LtE: What A LtE Got Wrong – And A Candidate Gets Right

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I was very troubled to see the recent LTE by Genady Pilyavsky, misstating some campaign positions of Select Board candidate Melissa Murphy, falsely accusing her of spreading misinformation, and wrongly insinuating she lacked knowledge of the roles of town boards.  

Up front, I wanted to address what is to me the most offensive statement in the entire LTE, where Mr. Pilyavsky implies that Ms. Murphy is denigrating the work of town committees and trivializing the efforts of volunteers in the town. There is nothing on Ms. Murphy’s campaign page and nothing that she has put out in connection with her campaign, that does or states anything denigrating or trivializing. Mr. PIlyavsky seemingly draws this conclusion because Ms. Murphy mentioned flaws in how a bylaw was publicized and communicated by one town committee on which Mr. Pilyavsky sits, the Reading Climate Action Committee (RCAC). Ms. Murphy was not alone in her concerns about how the polystyrene ban moved forward this past fall. The executive director of the Reading/North Reading Chamber of Commerce expressed the exact concerns about lack of reach out to businesses at the September 20, 2022 Select Board meeting, as did Select Board Members Carlo Bacci and Chris Haley. When this article came up at town meeting, Select Board member Carlo Bacci further expressed such concerns, along with several Town Meeting members which led to an amendment to delay the enforcement of the bylaw. Also, Mr. Pilyavsky fails to reveal that all of RCAC’s public hearings and nearly all of its outreach to impacted parties on the then-proposed polystyrene bylaw took place AFTER the Select Board voted on September 20, 2022, to close the town meeting warrant for November and to include the article on this bylaw in the warrant for Town Meeting vote. The Select Board made its decision with full knowledge that RCAC had not yet made the community (businesses and public) aware of this proposed polystyrene ban. Based on that, two Select Board members did not support adding the article to the warrant, and three did support it.

But wait, you might ask, the public and businesses can go look at the minutes of the RCAC and see what has been discussed there, right? Good luck with that. Surely Mr. Pilyavsky is aware that Reading’s town website archives shows that RCAC has zero (0) posted minutes for 2020, 2021, 2022, and 2023 (so far)? How is any member of the public supposed to have visibility into what RCAC has been doing? I would hope that a member of a committee that has failed to post minutes for three plus years might be more concerned with public perception about transparency of his committee’s work, instead of those of the legitimate comments of a 15-year town resident, running for office, who has raised concerns with one aspect of their work.

Even more importantly, questioning the way a committee does its work is not denigrating or trivializing that work. It is a legitimate concern, and I would hope that all our volunteers, elected and appointed, would feel free to speak out if they feel a committee’s communications methods could be improved, without fear of being publicly chastised and attacked by a member of that committee. As the final decision makers on what articles are proposed to Town Meeting and ultimately become the bylaws of our town, Select Board members should all take the time to understand the reason, process and actions that bring a proposed bylaw change to them from any town committee, along with what impact that change would have on residents or businesses.

But my concerns go beyond the seeming lack of transparency from RCAC. I am concerned that Mr. Pilyavsky is imposing his own misinterpretations of accurate statements on Ms. Murphy’s campaign website.  

Mr. PIlyavsky takes offense at Ms. Murphy’s entirely accurate statement, on her campaign website, that Reading “currently imposes bans on certain types of plastics,” where Mr. Pilyavsky appears to take issue with both the “currently imposes” part of that as well as the “some plastics”. He refers to this as an alleged “vagueness which may be misinterpreted by those not following town policy closely”. 

In my opinion, there is nothing to be misinterpreted when Ms. Murphy mentions “some plastics.” The actual language of the bylaw refers to bans on two different variants of polystyrene (“Blown polystyrene and expanded and extruded foams,” as well as “Clear or solid polystyrene which is also known as “oriented,” which is herein referenced in this bylaw as “Rigid Polystyrene”) that are banned for all businesses if those businesses use those plastics as part of food service and other ways delineated in the bylaw. These types of plastics are not banned when used in other specified ways. And some other plastics are not banned. All businesses in Reading are subject to the ban on some plastics — even churches and schools – if they are using the specific listed plastics in the ways listed in the bylaw. Thus, I fail to see the vagueness in Ms. Murphy’s saying on her campaign page ( ) that, “the town currently imposes bans on certain types of plastics on all businesses in Reading”. Her statement is accurate.

Mr. Pilyavsky is himself a bit vague and confusing when he states that the bylaw is “effective March 2024”. Yes, the town will not start enforcing the ban until March 2024, when it is considered “effective,” but Pilyavsky fails to clarify that the ban is actually now part of our bylaws as of March 1, 2023 (see at section 8.14.), which is what Ms. Murphy is apparently alluding to on her page. Businesses do not operate in a vacuum. They have to plan NOW for a year from now. They have to understand bylaws and other regulations that exist NOW, so that they don’t purchase supplies NOW that they will be unable to use in the near future. They have to decide NOW if they are going to locate or expand in a town that is adding a potentially costly barrier to doing business here, via the polystyrene ban. Businesses have to plan NOW how they will absorb the costs and other complications and consequences of this ban. And the ban is NOW part of our bylaws. In my opinion, Ms. Murphy’s statement is not “vague”; rather, it is accurate, and shows an insight into the realities of how businesses must operate.

Another problem in the LTE by Mr. Pilyavsky is his attack on Ms. Murphy’s character and knowledge when he (wrongly) alleges that Ms. Murphy does not understand the distinct roles and responsibilities between town meeting and the Select Board. Ms. Murphy is herself a town meeting member and participated in the Town Meeting vote on the article related to the polystyrene ban, so she has every right to speak up about the decisions of a public body of which she is a member. Ms. Murphy’s campaign positions effectively reflect her knowledge of the FULL scope of responsibilities of the Reading Select Board. As noted previously, the Select Board approves the warrant for town meeting, including debating on articles such as this, and often takes votes to recommend, not recommend, or take no action on articles. The Select Board is the final decision maker on what bylaws are proposed to Town Meeting. I would hope that all Select Board members would take the time to understand the reasoning , process and actions that bring a proposed bylaw change to them from any town committee, along with what impact that change would have on residents or businesses.

Also, Town Meeting is often guided by Select Board debates and votes, and town meeting members can look at Select Board meeting minutes (which, unlike those of RCAC, are posted) to see how their elected board members voted on warrant articles. For example, the minutes of the September 20, 2022 Select Board meeting show that the article relating to the polystyrene ban was voted 3-2 for “approval” by the Select Board, after considerable debate. 

Because the Select Board has a major role of setting town manager objectives, Select Board members have a lot of influence in directing the way initiatives are brought forth in the town, even if the Select Board itself is not the public body that has the final say. In addition, the Select Board is authorized to enter into contracts and collective bargaining agreements that may impact many aspects of how Reading town government works, how its departments operate, etc., which can have significant impact on residences and businesses in town. The Select Board votes on tax rates and water rates and approves liquor licenses, which have significant impact on all residents and businesses as well. So, for Ms. Murphy to state that she wants to support small businesses, there is much more involved than just rubber stamping town meeting articles where town meeting has the ultimate say. Nonetheless, the polystyrene ban is one small example where she appears to believe that both the Select Board and RCAC could have handled things in a different way. 

Disclaimer: I am a member of the Reading Finance Committee (FINCOM) and an eight-year town meeting member, but my comments are those of a 22 year resident of the town of Reading, as a private individual, not as a representative of FINCOM or any other public body.

Marianne McLaughlin-Downing
Precinct 4 Town Meeting Member

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