This special Select Board meeting was scheduled to address concerns by community members regarding several members of the Board to exclusively place a menorah on the town common to commemorate the holiday season. The meeting was very well attended, with over 50 community members. Several community member attendees spoke of their concerns regarding the board’s decision to exclude other representatives of the community by voting to only allow for the menorah. Others spoke of their concern that the town common belongs to the taxpayers, and the town government should not be deciding what can and cannot be placed on the town common.
Chair, Mark Dockser, started the discussion with the Board. He thanked the community for providing their feedback and was supportive of the motion before the board to approve a “Winter/Holiday Season Display to Celebrate Town’s Diversity on Town Common, including menorah and Christmas tree”.
Chris Haley spoke of his concerns regarding the fact that the vote in fact excludes other faith-based community members. He also expressed his concern that these issues will be never ending and referenced the two members of legal counsel and the cost associated with the constant mitigation of these issues. He also addressed his concerns regarding the legality of the initial vote for the menorah, and the only way to include everyone in the community is to keep the town common free from symbols that may be deemed exclusionary to other faiths, cultures or community groups.
Jackie McCarthy mentioned that she had not seen the motion, but that she understood that she was asked to vote on a Christmas tree and was supportive. She also mentioned how important it is to stick to the process- that discussion on an item in one meeting and voting in a later meeting. Karen Herrick supported Jackie’s sentiments and expressed her support for the motion.
Carlo Bacci started by stating that he was “fuming” to see that two members of town counsel were present in the meeting, and that as elected officials, they should be good stewards of the town’s tax dollars. He stated that all we are going to do is pay fees to the attorneys and potentially get sued as a town as the board consistently mitigates issues. He then mentioned lack of process and that a permit was not pulled to have a menorah on the common.
Mark then ended the discussion by stating that democracy is messy, and we need to do what’s right. That things will never be perfect, but we need to do the right thing and move forward.
Chris then asked town counsel regarding the legality of the vote of the menorah, no clear answer was given by town counsel.
After continued discussion, the Select Board then voted 3-2 to approve a Winter/Holiday Season Display to Celebrate Town’s Diversity on Town Common, including menorah and Christmas tree. Carlo and Chris were the dissenting votes.
Select Board Mission Statement
Next was Discussion regarding a proposal to create a Select Board Mission Statement for Inclusive government. Jackie suggested that more thought be put into the agenda item and that it be discussed during the next retreat in January. Karen agreed and asked that the town’s DEI Director be present at those discussions. Chris questioned the reasoning behind the necessity of the statement, considering we have 35 open board and committee positions that allow for that inclusivity that are not filled. Chris also mentioned not being aware that this agenda item was added, as the first version of the agenda did not include this item.
Mark mentioned the opportunity to leverage the Director of Social Justice to drive the inclusivity of the town, mentioning that the town of Reading “has a long way to go”. He then spoke to making decisions on government speech and defining parameters around government speech at the next select board retreat.
Carlo then spoke and reiterated Chris’s sentiments. He offered his support of crafting a concise and thoughtful mission statement. Chris mentioned his support of Sudeshna Chatterjee’s position and believes she is here for the right reasons and would support her being included in crafting the statement.
The Select Board adjourned at 6:47PM in time to make the 7:30 Town Meeting start.
*Updated 11/25 for punctuation.