Select Board Sends Haley to School Building Committee

Reading, MA — During a special meeting called to discuss an Open Meeting Law complaint, the Select Board voted by a vote of 3-2 to rescind its appointment of Select Board member Karen Herrick as its representative to the Killam School Building Committee (KSBC) and replace her with member Christopher Haley on Thursday morning. This action came after KSBC chair Carla Nazzarro had communicated with Carlo Bacci regarding a list of what Bacci referred to as “non-professional behavior.”

Bacci shared that he was uncomfortable reading the list in a public meeting without Herrick’s consent. Herrick said the list was “news to me; I have no knowledge of this.” Select Board member Mark Dockser expressed concerns over the process of bringing the issue before the board without prior discussion. “I feel very unprepared and concerned from a process point of view,” Dockser stated. “It is not OK to take an allegation and drive it and say ‘that is the end of it.’”

Herrick shared that any issues with her behavior had not been discussed at the KSBC meetings and that she had made a public comment at last Thursday’s School Committee meeting suggesting a joint meeting between the Select Board and the School Committee to clarify the role of the KSBC chair.

Bacci then shared that concerns about Herrick had been discussed with previous Select Board chair Jackie McCarthy and that McCarthy had chosen not to do anything about it. Herrick then questioned if the allegations were simply that she does not share some of the KSBC chair’s opinions and, therefore “she [Herrick] needs to be replaced.” Herrick continued, noting that she had spoken with McCarthy about the KSBC while McCarthy was chair, that McCarthy thought Herrick was doing a good job, and that the “[KSBC] needs to learn how to get along.”

Dockser again addressed the issue of process, sharing his view that voting on an issue the same night it was initially discussed was not the common practice of the Select Board, to which Bacci replied that, despite stated preferable practices, other issues had been dealt with in this manner. 

Select Board member Melissa Murphy shared that she was unsure of what the alleged issues with Herrick might be, “I feel like I’m blindly voting here,” Murphy stated.

After Bacci again asked Herrick for consent to read the list of allegations, Herrick responded, “Neither you nor the KSBC chair has come to me with substantial concerns and has asked me to address them; I don’t think character assassination of either the KSBC chair or myself is appropriate.” Herrick continued, “It will be damaging to the project and damaging to the public’s faith in our ability to do the business of the town.”

Murphy again stated that she needed more information to make an informed vote. Bacci shared that the allegations included issues of behavior, overreach, and being late for meetings.

Dockser suggested that the parties sit down and address the issues privately before involving the entire board. He continued, noting that the list that Bacci had was only allegations and that he had not heard the other side of the story. Bacci responded that although he was only made aware of the alleged issues when he became chair of the Select Board, many of the issues had been noted from last fall and had not been worked out. Haley suggested that he was aware of some of the allegations, stating, “Karen has become a liability to this project.”

After Herrick questioned the appropriateness of Haley’s remarks, Murphy chimed in, “You [Herrick] seem to have no problem pointing fingers at other people and their inappropriate actions, but not yourself.”

After the motion to replace Herrick with Haley on the KSBC, Herrick stated, “Removing a Select Board member who has been on [the KSBC] from the beginning puts the project at risk.” She then suggested a future agenda item to add an additional Select Board member to serve on the KSBC. 

Herrick then made her case to stay on the KSBC with a list of her work and accomplishments on the KSBC. These include regular, often weekly or more than weekly, meetings with the communications and sustainability working group, project leadership team meetings, attendance at all community outreach meetings, helping arrange the net zero school tours, attending every call with the Massachusetts School Building Authority, becoming a green building certified professional, speaking with Reading’s legislative delegation numerous times, and helping to arrange community update meetings at the Pleasant Street Center.

Haley admitted after this recitation that “I will never get to the level [of dedication] that she has; it’s everything else that is the problem.” Herrick continued to share that, despite the vote, she will remain involved. “In all transparency, I won’t leave this project; it is too critical, “ Herrick affirmed.

Bacci, Haley, and Murphy voted in favor of the motion, with Dockser and Herrick dissenting.

The special meeting’s original purpose was to address an open meeting law complaint filed by resident John Sullivan. The complaint alleged that the board broke open meeting law when it voted to go to executive session to discuss a different open meeting law complaint. Town Counsel Ivria Fried explained that when a complaint is filed against the body, the body can decide whether to discuss it in executive session. “Individual member’s rights . . . do not supersede that of the body,” Fried explained. 

Fried continued, sharing that this understanding of the open meeting law was enhanced by the fact that Herrick, who the original complaint named, abstained from the vote. “The body [named in the complaint] voted 3-1-1 to go into executive session, therefore, it was appropriate,” Fried concluded. After the discussion, the board voted 5-0 to respond to the complaint, explaining that while they do not believe that they are wrong, they will continue to strive to be more cognizant of the issues noted by Sullivan.

The Select Board adjourned at 11:05 am.

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