READING – In a rare Wednesday afternoon meeting, the Select Board decided on the framework to pick Reading’s next Town Manager.
The board agreed on a seven-member search committee that includes two Select Board members, the Town Moderator, two residents, and two department heads. Town Manager Bob LeLacheur announced last month that his last day would be Feb. 25, 2020 and the board has previously said it hopes to have a new Town Manager in place by Jan. 15.
The seven-member decision came after Anne Landry suggested a five-member committee and Carlo Bacci countered with up to nine members. In 2013 when LeLacheur was hired, a seven-member committee was used and that number eventually won out on Wednesday.
But with each type of committee member, there were long discussions and asterisks attached.
In addition to the committee, the Select Board also hopes to include the opinions and input of new School Superintendent Thomas Milaschewski, Town Accountant Sharon Angstrom, and Assistant Town Manager Jean Delios, unless she applies for the position.
First, the easy part.
Any resident of Reading can apply to be on the search committee. Like any town government committee, the applications will be on Readingma.gov. There’s a deadline of 10 days to apply for the search committee.
As you look at the committee makeup, there’s no school representation but any member of the School Committee can apply as a resident. Remember too, in picking Milaschewski, the School Committee did not enlist the services of any Select Board members despite having a 16-member search committee.
As for the two Select Board members, that’s a decision for another day. But if Wednesday’s meeting is any indication, it will be contested and a split vote. The spirited discussion started with vice-chair Anne Landry expressing her interest in the search committee with chair Karen Herrick also interested. The chair and vice-chair represented the Select Board on the search committee in 2013 and Herrick suggested continuing that tradition.
Even though, as the new guy, Chris Haley took himself out of contention for the committee, it was Haley who was opposed to having Herrick and Landry and brought up the political makeup of the committee and town. Haley also said he thought Mark Dockser should be on the committee, given his presence on the 2013 search committee.
“I think not having Mark as one of the board members on the selection committee, when he participated before, to me doesn’t make sense,” said Haley.
“I’m not sure which way to put this, politely or not, I believe the VASC selection committee with Mark and Carlo both being on it, satisfied both parts of town, whichever scenario you want to go around. And to not have both members on it, that would satisfy both parts of town, I think is just a massive misstep. We can ignore the fact that that exists, but it exists. The last election was 52 to 48 percent. That’s as split as you come. That’s the optics I have.”
“Not only do I think Mark should be on this, I know Chris is trying to be polite as far as optics, but I think we need to have good representation from the board and I think Mark and myself would give that balance and I’m hoping the board would understand that and consider that,” said Bacci. “Mark was an integral part of Covid, of the Command meetings, and as our chair at that time. I would implore the board to support Mark and myself on the screening committee.
“This is a non-partisan decision but clearly a lot of our votes are partisan and that’s just the way it is. I don’t want this to get political but if we have a representation of myself and Mark, then no one can say it is political and I’ll just leave it at that.”
Herrick disagreed that politics has anything to do with the decision.
“We were elected to represent all the citizens of Reading and this is a non-partisan board. So, this argument has no weight here,” said Herrick.
Haley disagreed with Herrick.
“The fact still remains that the town is the way the town is. I don’t know how we can ignore that fact,” said Haley.
“I’m going to stop you right there,” said Herrick. “You’re repeating things you’ve already said. Do you have new information that the board should know about? I haven’t heard anything new that you haven’t already said.”
A frustrated Haley said, “I’ll just put it this way, it’s par for the course at this point.”
Dockser stayed above the fray and said he was comfortable with whomever the two Select Board members on the search committee were. He also referenced lessons learned from the police chief search, that led to David Clarke’s appointment in 2020. He suggested input from town staff and having the library director on the committee.
Town Moderator Alan Foulds joined the virtual meeting and spoke of his interest in being on the committee.
“I’ve been around all through Bob’s tenure and a big chunk of Peter’s,” said Foulds of LeLachuer and Hechenbleikner. “I’ve seen both of our town managers and I think I have the background as well.”
“I think it’s a great idea to include the moderator,” said Dockser.
Officially, the Select Board didn’t add Foulds to the search committee, but added the Town Moderator. It might sound like the same thing but it was important to the board that the actual position of Town Moderator was represented on the search committee.
As for the two department heads, the discussion centered on Library Director Amy Lannon along with a public safety official, most likely Fire Chief and Covid Command Chair Greg Burns. But since the board hadn’t asked either if they wished to be on the search committee, it was left open. If, by chance, only one from the group of Lannon, Burns, and/or Police Chief David Clark were available, the Select Board left open the possibility of three residents on the committee.
Town Counsel Ivria Fried advised the board throughout the meeting. For those who enjoy the legal side of these decisions, the two select board members, along with the town moderator, and two department heads would all serve ex officio because of their current roles in town government. The Latin phrase ex officio means being a member of a body such as the search committee by virtue of holding another office.
On a lighter note, whether you agree or disagree with Select Board’s decision, there’s a unique way to express your feelings while earning money for a good cause. It’s called a dunk tank.
This Sunday at the Reading Fall Street Faire, the Select Board, School Committee and other town officials will be participating in “Dunk the Readings.” It’s all to benefit an emergency fund to aid the victims displaced at the General Washington Apartments at 625 Main Street. Residents of the 39 units have been forced out of their apartments until repairs can be done.
From noon to 5 p.m. you can donate $2 for one ball, $5 for three balls, or $20 for an auto dunk. Credit cards are accepted but cash or Venmo is the preferred choice. All proceeds go to the residents of 625 Main Street Fund.