the homes of customers to help reduce costs.

Pam Daskalakis has lived in Reading since 2013 and has served in the Women’s League of Reading as a coach and as a member of Town Meeting. She is a supply chain and cost management professional who would seek to bring these skills to the Board of Commissioners. Citing that the RMLD is less than halfway to meeting its 2022 state-mandated climate change legislation clean energy goals, Daskalakis stated, “We need to make choices now as to where we resource our energy.” Daskalakis wants RMLD to “lead the way” in the sustainable energy transition. She continued with her commitment to reducing operating costs, negotiating competitive agreements for supply, and making the best use of budget dollars. Daskalakis is looking to hire a “top talent” as a new general manager and expects to set ambitious goals for that manager. Daskalakis concluded, stating a desire to collaborate with other local boards and committees over energy use. “Now is the time for a new face on the Municipal Light Board,” Daskalakis opined.

Incumbent David Talbot has lived in Reading for twenty-four years, has been on Town Meeting for ten years, and has been on the Board of Commissioners for nine years. He cited his experience on the board, stating, “The most important thing you can do to cut costs is to ‘shred the peak’ during top usage times.” Talbot pointed out his attention to detail, saving RMLD hundreds of thousands of dollars in phone charges and seeking changes in the annual report to accurately reflect RMLD’s use of wind and solar energy sources. Talbot highlighted his opposition to the contract to use energy from a wood-burning plant in Springfield as a significant accomplishment of his time on the board. He also cited that the replacement power from that effort has saved several million dollars. Talbot recognizes the importance of hiring the right person as the next general manager and wants to set goals for that manager of cost-cutting and meeting or exceeding state energy source mandates. “Let’s take [our children’s] future to heart,” Talbot concluded.

Incumbent Philip Pacino has served on the Board of Commissioners for thirty-five years. He cites his “vast array” of experience on all matters of board work and is “dedicated to meeting and solving the challenges facing the department.” Pacino wants to move forward with plans, with other town boards, regarding the use of the Ash Street property and stated that he is referred to as “the voice of reason” on the board. He also affirmed his desire to help RMLD meet its state goals in a “reasonable” fashion, always mindful of costs. Pacino cited his major accomplishment as creating and renewing the “Twenty-Year Agreement’ between the RMLD service towns, which has kept rates low and helped provide above and below the line payments to Reading. Pacino has been an advocate for electric vehicle charging stations both downtown and at the depot; he was instrumental in RMLD’s move from Haven Street to Ash Street and acquiring the North Reading substation site. In the past, he has served on the Finance Committee, the Bylaw Committee, Charter Commission and is a long-time member of Town Meeting. “To put it simply,” Pacino concluded, “Experience counts.”

All three candidates in attendance weighed in on RMLD’s relationship with Energy New England. Pacino commented that he “visualizes it as a good group” to belong to going forward, and it has proved to be valuable. Talbot agreed though he noted that the organization needs better visibility and oversight of its decision-making processes. It was the origin of the Springfield plant contract he previously had spoken about. Daskalakis responded that, while it is essential to leverage knowledge from various organizations, “We serve the ratepayer first.”

All three candidates in attendance also responded to a question about what they felt was most important, cleaner energy options or keeping rates low. Pacino responded by stating that he believes that climate change is real and that more renewable energy is needed and that he would advocate for a sustainability director within the current budget. Daskalakis pointed out that renewable “opt-in” choices will not allow RMLD to reach the 50% renewable source goal by 2030 or the 100% goal by 2050. She continued that new efficiencies need to be found to keep rates low, including creative efforts to aid those whose financial status cannot afford increases in rates. Talbot stated, “I accept the moral challenge [of climate change]. We need to clean up our power supply; it’s a moral imperative.”

The “Meet the Candidates” forum concluded at 8:00 pm. Voters will be able to cast their votes for candidates for all town-wide offices and all 192 seats of Town Meeting at the Tuesday, April 5, local election at the Hawkes Field House at Reading Memorial High School.
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