Town Manager Remarks Made at RED

Statement from Reading Town Manager Robert LeLacheur, Jr. 

Remarks made at RED forum Tuesday, Oct. 3

“We are One Reading.”

Note: The following statement was read by Robert LeLacheur during the Reading Embraces Diversity (RED) event Tuesday night, Oct. 3. 

The positions of School Superintendent, Police Chief and Town Manager require some vastly different skills and are typically enhanced with quite different life experiences. However each has a significant responsibility towards the physical and emotional well-being of members of our community.

In our peer communities you may well find individuals who take a different approach to these three positions, but Reading residents should be assured of two things:

  • First, we three care deeply and work hard to accomplish our responsibilities, and we do that as diligently as any other group of three peer community leaders;
  • Second, we work together better than any other group of leaders – and we each know this fact from constant feedback from our peers in other communities. We are One Reading.

We welcome differences of opinion in our community. We each treasure and protect Free Speech. However all three of us equally do not condone nor welcome extremists that seek to spread discord and inspire violence. We abhor those that would divide us whether through acts of symbolism such as graffiti or acts of physical violence.

In Reading, during the past few months, we have seen specific hurtful and hateful symbols and words aimed at the Jewish religion, at African Americans, and at sexual identity or orientation. To be clear, these symbols and words, plus all they stand for, are not the least bit welcome in our community. They are not OK.

These acts have begun to divide the community between those that see the graffiti as a form of harmless attention-seeking pranks, typically done by kids, to those that see terror through these words and symbols of hate.

Last March, as part of the annual budget process, I stepped clearly outside the bounds of my position as defined by the Charter when I wrote these words to our Town Meeting:

“However to set aside the near-term financial challenges for a moment, there is an issue of deep concern to me and some of my peer Mayors and Managers: the fragile and decaying civility in public discourse certainly influenced by national politics. We see divides in our communities forming – if one looks carefully they are actually not easy to label or describe, let alone find a way to bridge. Some of that came out in Reading during our Community Listening and Senior Tax Relief Sessions last summer, when different groups of residents selfishly opposed each other, and this behavior has continued in different local forums since. Some residents seem bent on winning a debate as if it is a contest, instead of sitting down as a community to find common ground and solutions.”

Unfortunately we still seem to be on that downward path, as a community and broadly as a society.

Last Thursday, I had the opportunity to attend a meeting in Devens sponsored by the Massachusetts Municipal Management Association. Foxboro Police Chief William Baker spoke to about twenty town managers about “Race, Justice and Use of Force in 2017.” We were the first non-law enforcement group in the country to see some chilling footage of interviews of cop-killers in prison, who spoke about hunting down police officers proactively. They did so simply because the officer might take away their freedom. Chief Baker also showed clips of African Americans being, in his own words, assassinated by U.S. law enforcement officers in other parts of the country. He spoke of his experience in 40 different countries, and brought a wealth of different perspectives to the difficult issues at hand.

One simple message I took away from that experience was the idea of 99%. It was remarkable to hear convicted murderers, families of victims of horrific acts of pure hatred, police officers and bystanders each say that 99% of all people, without regard to race, religion, sexual preference, or country of origin, are good.

But all worried – to varying degrees – about the 1% that were not good. Some then extrapolated that worry into fear and often into split-second violence.

Last Thursday night, the Reading Coalition Against Substance Abuse held their annual meeting, and featured speakers including Middlesex District Attorney Marion Ryan and Dr. Ruth Potee.

D.A. Ryan explored the wonderful job that my two colleagues do in successful strategies to discourage our youth from falling into a life of substance abuse, all while giving them a clear diversion path with second chances but firm responsibilities. In this regard Reading is held out as a model community in Massachusetts. There is no doubt in my mind that RCASA working collaboratively with the Schools and Police has saved lives. The only doubt might be how many lives – and you should all be very proud of that.

Dr. Potee is nationally recognized as an expert in Family and Addiction medicine. She spoke forcefully yet humorously about how addiction is the only brain disease that is 100% preventable. She gave alarming scientific evidence about how decisions made between ages 12-18 – a time of great peer pressure and vulnerability – will irreversibly change one’s future.

The juxtaposition of my two Thursday meetings made it abundantly clear that the phrase ‘harmless attention-seeking prank’ does not fit the recent graffiti incidents in Reading. They say that the longest journey begins with but a single step – and when it comes to acts of intolerance and hate, we must all do whatever we can to prevent that first step from ever happening with our young people.

All across the world we see acts of division. Horrific acts of terrorism are now almost a weekly event – evidence the weekend stabbings in Marseille, France. Acts of global civil war have begun – on Sunday Spanish national riot police were ordered in to Catalonia because local police would not enforce anti-referendum directives. Motives for the heart-breaking Las Vegas shooting remain unclear.

From my position as Town Manager I will continue to work diligently and collaboratively with Dr. Doherty and Chief Segalla. Together we cannot influence national or international events. However we can – and we must – work with the help of the entire community to ensure that all of our students, residents, businesses and visitors – each and every one of them – has the safest town we can provide in an increasingly complex world.

In retrospect, perhaps the three of us were slow to react to that early May discovery of the first graffiti incident. But I can assure each of you that since we learned of the second incident, at the scene of a pipe-bomb scare over near Joshua Eaton School one night, we recognized the seriousness of the situation. Since then the three of us have been all-in, and working together.

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