The Select Board meeting opened with an overview of the agenda and then public comment to cover the attendees who wanted to speak. Carl McFadden spoke regarding a movie being made to honor the life of Hal Croft by a former RHS graduate. You can check out a link to that here: https://constantmotioninc.com/croftfilm
Next was Emelia Attridge, a representative of the First Congregational Church in Reading and the Reading Clergy Association, expressing her support of all faiths in our community, and her concerns regarding the negativity that has emerged.
Next was Linda Snow Dockser who spoke about the events of November 21st Select Board meeting. She expressed that her impact of her letter to the editor went beyond what she intended. Her comments included that she was intending to imply that those gathered were anti semitic- but rather, focusing on misinformation to divide people is how prejudice and marginalization happen, and she believes that is what occurred in that meeting. She shared that this polarization has escalated. She is asking that we as a community come together to welcome and embrace everyone, and for the town common to reflect all our residents during this time of year.
Casey Moulton spoke next, who shared her opinion on the unkind interaction of vice-chair Karen Herrick towards Carl McFadden during the November 15th meeting regarding the service of the Burbank and the ice arena, as well as the false accusations made by Karen. She highlighted multiple disrespectful interactions that Karen has made in the past, stating that we as a town deserve better from our elected officials. She then stated that Karen’s request for financial statements to be posted on Ice Arena’s public website are inappropriate, speaking from her experience as a CPA.
Chris Haley started by expressing his appreciation for Linda’s comments even though the board typically does not respond to them. He then spoke in appreciation of the School Committee’s school improvement plans and mentioned attending an upcoming meeting.
Carlo Bacci spoke to the ice arena- he spoke to some leadership changes, sharing that all 2023 ice time is scheduled.
Jackie McCarthy spoke to an affordable housing webinar that she attended. In addition, she spoke to the grant that the cultural council received, and that the board of health met regarding tobacco regulations and spoke to a covid vaccine clinic at the high school on 12/9.
Karen Herrick spoke to the Council on Aging housing forum. She then spoke about the Reading Animal Clinic ribbon cutting ceremony.
Mark Dockser spoke to ReCalc and Council on Aging joint meeting and the insights gained from the UMASS study.
Town Manager Reports
Fidel Maltez highlighted a few Town Meeting wins: the last meeting with MSBA is on the horizon as the town continues the MSBA process for the new Killam School. He spoke to the senior discount and the extension of the service of our assistant fire chief. The first Symonds Way Committee meeting is scheduled for December 12th and addressed the concerns regarding issues for 18 Woburn Street and the parking issues that are occurring as a result.
Chris asked about the expanded message of inclusion that was changed after the vote took place during the meeting. Fidel mentioned that town counsel crafted the language that would be placed on the sign.
Auburn Water Tank Debt
Next was discussion and vote to authorize short term debt related to the Auburn Water Tank: The vote passed 4-0-1 with Jackie recusing herself from the vote.
Winter/Holiday Season Display
Next the board began discussion and vote on Winter/Holiday Season Display to Celebrate Town’s Diversity on Town Common, including the addition of other symbols to convey the Town’s message. Chris spoke first, asking whether this would be just a discussion, or a vote would also be included, suggesting that only a discussion should be happening in this meeting because it would have been appropriate the last time around. Mark agreed that this would be the right plan moving forward. Discussion then began regarding an atheist emblem as part of the holiday display. Mark emphasized that what we need is government speech, as opposed to community speech, and taking a more thoughtful approach on how to view government speak regarding a mission statement. Chris spoke to the atheist emblem of faith as an approach to diversity on the common.
Jackie suggested that representatives of government should be responsible to represent what the consensus of town requests, and that this request is not appropriate at this time and does not reflect the consensus of the town.
Carlo questioned Jackie, asking how we know the town’s consensus if we have not asked. He said this process was flawed, and wrong advice was received through town counsel- that the process was rushed, not thought through. However, expressing a need to be fair and open to everyone in the town, and how we want to treat the winter holiday season and whether there will continue to be more religious representation on the town common from town government at taxpayer expense.
Mark stated the town has a “way to do events” where a private citizen or group can ask for a permit for a day event. He then spoke to policy and that this is an opportunity for the Select Board to work with Sudeshna to have these explorations and discussions, ideally during the retreat, and come back with thoughts regarding what they want to do as a government. He then stated that what he gauged from town counsel is that the opportunity to speak as government does exist, and that does not mean everything will be accepted. He stated that the menorah and Christmas tree could not be approached through the permitting process because they would be staying up for more than a day. Mark stated that this is something he has been passionate about for 7 or 8 years, which is why the timing was so rushed, and that communities around Reading are “already doing this”.
Jackie mentioned that the only written item to vote on had nothing in the packet. Nothing on the menorah, nothing on the Christmas tree, and nothing on the atheist statement of faith.
Chris reiterated that only Wellesley and now Reading are the only towns that own symbols that they put on the common, per town counsel. Mark disagreed.
Fidel stated that anyone that pulls a civic function permit must have a start time or an end time and that item must be removed, and historically, these permits are pulled for a short period of hours. The civic function permitting process will be reviewed. Mark stated that extending this would have consequences. Mark also stated that it will be important to discuss and define when government says yes, and when government says no. Chris expressed his concerns regarding lack of process when it comes to these decisions, and that it is imperative to make sure a process is defined.
ReCalc Final Survey Update
Next was Caitlin Coyle from UMass Boston presenting the final survey update regarding the needs of the senior community. Takeaways from this presentation include recommendations for a future senior center to include large rooms that can be divided for various activities, spaces that are resourced for virtual programming, private office space for one-on-one appointments, and ample staffing. Jackie mentioned wanting more information regarding transportation and costs, as Town Meeting may be considering proposals in the near future.
Director of Equity and Social Justice Update
Next was an update from Sudeshna Chatterjee, Director of Equity and Social Justice. She spoke to the mission of the office of equity and social justice as a town wide shared service which will provide education, support, and resources aimed at making Reading an inclusive, diverse, and accessible town for all. The office plays an advisory and supporting role to facilitate community education and best practices across the municipality, according to Sudeshna, with a focus on educational events and programs. She also spoke about the working group PAIR (partners and allies for inclusive Reading), which is a community wide advisory and working group that she intends to connect to existing town resources. OESJ events that are coming in 20023 include MLK day, Autism/Neurodiversity acceptance month, Community company grant for a town wide DEI assessment, and PAIR holiday party. Pat SIlva, civil rights officer, then spoke in more detail regarding PAIR members. Volunteers with PAIR then introduced the PAIR working groups that include Education, Resources and Partnership, and Communication, spoke to areas of focus for PAIR groups as it relates to events, regarding how some of the goals of the group can translate to outcomes and ideas. And Sudeshna ended the presentation with recommendations to the Select Board for engagement ideas.
Chris thanked the team for their presentation. He then asked if Sudeshna was included in the discussions regarding the inclusivity sign representation on the town common. Sudeshna shared that she was not included in discussions because it is a legal matter. Chris expressed his desire to ensure that Sudeshna is involved in these matters moving forward. Mark expressed his desire for the Select Board to continue to work with Sudeshna in facilitating discussion regarding town policy. Karen thanked Sudeshna for all her hard work and her visibility in the community and is supportive of engaging with Sudeshna. Jackie also expressed her gratitude and asked how the grant will benefit the initiatives of the OESJ. Sudeshna expressed her need for more data. Carlo also thanked Sudeshna for the PAIR engagement.
Liquor License Renewals
Next was the vote to approve annual Liquor License Renewals. The Select Board carefully reviewed, asked about any violations and voted 5-0 for all license requests.
Future Agendas/ Executive Session
Finally, the board discussed future agendas in which retreat times and seeking new legal counsel were brought up and entered into executive session regarding the purchase of Real Property for Municipal Use to discuss the acquisition and value of 17 Harnden Street.