AYER -- Selectmen continued to set clear rules and parameters for Selectman Frank Maxant, taking a vote Tuesday that clarifies that the board has made no official stance on a Town Meeting-approved home-rule petition to shrink the size of the board from five to three members. Maxant joined in for the 5-0 vote.
Maxant offered to "testify" for the board at a Wednesday morning Statehouse hearing on the petition. Selectman Pauline Conley asked her peers to weigh in on Maxant's offer in light of the events of the past few weeks.
Two weeks ago, Maxant attempted to drove forward a theoretical proposal for Ayer to loan Shirley $500,000 to help Shirley cover its share of the Ayer Shirley Regional School District tab. The idea was later rejected by Shirley selectmen.
The idea, by Ayer Town Accountant Lisa Gabree, was for Ayer to loan the money, collateralized by Shirley municipal property. Maxant took the idea a step further, asking the governor's office to convey land within the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone to Shirley to act as collateral for Ayer.
After Maxant contacted the state, Ayer selectmen voted to strip Maxant of his title as vice chairman and wrote a letter to the state, clarifying that Maxant was acting on his own in making the land-transfer request.
In light of the board's perception that Maxant was going rougue, Conley stated she wanted to "make sure we give you direction."
"As far as I'm concerned, I have nothing to say on the matter," said Gary Luca.
Christopher Hillman said Wednesday's hearing was perfunctory, adding the Legislature is "pretty much a rubber stamp down there" in regards to Ayer's request. "It's going to come back to the people of Ayer so there's really not much we can say that's going to change anything."
"I wouldn't want you to say anything one way or another," added Luca.
Chairman Jim Fay said the discussion was moot because selectmen hadn't voted on the issue in the past.
Conley pressed to ensure that Maxant only speak as a "private citizen. I would not want him to speak as Selectman Frank Maxant and advocate anything one way or another except as a private resident."
Conley asked Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand to relay to the board what Maxant had told them both earlier that evening as to what Maxant intended to say at the hearing.
Maxant interrupted. "I can speak for myself."
Maxant started by assuring that he wouldn't "hesitate to identify myself" as a selectmen, adding that "anyone that knows government" realizes that a selectman is elected and can testify on points of interest without his host board's blessing. "Anyone with common sense should resent your inference."
Maxant said he would present "facts" such as the Town Meeting vote. "If the board doesn't want to me to say that, I won't say that."
"I'd like to know what your position is," said Luca.
"I'm presenting information," answered Maxant. "I'm not taking a position."
"So if you're asked a question, you're not going to give them an answer?" asked Luca.
Conley pressed Maxant to ensure he'd not make comment under the auspices of the collective board. "If they're stupid enough to need that," said Maxant. "It'll state it."
Luca motioned specifically that the board has no formal position on the matter. "It was done at Town Meeting." The board unanimously agreed with the statement.
In other board business, selectmen approved a petition brought forth by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative for four telephone poles between Main Street and the Brooks Street Ayer DPW headquarters. The DPW facility houses equipment that serves as a "backbone" hub for fiberoptic 'gateway' service for Central and western Massachusetts.
The Ayer gateway facility will assist the semipublic Massachusetts Broadband Institute in bringing Internet service to 123 communities, and 1,400 facilities, in the western parts of the state. Permit coordinator Michael Nolan said Ayer will also have eight community access points to the backbone.
Nolan said Ayer is to serve as an important "point of intersect" for the project. The other significant hub for the westward expansion is a second connection facility in Springfield.
Pending impact bargaining with the AFS-CME Local 93 clerical union, selectmen approved the $100 to bond Assistant Town Clerk Laurie Fritz for receiving tax payments in the co-managed Town Clerk/Tax Collector's offices. The request was made by Town Clerk and Tax Collector John Canney, and presented to the board in his absence by Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand.
Pontbriand said Fritz's assistance is needed in the three-man office whenever Canney or the assistant tax collector was unavailable to greet taxpayers at the office window.
"There are situations where she would have to take in money and that's a risky situation," said Pontbriand.
The assistant clerk has not been bonded before. The union must agree on the change in duties else the change could be "considered an unfair labor practice," said Pontbriand.
Selectmen awarded a $2,297,887 contract for the construction of the Grove Pond water-treatment facility and well treatment to Winston Builders Corp.
Immediately after, there was a $316,870 change order crediting back the sum to stay within available funding for project engineering and contingencies.
The board also voted to apply for a $40,000 feasibility grant offered by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Technology Center to study the possibility of capturing methane gas emitted by the town's wastewater treatment facility for renewable energy. The $5,850 balance of the study, to be conducted by CDM-Smith, will be borne by the current wastewater division professional services budget.
Selectmen adopted a position piece drafted by Pontbriand regarding the Army's proposed ongoing treatment plans for an underground arsenic plume of disputed origin. The Army claims the arsenic is naturally occurring in the area, a byproduct of granite deposits.
But town officials and the grassroots group People of Ayer Concerned for the Environment have dogged the Army, challenging that the now-closed Shepley's Hill Landfill on the former Fort Devens Army base clocks extraordinarily high arsenic readings aside and under the former Army dumping grounds. The town's official stance presses the Army to pay the town's legal expenses for drafting more stringent land use regulations to prohibit private wells in the affected area of town to prevent consumption of the contaminated ground water and movement of the plume underground.
Pontbriand's letter also seeks "permanent, dedicated technical support" for the town with all benefits and post-employment expenses shouldered by the Army.
The public has until Friday at 5 p.m. to file responses to the Army's proposed treatment plans at: Army BRAC Environmental Coordinator, 30 Quebec Street (Unit 100), Devens, MA 01434-4479. Responses may also be filed via email to email@example.com. The Army's proposed treatment plan can be viewed on the town's website www.ayer.ma.us.
Pontbriand said the town considers the long- and short-term impacts of the arsenic to be "extremely serious."
Ayer Recycling Committee Chairwoman Laurie Sabol came with gifts for the board. Each selectman was handed a bag. Inside were a poster, a pair of rubber gloves, and two plastic bags -- one to collect trash and the other to collect recyclables as part of the Cleaner Ayer townwide cleanup set for Saturday, April 20, rallying at Depot Square from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The board meets twice again this week. On Wednesday at 6 p.m., selectmen are scheduled to convene in joint session with the Ayer Finance Committee to discuss the committee's proposed fiscal 2014 budget. Also to be discussed is $818,000 worth of capital requests recommended by the Capital Planning Committee. On Thursday at 7 p.m., the selectmen meet again to finalize the annual Town Meeting warrant. Both meetings are to take place at Ayer Town Hall.
Follow Mary Arata on twitter.com/maryearata.