Letter: Unjustified Political Recalls

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To my fellow Reading residents,

I have never written a letter to the editor before, and I don’t usually insert myself so directly into town politics. But in this case, I am so disheartened and concerned by the public vitriol of some community members directed towards Reading Board of Selectmen Chair, Vanessa Alvarado, that I felt compelled to publicly support her. Their petition for her recall will culminate on September 1, 2020, when Reading votes for or against her removal from office.

If the vote is successful, Ms. Alvarado will be removed because of disagreements with her management of the recent police chief selection and confirmation process. A recall election should be reserved as our town’s nuclear option for crimes and serious ethical violations that are plainly obvious. It should not be used to remove elected town officials (before end of term) because of negative opinions about their decisions, leadership style, or how they comport themselves at meetings. Regularly scheduled elections are in place for individual members of the voting public to choose who they want to support (based on any reasons or opinions desired). Our next town election is less than a year away (April, 2021).

The Town of Reading Home Rule Charter is available at readingma.gov, and I encourage you to read it. In stating that, per the Reading Town Charter the Board of Selectmen, “is only empowered to ratify the Town Manager’s selection” for police chief, proponents of the recall are interpreting the Charter’s wording to mean that there are defined limits and restrictions on the Board of Selectmen’s role. Therefore, according to the recall, Ms. Alvarado violated the Charter by going deliberately outside the bounds of her duties as expressed in the Charter.

The following excerpts from the Charter show that Ms. Alvarado hasn’t committed any violation she has been accused of. In fact, no applicable timeline, deadline, or other limitations on the Board of Selectmen are defined or recognized in the Charter. For brevity, I have removed non- relevant information.

The Town Manager’s responsibilities include:

“To appoint and remove, subject to the civil service laws where applicable, the Police Chief,… The Town Manager’s appointment of the Police Chief and Fire Chief shall be subject to confirmation by the Board of Selectmen.” (5.2.b)

And general governance by the Board of Selectmen is defined by:

“Division of Powers
Authority for the management of all the fiscal, prudential and municipal a
ffairs of the Town shall be vested in an executive branch headed by a Board of Selectmen and administered by a Town Manager. A representative Town Meeting shall exercise all legislative powers of the Town.” (1.2)

Interpretation of Powers
The powers of the Town under the Charter shall be construed and interpreted liberally in favor of the Town, and the specific mention of any particular power is not intended to limit in any way the general powers of the Town….” (1.4)

The Board of Selectmen ultimately voted on February 19, 2020, to confirm David J. Clark as Chief of the Reading, MA police department. Regardless of one’s feelings about how the process unfolded up to that point and Ms. Alvarado’s involvement therein, nothing in the Charter stipulates the vote had to happen sooner and couldn’t happen later. For that reason, the premise for the recall is misleading at best. I argue it’s false.

Each one of us should consider if the recall of a fairly elected volunteer official is the best way to address differences in opinions and disagreements about process that will inevitably occur

in the course of town governance, especially if they involve interpretations of our Charter. Do we want to set this precedent? I don’t, and in the future, I’m sure we can find ways that are more productive and consensus building than unjustified political recalls.

Regardless of the recall outcome, as a community, we will need to roll up our sleeves and do the necessary hard work to repair any damage and rebuild trust. I expect we can all agree on that. To this end, I believe progress can be made by encouraging and modeling respectful discourse, open-mindedness towards different viewpoints, civil disagreement, and decent treatment of one another. It seems to me that this recall campaign has only intensified intolerance, division, and anger in our town. It is my hope that healing will begin with Ms. Alvarado rightfully serving out the remainder of her term and, should she choose to run again, be fairly judged by voters in the next town election. Please join me in voting against the recall on September 1.

Carolyn L. Johnson

Thorndike Street

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