Published in the October 4, 2018 edition
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
NORTH READING — At virtually every biweekly Select Board meeting there is a need for the board to hold an executive session to address the multitude of issues that arise in municipal government concerning matters ranging from contracts and litigation to personnel and security, and others, as allowed under the state’s Open Meeting Law for those times when an open meeting is deemed to have a detrimental effect on the town’s position.
This past Monday night the board had an ambitious schedule as its closed door session involved four different exemptions to the Open Meeting Law (MGL Ch. 30A Sec. 21) – exemptions 2, 3, 5 and 7.
Exemption 5 on the posted agenda stood out because it is so rarely invoked: “To investigate charges of criminal misconduct or to consider the filing of criminal complaints.”
At the end of Monday night’s open session the mystery concerning exemption 5 was revealed when Town Administrator Michael Gilleberto somberly and candidly read the following statement:
“As has been discussed over the past year, the Department of Public Works is in the middle of a townwide water meter replacement project. The town has contracted with a vendor from which it is purchasing new water meters, and with another vendor to perform the replacement of residential, commercial, and other meters over the past few months.
“In August, the contractor and the town identified that some of the new water meters delivered to a town water facility appeared to be missing. The matter was referred to the North Reading Police Department and a criminal investigation was initiated. Preliminary findings were provided to DPW Director Patrick Bower and me in late September, and an administrative investigation led by the DPW Director commenced. Both the criminal and administrative investigations remain open today.
“The missing meters remain unaccounted for and are presumed stolen. While I am not prepared to comment on the number of missing meters due to the ongoing nature of the investigations, I can tell you that DPW staff are reviewing shipping information, invoicing, and installation records associated with the nearly 5,000 meters to be replaced as part of this project.
“The final projected water meter replacement costs have been anticipated to be far below the total appropriations for the water meter replacement project since the awarding of the contracts, and at this time we do not anticipate a need to request additional funding to complete the water meter replacement project despite this loss. The town is also consulting with its insurance carrier to determine if there may be insurance coverage on this loss.
“During the course of the investigations, security and access issues were identified that require improvements to be made. Some of these improvements have already been made, however others will require additional funding. For this reason, DPW is requesting additional funding at October Town Meeting to complete these improvements as soon as possible. This funding would be appropriated from water enterprise retained earnings and will not affect the FY 2019 water rate. For security reasons, we are unable to elaborate publicly on the nature of these improvements.
“I am personally angry, disappointed, and frustrated that the town is in this position. Every avenue is being investigated to hold accountable any party or parties responsible for this loss. As this is an ongoing criminal and administrative investigation, I am unable to comment further at this time.”
The meeting was adjourned following Gilleberto’s statement without further comment by the board members who had, at that point, been in session for over five hours.