Selectmen Spar With Board of Health

The Board of Selectmen met with the Board of Health at their meeting on August 29. Town Counsel Ray Miyares was tasked with helping the selectmen ascertain why the Board of Health has called several executive sessions without Health Board Chair John Costigan recently, including one that mentioned potential criminal consequences. The Health Board has also refused to vote to appoint recently hired town Health Agent Laura Vlasuk as their Health Agent. The Agent needs to be designated so that she can act on behalf of the Board of Health in situations that are time sensitive.

Under questioning from Miyares, the issue of the executive sessions seemed to be cleared up. Miyares then moved on to the issue of the Health Agent. Board of Health members Elizabeth Shurland and Nancy Docktor expressed concern about Vlasuk, but would not discuss the matter further, concerned about exposing the contents of the executive sessions. Under continued discussion, it was revealed that Docktor and Shurland were concerned about the contents of a letter from recently resigned Public Health Nurse Donna Pierce. The letter, sent to the members of the Board of Health after Pierce left employment by the town, is considered public record according to Miyares and thus could be talked about in open meeting. Once this was determined, Docktor and Shurland pointed to a particular portion of the letter where Pierce alleged that an expense report that she had submitted to Vlasuk had been changed. The change was a mileage reimbursement that reflected a difference of less than $6.00. Docktor and Shurland expressed concern that if this record was changed, they lacked the confidence that health records might also be changed by Vlasuk. Selectmen Chair John Arena asked Assistant Town Manager Jean Delios, Vlasuk’s supervisor, about the change. Delios stated that Vlasuk had made a correction to the expense report, and that Pierce had signed off on the change. Arena expressed that managers make minor corrections to reports all the time and that if Pierce had accepted the change he could not understand the issue. Selectman John Halsey expressed a similar view. Docktor commented that this was the first time she had heard that the change was signed off on by Pierce. When asked by Selectmen Barry Berman whether or not the Board of Health could now vote to appoint Vlasuk, Docktor said she was reticent to do so stating, “Health records are different,” and “You need to talk with Donna Pierce.”

After an hour and a half on this issue, the Selectmen felt the need to move on. Town Manager Robert LeLachuer reminded the Selectmen that Reading has been sharing a Health Agent with North Reading in the interim, so there has been coverage, though he also shared that he was not sure how much longer the relationship would last. The Selectmen will meet on September 5 to determine their next step.

In other business, the selectmen reviewed the warrant for November’s Town Meeting. There are currently fourteen articles for Town Meeting’s consideration, though Article 13 has seventeen parts that may be separated into individual articles by the moderator, or by vote of Town Meeting itself. These all have to do with minor changes to the town Bylaw that would bring the language into alignment with Reading’s revised charter. The board then heard an update about Senior Tax Relief. The Town has received 143 applications to date with only a couple of weeks to go. This is lower than the expected 250 applications for relief.

The board reset the sunset date of the Human Relations Advisory Committee to December 1. The committee was due to sunset on August 31. They also voted 5-0 to waive the driveway restrictions for a new multi-family home being built at 90-92 Green Street.

The override information survey that the Board asked the community to complete has received 1,800-1,900 responses thus far. This response rate has already exceeded expectations. The selectmen encourage anyone who has not yet filled out one of the surveys to go to the town website and do so. The survey will be available through the end of the first week of September.

The Board adjourned at 10:55pm.


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