One person is again at the helm of the Reading Municipal Light Department even though the attorney for the light department’s board of commissioners has reportedly said the board’s vote to appoint rotating interim general managers was within the board’s purview.
The board voted March 27 to allow two specific RMLD employees to rotate into the top post after appointing Kevin Sullivan interim GM in February.
Town Manager Peter Hechenbleikner, after consulting with the town’s attorney, contended that the vote was “null and void” procedurally because the vote violated the town charter and Robert’s Rules of Order.
Under the charter, Hechenbleikner said, notice must be posted and a hearing held before the interim general manager could be removed. Under Robert’s Rules, the light board brought up an issue – rotating interim general managers – again in March after defeating a similar motion in February. The vote should have followed the procedure for reconsideration, according to Hechenbleikner.
The light department’s attorney contends the rules are different for an interim general manager and state law governing light departments supersedes local rules.
One of the two individuals who was named to rotate in as interim GM, Jane Parenteau, no longer wants the rotation, light board Chairman John Stempeck told board members Wednesday.
The light department board voted 4-0 Wednesday to make Kevin Sullivan interim general manager until either the board hires a new general manager or, according to the motion, appoints another interim general manager.
The light board has "processed" the issue, Hechenbleikner told Patch yesterday when asked for his reaction to the board's vote.
At the board’s previous meeting, on April 10, Stempeck strongly criticized Hechenbleikner for questioning the board’s prior vote to allow rotating interim general managers.
The light board is a separate entity from the town, Stempeck said. So why is the town making judgments on the light board?
You are subject to the town charter, Hechenbleikner replied, which established the light department and light board. The town manager has no authority over the light department or light board, Hechenbleikner said. But if he sees a charter-related issue, he continued, he brings it to the attention of the authority that oversees the issue.
We try to do the right thing, said Stempeck.
“Following the letter of the law seems to be throwing a monkey wrench” into things.
Stempeck also criticized the expense of following Hechenbleikner’s suggestion to put the legal questions the town manager raised to the light department attorney.
Stempeck said the light board rejected his suggestion to hire a professional recruiter to fill the GM’s position. The board considered a local person who he did not name for the GM job, Stempeck said, but the resident backed out at the last minute.
In the audience at that meeting, North Reading Selectman Michael Prisco criticized having rotating interim managers. Is that fair, Prisco asked, to candidates for general manager from outside the light department? RMLD also serves North Reading, Wilmington and Lynnfield.
Prisco, at the North Reading Board of Selectmen meeting Monday, also said Stempeck treated him “with disrespect” when he asked questions and “shut off” Hechenbleikner.
Reading Selectman John Arena attended the North Reading selectmen's meeting and invited them to attend Wednesday night’s light board meeting.
Filling an empty light board seat
In related action, Hechenbleikner proposed that the Board of Selectmen and light department’s Board of Commissioners meet together on May 7 to fill the light board seat left vacant by former commissioner Marsie West, who was elected a selectman. He urged that all four members of the light board and five selectmen attend the meeting. Arena said he will not be able to attend that meeting. Hechenbleikner has asked the chairman of the board of selectmen how to proceed.
In the meantime, applications for that seat should be sent, Hechenbleikner said, to his office in Town Hall.
Code of Conduct at Light Board Meetings
During Wednesday’s meeting, Stempeck proposed that a code of conduct be developed and read at all light board meetings.
He proposed that the code contain three parts:
- board members are volunteers, elected to serve the communities in the department’s service area with reliable power at the lowest cost
- speakers use facts and constructive criticism, not conjecture
- speakers not assail the character of light board or light board Citizens Advisory Board members.
Public input on the code is welcome, Stempeck said.
The board voted 4-0 to establish a code at a future, unspecified meeting.