READING — On the day Town Hall closed and Tom Brady departed, the new-look Reading Select Board made the best of a bad situation.
With the coronavirus creating a scaled-down agenda Tuesday, the board’s first meeting since February 11 was over in just 74 minutes.
“As we can all understand, it’s a different world,” said Town Manager Bob LeLacheur.
That was obvious from the start. Anne Landry, Mark Dockser, and Karen Herrick all chose to stay home and participated via phone. The room was left to Carlo Bacci, Vanessa Alvarado, and LeLacheur, meaning that social distancing wasn’t a problem in the Select Board Meeting Room. Also missing was Andy Friedmann and John Halsey, who ran and lost in the March 3 town election, replaced by Bacci and Herrick.
LeLacheur spent the bulk of his update explaining the town’s response to the coronavirus. As of Tuesday there were no positive cases of the virus in town, but with the state total soaring past 200, that could change at any moment. Town Hall was closed Tuesday, and Wednesday’s Finance Committee Meeting could be the last meeting for some time.
LeLacheur said the town’s goal was to provide a unified message to its residents. That challenge is being made more difficult by the number of questions directed at officials.
“The volume of such inquiries right now is immense,” said LeLacheur.
Much of the town’s response involves volunteers and LeLacheur said one of their goals is to match volunteers with residents who need assistance.
Residents looking for information were told to go on the town’s website, readingma.gov. Information there is updated daily, and it includes links to federal and state resources. But LeLacheur also pointed out that the town’s goal was to reach everyone, including those without computers.
Town Moderator Alan Foulds followed with an update on the April 27 Town Meeting. In a letter sent to residents last week, Foulds had discussed ways in which the town could postpone the Annual Town Meeting if necessary. Tuesday night Foulds told the board, “already a postponement seems far more likely.” In Thursday’s letter he said, “Given the level of uncertainty, the best thing for us to do as a town is to continue moving forward to the April 27 meeting, monitor the situation, and be prepared to adjust as circumstances and guidance change.” Tuesday night he added, “stay tuned.”
At 7:19 p.m., Vanessa Alvarado stepped down as chair of the Select Board, a position she’s held for the past year. If you were present in the meeting room or watching on television, you’d never know there was a town-wide recall effort to remove her from the board.
Current members Anne Landry and Mark Dockser praised her service to the town, even as the recall effort is led in great part by former Reading Select Board members.
Once Town Clerk Laura Gemme finishes certifying the signatures on the petitions turned in last week, Gemme will issue a letter to the Select Board notifying them of the petition and Alvarado will be notified in writing. This will lead to a special election in May or June. When asked Tuesday about the recall effort, Alvarado declined comment but said she would be issuing a statement soon.
Dockser, the former Finance Committee chairman, is the new chair of the Select Board. He was nominated by Landry and won, 4-1, with only Bacci voting no.
Bacci had nominated Landry but she declined, saying with work and family, “it doesn’t make sense for me to take on that responsibility at this time.”
Alvarado then nominated Landry for vice-chair, praising her “balanced perspective.” Landry was unopposed. Bacci was voted the board’s secretary.
In other agenda items, Sharon Angstrom was re-appointed Town Accountant. “She’s terrific,” said LeLacheur with a laugh. “That’s all you need to know.” Angstrom, who has been managing Reading’s money since 2012, was a unanimous choice … the board voted unanimously to accept a gift from the Reading Little League that includes improvements to Hunt Field, including converting a closet into a permanent bathroom and field and dugout improvements.
One item that was of interest to many in town was parking changes. The board voted to approve stretching the current parking stickers from six months to a year, which basically kept the previous timeframe intact. And the Downtown Parking hearing that includes public comment was pushed to the April 14 meeting at 8 p.m.
Even though Bill Brown wasn’t in his usual seat at the meeting, he was still able to squeeze a sentence (or two) into a reporter’s story. According to Brown, the town will dedicate the varsity softball field at the high school in Frank Driscoll’s name on June 14.
A former marine and longtime Reading firefighter, Driscoll died last June. The event coincides with Flag Day and will include a plaque shaped like home plate. Driscoll’s familiar flip-flops will have a spot on the plaque.
The meeting ended with many in the room praising what they’ve seen and heard from residents since the coronavirus has taken over daily life.
“Kind, thoughtful, and friendly,” said Dockser of residents.
“We’re seeing the best of people in many ways,” said LeLacheur.
With one exception of course. According to LeLacheur, apparently some in town have been calling 911 to ask police where they can get takeout food. Not a strange question these days. But one better directed elsewhere.