READING — A party broke out at Tuesday night’s board meeting, complete with sheet cake, chocolate and lots of laughs. The biggest smile in the room belonged to Bob LeLachuer, who was attending his final meeting as Reading general manager.
There was some work done during the 3 1/2 hour meeting, with four votes, an overview of the April meeting mandate, and an ominous discussion of a future water bill increase. But why let the serious stuff get in the way of a piece of vanilla cake with “Thanks Bob” written in red icing. It was the same message that a banner hung outside City Hall carried.
“Thank you for all your hard work,” President Karen Herrick told LeLacheur before turning the floor over to the other members.
“Your job has not been easy,” said Anne Landry. “You have been a strong financial steward for the community, leaving us in very good financial shape, which I certainly appreciate. You have an incredibly strong work ethic that has served our community well. We are happy to know that you will be just down the road.We’ll try not to disturb you when you leave but we’re glad we can still call you our neighbor.”
“It was truly a pleasure working with you,” said Mark Dockser, a member of the search committee that chose LeLacheur in 2013. “The separation is such a sweet pain, but thank you so much.”
“For us, as a city, it’s a chapter in a book,” said Carlo Bacci. “We are closing one chapter and opening another and we look forward to this. I have had the privilege of serving with one of the finest city managers in the state. You are one of the reasons I have ran twice, to keep you as long as you wanted to stay. Just want to thank you for your hard work during the pandemic and for really keeping things together.
“In the short time I’ve been here, from what I’ve seen of you and how the community is responding, I definitely know you will be missed,” Chris Haley said.
Even the newcomer, the new city manager Fidel Maltez, was able to intervene.
“In the short time that I have known you, you are a gentleman. You have been incredibly welcoming and I can’t think of a better town or man to take over. If I can fill your shoes a little, I’ll be proud to be part of this community.
Then it was the man of the hour’s turn to speak. LeLacheur, whose last day is Feb. 25, recalled a slow introduction to reading that didn’t go as planned.
“As many of you know, I started out as a volunteer. I volunteered for the finance committee. Coming from a Wall Street background, I thought, oh, this will be easy. They will sweep me away. And I was quickly shown the door saying no you are not qualified. But we have a landfill advisory committee. So I got stuck with the city dump. A lot of people may have quit there, but I said, okay, that’s going to be interesting.
“I stuck with that for a few years and then I spent eight years at FinCom. Meeting some of my peers and thinking about it, I see myself as a volunteer who happens to be a CEO. I’m not a CEO municipal professional who could have gone here or there. I’m just someone who moved up the ranks, and all of a sudden everyone took a step back and I was the one who moved forward.
“I think I was very rude and inexperienced in many ways. But I was a good listener. And you have to listen to people, you have to listen to staff. understand most people. It’s a difficult time. I haven’t shared all the bad things with Fidel because I don’t want him to leave again. It’s not an easy job and I wish him everything the success I’ve had and I hope the community welcomes you as it welcomed me.
LeLacheur ended by correcting the idea that his job was thankless.
“People have come to me over the years and said, ‘I don’t know how you do this job. It’s so ungrateful. It’s not an easy job, but thankless is the last thing it is. I’ve been thanked thousands of times over the years and shouted at very little. The ratio is quite good outside of this building. In this building, maybe it evens out.
After the statements, the select committee presented LeLacheur with a plaque saluting the Reading Town Managers and met with Maltez for a group photo.
Then came the hour of work.
In keeping with the theme of the party, Lisa Egan, executive director of the Reading-North Reading Chamber of Commerce, appeared before council to tell them about Reading’s new outdoor party, Winterfest.
Winterfest will take place on Thursday, March 10 from 5-7 p.m. at Reading Town Common. There will be food trucks, S’mores, fire pits, ice sculptures, music from North Shore 104.9 and a beer garden, located on the paved road in front of City Hall and serving Sam Adams.
The board voted 5-0 to fill vacancies on three committees. Stephen Theodoridis will join the Cultural Council, Jean-Paul Plouffe will join the Office of Assessors and Nora Bucko will join the ad hoc committee of the Reading Center for Active Living.
With another 5-0 vote, the board accepted the gift of a new right field scoreboard at Sturges Park from Reading Softball. The goal is to have the dashboard in place for the next spring season. Hitters should note that the scoreboard will be 230 feet from home plate, a healthy hit for little leaguers.
The council voted 5 to 0 in favor of allowing overnight parking for 35 cars at the train depot. The proposal came from the parking lot traffic transportation task force and is for space located in the south gated lot on the Lincoln Street side. Vehicles must have a valid Reading Community Access Sticker.
Tuesday’s final vote was approval of Meadow Brook’s request to transfer its liquor license from last summer’s temporary tent to the new clubhouse.
LeLacheur viewed the mandate for the April municipal assembly. There are 19 amendments with the potential for three more before the term closes on March 1. Section 15, which focuses on amending the city’s zoning bylaw regarding the Downtown Smart Growth District, is sure to get the most attention. LeLacheur said he and Maltez will meet with city moderator Alan Foulds on Wednesday to discuss whether the city meeting should be remote or in person.
The only sour note of the night dealt with a potential 25% increase when the Select Board sets the next water rate. The issue relates to the necessary repairs along the water mains of Walkers Brook. The water main is about 70 years old and will cost the city over $1 million to repair. The city has already spent $400,000 repairing the water pipes and another $700,000 is needed to complete the job. Another variable for the commune is the increase planned by the MWRA. Although the city’s water reserve fund has helped, it will soon be depleted and this money has been used by the Select Board to mitigate increases in recent years.
Some Board members discussed the potential use of ARPA funds as well as seeking additional funding from state or other sources. It will be one of the first challenges of the Maltez era at Reading. Water rates are usually set by the council in April.