Select Board Authorize Investigation

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READING, MA — After a lengthy discussion on Tuesday night, the Select Board voted 3-1 to authorize Town Manager Matt Kraunelis to hire an independent investigator to investigate the actions and circumstances surrounding the decision by former chair Jackie McCarthy to resign from the board on February 6, specifically as to whether or not anyone sought to exercise “undue or inappropriate influence” over her vote for the new town manager. The investigation could include elected and appointed officials or residents. The investigator will also look at statements and actions the Select Board took following the February 6 meeting. 

A written report will be presented to the Select Board within sixty days of hire, though the motion affirmed that the investigation will terminate if McCarthy chooses not to participate. “This will be the most transparent [method] and answer a lot of questions that are out there,” Select Board chair Carlo Bacci indicated.

Select Board member Karen Herrick, who was the one dissenting vote, questioned whether or not the board has the authority under the charter, bylaws, or its Code of Conduct to conduct this type of investigation. Town Counsel Ivria Fried shared that the board can legally hire an investigator for these matters but clarified that no one, including McCarthy, can be compelled to participate.

Select Board member Christopher Haley expressed the opinion, based on a letter to the editor authored by McCarthy, that she might choose to participate “for the good of the town.”

Herrick continued, sharing that she had found evidence of only one other investigation of this type in the town of Hamilton and that it had been instigated after a complaint was filed regarding specific actions. “Has [McCarthy] filed a complaint?” Herrick questioned. 

Herrick also expressed concerns regarding the scope of the investigation, specifically the potential investigation of residents. She pointed out that every board member received hundreds of emails, calls, and letters expressing opinions regarding the town manager search, including some that were quite harsh in tone. “This [scope of investigation] is too broad; this isn’t just an investigation of board conduct, it is trying to be an investigation of resident conduct,” Herrick complained.

Bacci disagreed, stating that residents would only be sought out and questioned by an investigator if McCarthy mentioned them as someone who “bullied or threatened” her. Board member Mark Dockser also expressed concern about investigating residents but chose to vote in favor of the investigation provided that it leads to a review of board policies regarding conduct.

After some wordsmithing of the motion, the board proceeded to its vote.

The Select Board also received a report from consultant Iris Bond Gill regarding a diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) assessment that her team at Opportunity Consultants has conducted over the past nine months. Bond Gill shared seven findings with the board that ranged from housing costs and cost-of-living concerns to the lack of diversity in decision-making bodies to the lack of accessibility of public infrastructure. There was also a finding regarding the consistency of communication about town events and services. 

From these findings, Bond Gill made several recommendations to the Select Board, including initiating feedback loops, ensuring ADA compliance is at the forefront of all infrastructure projects, enhancing the role of community-based organizations, and conducting a “deeper dive” into the state of the town’s workforce.

Dockser questioned Bond Gill about the town’s next steps. Bond Gill suggested a series of community conversations about the recommendations as a good place to begin. DEI Director Albert Pless stressed the moment’s timeliness, highlighting “the window of opportunity for us to do some amazing work.”

The Select Board voted 4-0 to make an Arbor Day Proclamation, voted 4-0 to appoint Kevin Sexton and Joan Wetzel as full members of the Board of Health, and substituted a member of the not-yet-formed Affordable Housing Trust Board for a member of the Reading Housing Authority on the Community Preservation Act Advisory Committee by a vote of 3-0.

The board chose to table a vote to appoint a member to the Retirement Board as a straw poll had them stalemated.

The Select Board adjourned at 10:00 pm.

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