Kraunelis Selected as Town Manager

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READING, MA — After a long, sometimes tense, discussion on Saturday, the Select Board voted 4-0 to appoint current Acting Town Manager Matthew Kraunelis as Reading’s fourth town manager, subject to successful contract negotiations. The board intends to offer Kraunelis a fifteen-month contract with specific goals and benchmarks to achieve in that time, tied explicitly to major town projects such as the Killam Elementary School project, a new senior center, and MBTA communities.

Consultant Bernie Lynch shared that boards in other communities have added similar language regarding professional development and the review process. “It’s something boards do when they are trying to get consensus around a candidate,” Lynch clarified.

Discussion began as it was announced that two candidates, Clancy Main and Antonio Barletta, had withdrawn themselves from consideration. Initially, the board was divided along the same lines as they were after the past meeting, with members Chris Haley and Carlo Bacci continuing to express a preference for Kraunelis with members Mark Dockser and Karen Herrick sharing their preference for Boxford Town Administrator Matt Coogan.

Dockser, while noting that there may have been a possible consensus with Main had the board followed a different process, then proceeded to suggest a plan whereby he could be comfortable voting for Kraunelis using a shorter-then-typical agreement that includes specific requirements for him to meet. While Herrick disagreed with the plan initially, she eventually voted in its favor.

Dockser wanted to make clear that he expects Kraunelis to be successful in the role. “Can Matt [Kraunelis] do these things? I think he can,” Dockser proclaimed.

After the meeting, the board entered into executive session to discuss strategy for the contract negotiations with Kraunelis.

“I am excited for this opportunity and look forward to leading Reading through the many important initiatives that will help to shape our Town’s bright future. Thank you to the Select Board, employees, and citizens for their belief in me,” Kraunelis told The Reading Post.

The meeting began with an attempt to enter into executive session to discuss an open meeting law (OML) complaint filed by resident Bill Brown regarding the events surrounding the resignation of recent chair Jackie McCarthy.

McCarthy admitted in the prior meeting to an OML violation regarding the town manager discussion, After this, she recused herself from the discussion and then resigned from the board for private reasons not related to the OML violation. Both Haley and Bacci voted against entering executive session for the topic indicating that they wanted to retain transparency in the process.

Dockser revealed that he had spoken to McCarthy on January 30 and February 4 in her role as chair regarding the town manager discussion. He stated that he shared with her that he wanted her to be “the one member to discuss this with.” Bacco then shared that he also spoke with McCarthy regarding the process of the town manager discussion and, at that time, learned that she had previously spoken with Dockser. Both Dockser and Bacci made it clear that McCarthy did not share with them what the other thought regarding the appointment.

Haley and Herrick shared that they did not discuss the issue with any of the other members of the board.

Town Counsel Ivria Fried suggested that, in her opinion, the OML violation did not taint the town manager selection process, especially since McCarthy recused herself immediately. She also indicated that the board should commit to future compliance with the statute.

Haley then stated his belief that he did not think the process could continue, citing possible public perception that the process was tainted. Herrick concurred. “I cannot deny that I share [Haley’s] concern,” Herrick added. For Herrick, however, Fried’s responses regarding the nature of the OML issue cleared her concerns.

Haley continued, asking Dockser if there was anything else that he wanted to share about the process. “It’s the cloud that is hovering over this that is the issue,” Haley attempted to explain. Dockser replied that did not know what Haley was referencing. 

“I’m insulted that you are impugning my character,” Docker responded.

“What you did to Jackie should never happen to anyone in this town,” Haley fired back.

Dockser again expressed that he did not know what Haley was talking about. After a moment, he responded that insinuations would not get the board anywhere. “My conscience is clear,” he added. 

Dockser concluded, suggesting that Haley file an OML complaint of his own if he thinks there is an issue. After this, the Select Board voted 4-0 to proceed with the town manager discussion.

The board also discussed whether or not to hold a special election for the open seat vacated by McCarthy. Fried reminded the board that they could not hold an election for at least sixty-eight days after posting the position. Town Clerk Laura Gemme shared that a stand-alone special election will cost the town about $30,000, with a cost of about $20,000 to hold one with the state primary at the beginning of September. 

Dockser expressed a preference for a May election as it would allow for an onboarding process for the new member over the slower summer months. Other board members shared reasons for both dates, including cost and a dearth of election workers. The board will vote on a date for a special election at their February 27 meeting.

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