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At the Select Board meeting on February 19th, I pledged my commitment to rebuilding and restoring the public trust as we move forward as a community following the painful Board meeting on February 11th. I remain committed to that work. I have found myself increasingly troubled and dismayed in the past week as it seems that that work, and our ability to move forward as a community, are impeded by vitriol and accusations hurled by neighbor against neighbor.
All of us on the Select Board no doubt could have done more to ensure a smoother Police Chief selection and confirmation process. In hindsight, I wish I had requested more frequent public updates on the selection process from the Town Manager or from our two Board members who served on the selection committee. Although I proposed public listening sessions in August, I now wish I had followed up publicly on that proposal in the interim. The Chair sets aside an agenda item on every Select Board agenda to allow her fellow Board members to suggest topics for future agendas. Not one of us utilized this option either to advance or to question the selection process.
I say the following not to make any excuse but to allow for some context, background, and (I hope) compassion and understanding: it is true that we are all volunteer elected officials, doing this unpaid work amidst all the other obligations in our lives. I believe most, if not all, of my fellow Board members and I have had some major family or medical event since I began my service on the Board last April, and I begrudge no one time they may have needed to take to take care of themselves or their family. I, for one, gave birth and have had to recover. While I took parental leave from my day job, I took no leave from the work of the Board, which was my intention even when I ran, so again, I say this not to provide an excuse, nor to elicit your sympathy. I say it by way of background and as a reminder that we are all human. And we are each other’s neighbors.
Our agendas during my time on the Board have been quite full, with most meetings lasting four hours or more. The work of the Town never ceases.
Currently, like my fellow Board members, I serve as the liaison, subcommittee member, or ad hoc committee co-chair to 14 separate boards, committees, commissions, and projects. At our retreat on the 8th, we discussed this structure of liaison assignments as being too unwieldy and burdensome; it does not allow us to engage in focused work. We could each easily be at meetings four nights a week and still not cover all of the meetings of the boards to which we are assigned. At our next meeting in March, we are scheduled to discuss and rework our structure of liaison assignments. This, together with setting and assigning Board goals at our retreat in March, will allow the Board to engage in more focused and accountable work to the benefit of Board members and residents alike. This kind of focus and accountability would have improved the police chief search selection process from a Board perspective, and I think it will improve future Board processes going forward.
At that retreat, we will also have the opportunity to adopt the following protocol, and I will encourage us to do so:
“The Select Board will lead by example to build trust. We agree to avoid words or actions that create a negative impression of an individual, the Select Board, or the Town. While we encourage debate and different points of view, we will speak with care and respect.”
I love Reading. In the past year, we have celebrated the Town’s 375th anniversary and the Reading Community Singers’ 100th anniversary concert. We have engaged in community conversations at the Reading Public Library to understand the “Pulse of Reading.” We have come together around Limpy the Town Turkey, and we look forward to making Porchfest an annual tradition. On a personal level, one of my children has started in the Reading Public Schools and the other was baptized at Old South. My amazing neighbors have organized neighborhood parties and have opened their homes and hearts to their neighbors, with no barrier to entry.
In the past week, I have also seen Reading residents rally to support our neighbors in the wake of the fire on High Street. When one resident shared on the Reading Parents Network Facebook page that a mom of an adolescent boy with autism was looking for people to celebrate his birthday with him, it appeared from the comments section that the entire town stood ready to do so. The ties that bind us are greater and stronger than the seeds of division some seek to plant.
There is a lot of work ahead of us to continue to build this wonderful community in which we are fortunate to live. Let’s put down our weapons of division and pick up our tools to build our collective future.