LtE: Reader Takes Issue with McCarthy’s and Haley’s Actions

The Reading Post accepts Letters to the Editor. All letters must be signed. The Reading Post reserves the right to edit or not publish any letters received. Letters do not represent the views or opinions of the Post.

To the editor:

After the publication of former Select Board Chair Jackie McCarthy’s letter to the editor this week (April 22), we are left with two facts. One, Ms. McCarthy calls out two unnamed town meeting members for contacting her to discuss her vote on candidates for the then vacant town manager position. Ms. McCarthy also calls these two people out for raising the open meeting law (OML) violation that likely occurred when Ms. McCarthy discussed this topic with two of her colleagues on the Board, Mr. Dockser and Mr. Bacci, without informing either of them that she was talking with them both. Ms. McCarthy criticizes these two town meeting members for not recommending “corrective action on the OML issue” although Ms. McCarthy states in the same letter that she did not inform them that she had already decided to recuse herself from the town manager vote.

What the town meeting members were doing is called lobbying, something we are all familiar with and something that can be viewed as an often unpleasant but necessary part of an elected official’s life. Any time we make a phone call, send a text or an email to our town meeting representative or state senator, e.g., we are lobbying. Did these town meeting members “coerce” Ms. McCarthy, as one local media outlet has implied? Coercion is the act of forcing someone to do something against their will. It was impossible for anyone to coerce or lobby Ms. McCarthy on this matter – she had already decided not to participate in the town manager vote.

Ms. McCarthy’s decision to recuse herself from the vote was the logical and ethical step to take, to remove even a hint of impropriety in the town manager selection process. Did the potential for a discussion of an OML violation need to result in Ms. McCarthy’s resignation from the Select Board? In my opinion, no. Her colleagues and the community did not expect or desire Ms. McCarthy’s resignation. OML violations are not uncommon, and, as we know from previous experience in our town alone, the usual consequence is a discussion of the facts and agreement to avoid possible OML violations in the future. Ms. McCarthy viewed the situation differently and took the dramatic step of resignation.

The second fact in this very unfortunate situation and the one that has caused as much, if not more, turmoil in our community are the actions current Select Board member Chris Haley took after his private conversation with Ms. McCarthy following her resignation. It is apparent that Mr. Haley was as distressed as many other people were at Ms. McCarthy’s decision, and he sought to understand why she had taken this drastic step. Mr. Haley turned whatever it was he thought he gleaned from this conversation into a vicious verbal attack on Acting Chair Mark Dockser. Mr. Haley repeatedly and publicly accused Mr. Dockser of improper behavior, even criminal behavior, in regard to Mr. Dockser’s contact with Ms. McCarthy about the town manager discussion.

Mr. Haley’s unsubstantiated allegations, verbalized at three consecutive open Select Board meetings and hinted at in other settings, has caused unnecessary emotional distress to Mr. Dockser and his family and unnecessary tension and turmoil in our community.

At a minimum, Mr. Haley needs to apologize in a public meeting to Mr. Dockser and his family for his reprehensible actions and then apologize to our community.

Now that Ms. McCarthy has provided some insight into her decision to resign and has announced she will not cooperate with the Select Board’s investigation, it would be best for her to step back and give our town time to heal and to focus on the numerous crucial decisions facing it.

Mary Ellen O’Neill
Summer Ave., Reading

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