READING - Town Clerk Laura Gemme yesterday confirmed receipt of a recall petition from citizens who purport to have met the statutory burden to advance the campaign to oust Select Board Chair Vanessa Alvarado from public office.
Reached by telephone yesterday afternoon, the town clerk acknowledged the recall petition had been returned to her office as required with what appears to be at least 2,000 signatures from registered voters.
"Yes. They have not been verified yet," responded Gemme, when asked if the paperwork was submitted.
Before that documentation is deemed sufficient, Gemme and her staff will have to certify the validity of the submitted signatures, which must match the names of active voters in Reading. In order to meet Town Charter thresholds, at least 10 percent of Reading's threshold must endorse the petition.
Should the signature threshold be met, Gemme must also declare that those backing the recall efforts come from a broad section of the community's eight voting precincts. Though not providing a hard deadline for completing the two-step review, the town clerk on Thursday was confident the certification process can be finalized by early next week.
Early Friday morning, in a statement to The Reading Chronicle, Alvarado indicated that should the recall petition be certified as valid, she will respond in full to the allegations against her.
Ever since the recall efforts were formally initiated on Feb. 14, the Select Board chair has declined to comment on the controversy around her leadership during Town Manager Bob LeLaucher's search for a new police chief.
Notably, when the petition was first introduced last month, the lead sponsor of the petition was identified as former Select Board member John Arena — whose own tenure on the Select Board was ended by Alvarado during municipal elections two-years-ago.
"I will wait until the signatures are certified before making a statement," Alvarado stated on Friday morning.
The recall petition that was circulated around the community over the past 21 days accuses the Select Board chair of violating provisions of Reading's Town Charter by blocking the ratification of a contract with new Reading Police Chief David Clark.
Clark, a 25-year-veteran of the local force and formerly Reading's deputy chief, was named by Lelaucher as the top contender for the chief's vacancy earlier this winter. He was officially sworn into office in late February, more than a year after former Police Chief Mark Segalla was placed on administrative leave due to pending domestic violence charges against him.
Segalla resigned from the job in June.
Critics of Alvarado allege that the chairwoman stymied Lelaucher's efforts to ink a contract with Clark that formalized his appointment to police chief.
"There's no more urgent board purpose than the preservation of town and citizen public safety. Reading has been without a police chief since 2019, which has created already obvious impacts on force cohesion and decision-making," the recall petition reads.
"Ms. Alvarado's active blocking of legitimate police discussions is a fundamental judgement failure and remains unacknowledged. Her unwillingness to hold discussion and a ratification vote…are a dereliction of duty, with continuing consequences to our police and citizens," the notice furthers.
According to Gemme, once her office completes the certification process, the petition — if classified as valid — will be forwarded to the Select Board's office. The Select Board will be required to notify their colleague in writing of the citizen's initiative, and Alvarado will be given a five days to submit her official resignation from office.
If she declines, town officials would call a special election within the following 90 days. At the polls, citizens will be asked to order Alvarado's removal and name her successor on the Select Board.