Select Board Seeks to Fill School Committee Vacancy

The Select Board decided at their meeting on January 22 to seek an appointee to fill the vacancy on the School Committee created by the resignation of Sherri VandenAkker. Town Counsel Rey Miyares informed the board that his reading of the word “shall” in the statute indicated that this was an appropriate action, though he also commented that the statute contains no penalties for not doing so. School Committee chair Elaine Webb, who attended the meeting, stated that the School Committee voted only to inform the Select Board of the vacancy, despite several members stating that they thought filling the position would be unnecessary. The process for filling the position, which requires a joint vote of the Select Board and School Committee, would likely not be completed until mid-February at the earliest. Because of the late date of the resignation, any appointee would only be a member for the March 21 meeting of the School Committee before the April 2 election elected a permanent member to fill the term. Select Board members Vanessa Alvarado and John Halsey argued that the statute should be followed despite this concern. “A law is a law, regardless of the lack of consequences,” Alvarado stated. Town Manager Robert LeLacheur confirmed that he would suggest several possible dates for the two boards to meet jointly.

During their reports, both Alvarado and board member Barry Berman asked for an agenda item to determine how the town goes about inspecting ongoing building projects. This was in response to the Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) meeting wherein the Lincoln/Prescott project’s changes were considered “insubstantial” by the ZBA. While both members said they should not discuss the decision itself, they did feel it was important to determine how the situation got to that point, especially considering all the projects that are in process around town. The board will take up the issue at its next meeting.

During board reports Halsey also mentioned that the Boston Food Bank is available to any Reading resident who may be facing hardship as a result of the government shutdown.

Emmett Schmarsow of the Massachusetts Department of Elder Affairs made a presentation regarding concerns for the future of elder care in the state. With an increase in the elder population in the coming years, coupled with a decrease in the population of people in the 35-49 age group, there is real concern regarding the question, “Who is going to care for the baby-boomer seniors?” Most senior centers in the state are of an inadequate size to handle the types of the programs they will need in the coming years. He also suggested that communities are not building joint senior/community centers as the needs of the senior and youth populations are so disparate. He also suggested that one parking space will be needed for every 100 square feet of program space.

Town Accountant Sharon Angstrom shared her quarterly report with the board. The final fiscal year 2018 statements are done and the audit is complete. The audit report has not been completed but should be available soon. Her office is fully staffed and is running well. Fiscal Year 2019 revenues are at 49.35% as of December 31, about where they should be. Angstrom expressed no concern to date regarding expenditures either. Angstrom explained that there will be a Town Meeting warrant article to create an enterprise fund for PEG access funds to flow into and out of. This is to align with similar practices around the state.

LeLacheur suggested that April Town Meeting will last “A good, solid two nights.” He highlighted a potential article about establishing an easement over town-owned land for a parcel of land owned by the Zanni family off of Range Road. A road exists in the location, allowing access to the adjacent rifle club, but easement was never granted. Concern was expressed that an easement could allow the sale of the property for development as a 40B, though Halsey argued that it could also become a commercial site, or that the town might be interested in it as passive or active recreation land. The warrant must be closed by the Select Board one month prior to April town meeting.

Rey Miyares also presented his findings regarding the usage of Memorial Park. His research came as a result of an instructional motion at Town Meeting to investigate the proper usage of the park. Miyares confirmed that all relevant documents regarding the gift of the property to the town over 100 years ago stipulate a restriction of the park’s use “as a playground for football, baseball, soccer” and other such games “or requires a space to be fenced in” as to “not interfere” with the neighbors enjoyment of the park. Miyares continued that the gift constitutes a public trust that the town is legally obligated to honor. These terms could be enforceable by the Attorney General. He also pointed out that Attorneys General over the years have shown no interest whatsoever in enforcement. Halsey pointed out that the provisions did not last long due to the fact that there are historic pictures of baseball being played in the park in the 1920s.

There was a park review committee in 2004 which sought a compromise allowing practices, but not games at the park. There was an attempt to change the conditions of the gift in court in 2007, but it failed due to the inability of the town to confirm that it was “impossible to comply” with the terms of the gift. Alvarado will prepare a report for Town Meeting on the matter.

The Select Board also voted 4-0 to grant a Class 1 license for the sale of new cars at 88-98 Walker’s Brook Road to AMR Auto Holdings. This company does business as Prime Honda. This is a result of the new ownership and management of the dealership.

The Select Board adjourned at 10:55 pm.-

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