DEVENS -- The regional advisory Joint Boards of Selectmen has morphed over the years. Once consisting of one selectman each from Ayer, Harvard and Shirley, the board later expanded to include a Devens representative and the collective membership of all three boards of selectmen.
The mood changed in 2011, when it was felt that a smaller JBOS, consisting of one primary and one alternate member from each community, would be more productive than a larger panel consisting of all the selectmen. The consensus was also to give a nonvoting seat at the table to state agency MassDevelopment, which manages the 4,400-acre former Fort Devens Army base lands known as the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone and oversees its build out.
One year ago, all the members of the three boards of selectmen and the Devens Committee membership signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) which states that "each appointing entity will ensure they are represented by their regular member or alternate at each regularly scheduled meeting."
But attendance has dwindled ever since the MOU was signed.
Shirley selectmen initially refused to participate, calling the meetings a waste of their time. The board relented and appointed a former selectman to attend JBOS meetings in their stead.
Harvard selectmen withdrew from regular JBOS meeting attendance over the summer, opting to attend only when a need arises to discuss issues of concern for the three towns.
Ayer selectmen followed suit for a time. On Oct. 30, Ayer selectmen voted to abstain from perfunctory monthly JBOS meeting attendance. Two weeks later, selectmen reversed course and agreed on Nov. 13 to resume regular JBOS meeting attendance.
At the Nov. 29 JBOS meeting, Ayer selectman Gary Luca suggested tweaking the MOU to state each JBOS community must send at least one representative to JBOS meetings, be it a selectman or otherwise.
"The onus is on each town to ensure this succeeds," said Luca.
It was not clear if a meeting would then be cancelled if any of the four community seats were empty for any given meeting. In an about-face from prior practice, JBOS Chairman Thomas Kinch refused to entertain questions from the media during the meeting to seek clarification on the board's subsequent 3-0 vote.
Kinch of Devens, Shirley representative Rico Cappucci and Ayer selectman and JBOS Vice Chairman Frank Maxant voted to adopt the MOU change. There was no Harvard selectmen present at the meeting or indication that Harvard had been advised of the suggested MOU change before the vote.
Luca called the recent JBOS success rate "frustrating," citing the failed 2009 and 2012 tri-town attempts to rezone the stalled Vicksburg Square Innovation and Technology campus into a multifamily residential project.
Maxant liked the idea of all communities having a representative to sit at the same table. "I'm in favor of it. I've sort of been an everybody-in-the-pool type of guy. I'd invite more to participate without upsetting our voting structure."
"I feel I would be an alternate if a selectman comes from Shirley," said Cappucci. "They're my bosses and I represent them."
"We pay him well," joked Shirley selectman David Swain, who also returned to the JBOS meeting table after a multimonth hiatus.
"I'd love to see Harvard back here, too," said Luca. "Me too," said Cappucci.
"It would simply take a vote of the board to alter this and get it moving again," suggested Kinch. To Swain, Kinch asked, "If all three of your members are here, is that a board of selectmen meting?"
"If we go into discussions," said Swain.
"So you can discuss and vote at a meeting?" asked Kinch.
"If it's posted," said Swain.
"I don't think our board would do that," said Luca. "If it was well advertised, maybe it could be done. Certain members like to have it out in the public and have it advertised. That's fine, that's the way it should be."
"On issues where the board was really adamant" and wished to "challenge" something on Devens, Cappucci suggested, "Therefore all the selectmen would have to come because it's going to cost money ... That's something where you can't go back to your board and they say "Whoa, what's that?"
"The key is we can't do anything that binds our appointing authority," said Maxant.
"We've always said any selectmen could attend," said Kinch. Substantive issues are to be voted on by host board, with the decisions brought back to the full JBOS by the respective JBOS representatives. But Kinch said the JBOS doesn't talk about substantive issues "when you stop to think about it, what do we talk about? Administrative matters."
After the 3-0 vote to make JBOS attendance mandatory, Luca suggested the town administrators for the three towns be advised "of what just happened."
The JBOS members brainstormed over ideas to push out its message. They considered a region-wide mailer to households, routinely emailing meeting minutes to each selectmen in the three towns, and ensuring videotaped JBOS meetings are aired in the three towns (the Nov. 29 JBOS meeting was not videotaped, however).
The JBOS also considered bridge-building with the Nashoba Valley Chamber of Commerce, and setting a meeting date with the MassDevelopment Board of Directors
The JBOS meets on the fourth Thursday of every month at 6 p.m., but the group agreed it will not meet for the month of December.
The chairmanship of the JBOS is to revolve among the four communities alphabetically. Devens holds the post now, and Harvard is to assume the leadership role in the coming year. But Harvard has not been attending meetings. After the meeting, Kinch said the JBOS meeting schedule will resume nonetheless in January.
Kinch confirmed that he'd like to stay aboard another year as JBOS chairman. ""There are some things I'd like to see finished. It's been a tough year for us. I'd like to see it mature. We know more about what we're supposed to be doing."
Follow Mary Arata on twitter.com/maryearata.