Select Board Addresses Open Meeting Complaint

The Select Board, after a forty minute executive session on July 31, addressed the open meeting law complaint brought against the board by member John Halsey. Halsey, who was not present for the July 31 meeting on advice from counsel, alleged that the board violated the open meeting law after its June 19 executive session. According to the complaint, after the June 19 session was adjourned and town staff had left the room, member Vanessa Alvarado insisted on reading a statement to the board regarding her concerns about conduct during a previous executive session. Halsey’s complaint stemmed from the fact that the reading of the statement occurred outside of convened session and was not part of the published reason for the executive session. Halsey filed his complaint on July 9.

After then acting-chair Barry Berman read an unofficial account of what happened, Alvarado read the statement she made on June 19. Town Counsel, Rey Miyares offered the opinion that since the contents of Alvarado’s statement were in regard to interpersonal relations and not items within the Select Board’s jurisdiction, that there was no technical violation of the open meeting law. Miyares cautioned the board that had any other member offered a policy or plan for the future, a violation would have occurred. “It is a real danger zone,” Miyares counseled. Berman referred to the situation as “a violation of the public trust” as he apologized for his role in the circumstances. Alvarado added,”My intention was to spare members of the board any embarrassment,” and that “going forward I will address my concerns in a public manner.” The members of the board voted 4-0 to reply to Halsey with a letter that states their opinion that no violation occurred, but that the board pledges to be more transparent in the future. Select Board Chair Andrew Freidmann apologized to the public on behalf of the board and that “executive sessions will stick to the topic” from this point forward.

The Select Board approved by a vote of 4-0 the election warrant for the September 4 State Primary election. They heard a report from John Oliver and Ryan McKee from the Beat Heart Foundation regarding the second annual Jams for Jake concert on August 4. Members of the Local 12012 Steelworkers Union who are currently locked out by National Grid made a request for the Select Board make a moratorium on permits for new or replacement gas projects in town until the lockout is over. The concern is about lack of safety oversight over the projects. A moratorium would have no effect on emergency repairs. The board will take up the issue at its August 21 meeting.

Jane Burns, Elder and Human Services Administrator, presented facts to the board about the realities of dementia and plans by the Council on Aging to create Reading as a Dementia Friendly Community. These plans include an action committee made up of leaders from businesses, town government, and other local organizations to coordinate efforts as well as training for local organizations on recognizing and helping those who may be suffering from the various forms of dementia.

Virginia Blodgett and Bill Brown from the Board of Cemetery Trustees reported to the board about new regulations in the town’s cemeteries. These include the use of shatter-proof vases, confining the areas where baskets of flowers can be placed, and removal of shepherd’s crooks as plant hangers. These rules are for employee and visitor safety. Blodgett also reminded the board that many of the rules that have been recently published, such as one prohibiting plantings, are not new, but have been true for years.

The Select Board voted 4-0 to renew the Metro-North Regional Housing Service Inter-municipal agreement with North Reading, Wilmington, and Saugus for two years. The board reviewed plans for the Town Manager’s evaluation which will be completed at the September 11 Select Board meeting. The board also previewed the Town Manager’s Fiscal Year 2019 goals and had a discussion regarding their own goals for the coming year.

The Select Board adjourned at 10:40pm.

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