Reading, MA — By a 3-2 vote, the Select Board directed the Town Manager to display a Christmas Tree and a Menorah on the town common to demonstrate the Select Board’s and the Town of Reading’s commitment to diversity and inclusion in the community. The display is to have a message included that highlights this intent. Select Board members Christopher Haley and Carlo Bacci were the dissenting votes. Select Board chair Mark Dockser supported the plan, “It is important that we as a government group take a stand on diversity,” Dockser suggested. “We need a lot of education on how this works.”
Haley shared his frustration over having to call an extra meeting of the board for the issue while paying for the time of two members of Town Counsel to be present. Haley also expressed his opposition to the plan. Haley posed the argument that limiting the display to symbols of only two religions defeated the purpose of inclusivity. “Including only two items of thirty-something other faiths is not inclusive of anything,” Haley stated. “Include everything or nothing at all.”
Bacci agreed with Haley’s sentiment while also echoing Haley’s distaste over the process. He said he “was fuming” when he saw that two attorneys were going to be present. Bacci agreed that taking a “broad view” of these issues was best to protect the town’s interests. While expressing concern over the process, Select Board members Jackie McCarthy and Karen Herrick voted in favor of the display. “I do think that process matters,” McCarthy stated. “We [typically] discuss at one meeting and vote at the next meeting.”
After comments regarding the First Amendment and the Establishment clause in the Constitution from Town Counsel Bryan Bertram, several residents in the crowded Select Board meeting room gave statements to the board. Most spoke in favor of a combined display, or for no display at all.
“A Menorah without a Christmas tree is discriminatory,” Resident Eileen Littario declared, while resident Tim Matthew recommended the board “use the common to honor the faith and diversity of all our citizens.” Resident Sherilla Lestrade added that she did not like how the plan was initially presented and that it should have come about as the result of a community discussion.
Former School Committee member Linda Snow Dockser shared, “I don’t view this as a competition, I don’t view this as exclusion, including a menorah is about inclusion.”
Former Select Board member John Halsey believed that the government should not be using the common to make any kind of statement. “Use of the town’s common is for the people to express themselves,” Halsey stated. “It should be for the people, not the government.” Former Select Board member John Arena added, “The board will do well to focus on government and leave to the people what is the people’s.” Halsey indicated that private groups were free to enter the permit process for use of the common to erect any displays they may wish.
Before the vote, Dockser thanked the audience members for their participation. “Democracy is messy but worth it,” Dockser stated. “We need to stand up for what is right; the status quo by itself is not OK.”
The board also discussed a plan to develop an inclusivity mission statement. McCarthy reminded the board that this type of activity is not new for town boards as the School Committee had produced an equity statement in the previous year. She suggested the use of the board’s scheduled retreat in January to discuss the statement. “Like democracy, like communication, inclusivity is never done,” McCarthy noted. Dockser recommended a proactive approach to inclusivity issues. He reminded the board that the town has had incidents in its recent past and an older history of exclusivity. “[Reading] is on a path, but we are not far enough, not even close,” Dockser declared.
The Select Board adjourned at 6:40pm.