READING – Just for a moment, let’s park all thoughts of Reading parking.
The Select Board did more than just debate kiosks and communication Tuesday night in a near five-hour marathon.
It started with the Board of Health, a group of volunteers that have been doing more than their fair share since March in dealing with Covid-19. The workload and stress of the job caused first the resignation of chair Emmy Dove in June, then subsequent chair Eleanor Tate Shonkoff last month.
The Volunteer Appointment Sub-Committee (VASC) was tasked with finding two replacements. The good news was that with all the departures from the Board of Health, the VASC already had a working list of strong candidates. The bad news? Select Board member Vanessa Alvarado summed it up.
“That’s a serious problem and eventually we’re going to run out of candidates,” said Alvarado of the turnover.
The VASC made a recommendation and it was accepted by a pair of 5-0 votes with Dr. Richard Lopez elevated from Associate (non-voting) member to a full member and Geri Cramer named an Associate member.
The Select Board packet for Tuesday’s meeting included two letters from Dove and Tate Shonkoff. In her letter, Tate Shonkoff outlined what she felt was a well-functioning health infrastructure focused on the Board of Health, the Health Department and management. She felt too much was placed on the Board of Health.
“I felt that we were compensating – filling roles that were of critical importance during a pandemic but were not being performed by the Health Department. I hope that the Board and Town can continue to rebalance the roles and provide assurance that our obligations to the state and community are met.”
She added that she saw a lack of transparency between the Board of Health and the Health Department as well as a lack of functional support for the board. She urged the Select Board to “follow up on this issue … until the problem has been fixed.”
As for Dove, her letter dealt with Town Manager Bob LeLacheur, correcting a statement he made at the Sept. 8 Select Board meeting. Dove said during March she made repeated requests to have the town’s Health Agent Laura Vlasuk present at Command meetings to discuss the Covid-19 response. Her request was ignored and she said on March 31, LeLacheur “suggested we adjust our [Command meeting] schedule so Command meetings would tag onto the end of one of our board meetings each week.” He referenced that issue in a statement Sept. 8 to the Select Board.
The statement didn’t sit well with Dove.
“This particular statement made by Mr. LeLacheur in the last Select Board meeting didn’t sit well with me. In March, I was putting in roughly 40 hours per week between meetings, associated prep work, and communication with the Command team and Health Agent. The time commitment became roughly 20 hours per week in April. I maintained this intense schedule for months out of a sense of duty and dedication to the position and this town, but it is a tremendous and unreasonable amount for a board member. I want to make it clear that I resigned in large part due to the fact that I, as the Board of Health chair, was expected to act as Health Director for the Town of Reading. This is a completely unacceptable expectation for a volunteer.”
In other agenda items, the board approved 13 warrant articles for the November Town Meeting. The Nov. 9 meeting is expected to again be a virtual affair … With roughly 40 emails in their packet opposed to a potential cell tower on Auburn Street, the board discussed plans for the Oct. 20 meeting in which they’ll deal with the water tower replacement and cell tower. A similar discussion took place in June but until recently there’s been little protest about the plans. Numerous emails referred to a 200-foot cell tower even though the town has made no such plans yet … Carlo Bacci said the proposed development on the old Reading Chronicle site has been scaled back from 19 to 12 units, eliminating an entire floor.