Town Meeting Concludes

Reading, MA — As Monday’s final session of Annual Town Meeting commenced, Moderator Alan Foulds was suddenly called out for an emergency, and Town Meeting member Jonathan Barnes was selected by Town Meeting as a temporary Moderator so that business could be conducted.

Barnes guided Town Meeting through the adoption of Article 14, the transfer of $252,431.41 of unspent funds from the Grove Street water main project to the Gazebo Circle pump station project; Article 15, the transfer of previously borrowed funds to the downtown water main project, and Article 16, the authorization of $1,040,000 of grants and interest-free borrowing from the Massachusetts Water Resources Authority.

Temporary Town Moderator Jonathan Barnes and Town Clerk Laura Gemme

Town Meeting also approved Article 18, which rescinded $420,000 of unborrowed debt from the ‘Turf 2’ project.

Article 19 asked Town Meeting to amend the bylaw requiring all new town hires to submit to a medical exam. Town Manager Fidel Maltez explained that legal counsel for the school department had raised the concern that the bylaw, which states the exam is “to determine if an employee can do the functions of the job,” might lead the town and the school district into a possible discrimination lawsuit. Maltez further explained that medical exams for certain physically active positions such as police, fire, and public works employees would remain, but the requirement for medical exams for those in clerical or other more physically passive positions would be removed. Town Meeting approved the article.

Town Meeting also approved Article 20, which changed the Town’s late fees for dog registration. Prior to the change, dog owners who did not register their dogs in time would receive a $10 fine which escalated by $5 each month until a ticket was issued after six months of negligence. Article 20 asked Town Meeting to amend this to remove the escalating fine, which had become “an administrative burden, ” according to Maltez. Town Meeting member Bill Brown proposed an amendment to the motion raising the fine from $10 to $25 without the escalation. This amendment and the amended article were both accepted by Town Meeting.

Articles 21 and 22 were both indefinitely postponed as they are not yet ready for debate.

Articles 24 and 25 were brought by citizen petition regarding the same topic, a small stretch of Sanborn Lane, which is a private way that is deemed unsafe by the abutters. Resident Bruce Mackenzie explained that the road in question was once a dirt road that was narrowed into a driveway in 1988. Since then, the addition of a forty-house development and the construction of the Wood End Elementary School has made this small roadway an often-used passageway for vehicles and students walking to school. 

“It’s inherently dangerous,” Mackensie explained. 

Article 24 asked Town Meeting to task the Town Manager with developing a solution to the issue and report back to Town Meeting in November. This article passed by majority. Article 25 asked the town to acquire some of the land for a sidewalk as a solution; this was indefinitely postponed.

Town Meeting members offered three instructional motions under Article 3. The first was offered by member Eileen Litterio, asking Town Meeting to reestablish the tradition of opening Town Meeting with an invocation offered by a member of the Reading Clergy Association. Litterio argued that the invocation was “universally recognized as calling upon a higher power for clarity and direction.” She further suggested that engaging the clergy would “serve to unite our assembly, remove any semblance of partiality, and inspire us to make the best decisions.”

Several members spoke against the motion citing concerns over separation of church and state and the exclusion of those who are religiously non-Christian or not religious at all. Member Linda Snow-Dockser, in a statement that member Martha Moore read, stated, “[The motion] is not respectful, inclusive, or necessary.” After more discussion, the motion failed.

Town Meeting member John Sasso offered two instructional motions, the first instructing the Select Board and the Community Planning and Development Commission (CPDC) to develop a master plan for the town. Sasso noted that the last master plan was created in 2005. Member Heather Clish pointed out that Massachusetts General Law states that this type of planning was under the purview of the CPDC and suggested an amendment, which Sasso accepted, that directed the Select Board and staff to recommend appropriations for the development of a master plan. Select Board chair Mark Dockser noted that the Select Board had already discussed this issue. Town Meeting approved the motion.

Sasso’s second motion required all elected boards and committees to have all their meetings recorded and made available to the public. Maltez noted that the Library Board of Trustees is the only elected board currently not recorded. There is a logistical issue with the recording of this board by Reading Community Television (RCTV), as it occurs at the same time as the CPDC. Maltez also stated that this requirement could create a contractual issue with RCTV that would have to be resolved. It was also noted that the Library Trustees recently voted that they would record their meetings and submit the recording to RCTV for distribution. This will begin with their May meeting. Town Meeting member Jeff Beckwith noted that there could be other issues regarding subcommittees and other meetings as well. “This is a wonderful idea whose time is not yet here,” Beckwith concluded. The motion failed.

Town Meeting adjourned sine die at 10:05 pm.

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