Select Board Stalemate Over Chair Vote

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READING, MA — Before an overflow crowd at town hall on Tuesday, the Select Board participated in a contentious discussion regarding its annual reorganization, stalemating on the vote as to who would serve as chair for the coming year. Acting chair Mark Dockser spoke harshly to the assembled onlookers several times and was forced to recess the committee twice as some in the crowd were speaking out of turn and creating too much noise to allow the proceedings to continue. 

Acting Chair Mark Dockser

After Select Board member Christopher Haley nominated member Carlo Bacci as chair and member Karen Herrick as vice-chair, current acting chair Mark Dockser attempted to nominate Herrick for chair with Bacci as vice-chair. As he was doing so, he felt forced to call the first recess. At this time, Dockser also requested that newly appointed Town Manager Matt Kraunelis call the police to the meeting in case he had to ask for the room to be cleared.

Once the board returned to session and Dockser completed his nomination, Bacci nominated Haley for chair. Haley then spoke, imploring his fellow members to follow the School Committee’s example and have a vote that is “fair and balanced,” noting that the School Committee has passed the gavel to members of differing ideologies over the last several years. “We have to do right by the town,” Haley opined.

Select Board members Carlo Bacci and Christopher Haley

Dockser responded with concern that the next chair will have to navigate issues that “have been wreaking havoc over the last three meetings.” He shared that the next chair will “need to ensure all agreed upon [Select Board] policies have been complied with.” This is likely in reference to accusations made by Haley that former chair Jackie McCarthy was threatened in order to change her town manager vote. Haley balked at Dockser’s statement, which was followed by interruptions and catcalls from some in the audience.

Dockser recessed the meeting a second time.

Upon the board’s return, Herrick suggested that the board wait to select a chair until after the May special election. As this suggestion had no traction, the first round of votes was taken. All three votes were split 2-2, with Bacci and Haley voting in favor of Bacci as chair or for Haley as chair and with Dockser and Herrick voting for Herrick as chair. After the stalemate, Bacci announced that if the issue could not be resolved, he “refused to move forward with any other discussion until we resolve this tonight.” Bacci continued, sharing that the running joke in his family is that he will never serve as chair.

“If we cannot come to an agreement, I will not be voting on any matter in this town,” Bacci doubled down.

Former Select Board member James Bonazoli

At this point, resident James Bonazoli called for a point of order. Bonazoli, a former nine-year member of the board, suggested that Kraunelis be tasked with the duties of the chair until after the special election, which is only three meetings before a chair could be elected at that point. “It is the right thing to do if you cannot come to an agreement,” Bonazoli suggested. He then continued, “You need some adult supervision.”

Haley was skeptical regarding the plan, suggesting that waiting until after the election was “playing politics” with the role. He then challenged Dockser, “What has [Bacci] done to you in the last two meetings?” Dockser replied that given a different situation, he would consider Bacci for chair, but as the current situation is volatile, he thought that Herrick would be the better choice. Bacci then questioned why Herrick would not vote for him as chair.

Herrick replied that she had received feedback regarding open meeting law (OML) issues involving Bacci from the Symonds Way Advisory Committee. She also noted recent Select Board OML issues as well. Haley shot back, reminding Herrick that the board faced a dozen OML complaints during her last tenure as chair.

New Town Manager Matt Kraunelis

Once a second vote on the three nominations produced the same results, the idea of Kraunelis stepping in was again floated. Herrick shared that she found the measure “completely unnecessary,” while Haley bemoaned the look of it, calling it an unfortunate compromise. After Bacci agreed to the idea, Herrick also stated that she would go along with it if it were the only path forward. Dockser agreed, provided that the board would commit to work within its own policies and protocols so as to not cause the board’s bickering to be an undue burden on Kraunelis.

Haley responded that he was uncomfortable with the insinuation that he was the problem. Dockser followed that personal attacks are “not OK” and that it should not be on Kraunelis to deal with them. Haley then suggested that it is inconsistent to be fine with the violation of one policy, annual reorganization, but then to critique him for “sticking up for a fellow board member, who I campaigned against. That is an issue.”

“When you make allegations that are completely unfounded against a person instead of a situation, that’s a problem,” Dockser responded.

Haley continued, alleging that he knows something happened in the McCarthy situation and that he would not risk “my election, my entire career, my livelihood on a whim.” He then accused Herrick of texting during the entire meeting and not paying attention.

“This is the behavior that is unacceptable,” Dockser shared. Haley then suggested since there would be no chair, nothing would get done by the board until May. Bacci then indicated that he was rescinding his agreement with the idea to allow Kraunelis to run the meetings until the May special election and shared that he would walk out if the board could not agree on a chair. 

Herrick suggested that she might shift her vote but only if there was a new reorganization in May.

Bacci responded that the chair should be elected for the year and that doing as Herrick suggested proved that her reticence in voting for him as chair is political. “We’ve been playing politics too long,” Bacci added. Haley noted that by declaring that another reorganization would be called for as a condition for a vote is not a good look. “I’ve voted for you; you’ve never voted for me,” Haley concluded.

Dockser decided to adjourn the meeting as Haley and Bacci began to leave the room. “Thank you for holding the town hostage,” Bacci fired out as he left.

The Select Board adjourned at 9:00 pm.

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