READING — As the Town of Reading prepares for next month’s municipal elections, the three candidates for Select Board took the stage at last Thursday’s Candidate Forum to present their vision for Reading’s future.
The forum, which was hosted and broadcasted by RCTV, touched on a number of the big issues facing the town. Among the main topics discussed included the town’s financial future, the role of national politics in local issues, the candidates’ positions on future capital projects and the recent dust-up concerning the police chief hiring process.
The candidates include current Select Board member Andrew Freidmann, who is seeking re-election, longtime small business owner Carlo Bacci, and Karen Gately Herrick, a member of the Finance Committee as well as a longtime real estate broker. The three candidates are competing for two seats on the board.
Right at the top, Friedmann addressed his controversial comments at the Feb. 11 Select Board meeting ( in which he suggested that he was intimidated by the large number of police officers in attendance adding they ride around Reading with guns) during the board’s discussion of the police chief hiring process. In addition to reiterating his apology to the department and to deputy chief David Clark — who has since officially earned approval as the town’s new Chief of Police — he emphasized his past and present support for Reading’s public safety officials.
“I have always been a big proponent of the Reading Police and Fire Departments, I worked hard to support the passage of an override that provided much needed funding to both departments. Like the police officers I am a union member and I know the importance of collective bargaining and I’ve voted in support of collective bargaining agreements with both unions,” Friedmann said. “Moving forward I will continue my strong support of the Police and Fire Departments and this work is ongoing.”
The forum’s first question also addressed the police issue, and Bacci and Herrick each emphasized that they stand behind the police and support the existing hiring process in which the Town Manager’s duty is to identify a candidate that the Select Board will then approve.
On several subsequent topics, all three candidates largely agreed with one another. All three said they believe national politics have no place in local governance, and that they all supported the 2018 override and pledged to make sure it lasts as long as possible.
“We have many issues going on in town so what we need is to work together to make this override lasts as long as possible,” Bacci said. “Even if we save $5,000 here and $10,000 there, it will really add up.”
Where the candidates differed was on their overall vision for what Reading could look like in 10 years and what they would do to realize that vision. Herrick, for instance, emphasized her commitment to green energy, as well as a desire to prioritize the revitalization of the Pleasant Street Senior Center.
“One of the most important capital projects that I’d like to see in the next year, in addition to school space, would be the needed additions to the Pleasant Street center,” Herrick said. “Whether that’s reimagined as a broader community and teen center or minimally we help the seniors get a bathroom on the first floor, I think that is a priority for the town and I’d like to see completed, hopefully much sooner than 10 years.”
Friedmann said he would like to see the ongoing transformation of the downtown area continue along with the renovation of the Killam Elementary School, while Bacci said his hope is that Reading will adopt policies to help small businesses while addressing zoning and parking issues downtown to improve the area’s vitality.
A discussion of the candidates’ accomplishments and credentials did result in one of the more contentious moments of the forum. After Bacci, the former owner of The Chocolate Truffle, extolled his experience as a small business owner, Herrick used one of her rebuttals to emphasize her own small business experience while noting that Bacci isn’t the only small business owner at the table.
That comment prompted Bacci to respond by challenging Herrick’s credentials.
“What small business do you own?” he asked. “Do you have employees, rent, payroll, worker’s comp, liability insurance?”
“I have a profit and loss statement, I have expenses, I sometimes have employees,” said Herrick, who has a Master’s in Business Administration from Bentley University and 17 years of experience as a real estate broker. “Is this a competition?”
“It’s not a competition, you just brought it up,” Carlo said.
“I did bring it up, just to specifically state that you’d like to present yourself as the only small business person at this table and that is incorrect,” said Herrick.
The last two topics discussed involved communication, both between the Select Board and the various volunteer boards and committees, as well as between the town and the community at large. All three candidates agreed that communication and transparency needs to improve while emphasizing the importance of respecting the volunteers who give their time and expertise to the town.
“We appoint the members of these boards and committees based on their experience and they have a mission,” Friedmann said. “They become experts on those topics for us, they investigate the many issues that come before the town for us, and as long as they’re following their mission and doing their job, the board needs to respect their opinion on matters that they know more about than we do.”
The election will be held on Tuesday, March 3.
Editor’s Note: Since the February 13th forum two term Select Board incumbent John Halsey has yielded to the wishes of supporters who urged him to seek a third term as a write-in candidate for Select Board. He becomes the fourth candidate for the two positions.