This is the first in a series of profiles on each of the five candidates running for three selectmen positions.
Being a selectman is a thankless job --at least that's the opinion of Board of Selectmen Chair Gary Luca.
But Luca is still running for his fourth term as a selectman, arguing that there is still more he can do.
"I feel as though I can still contribute and do some good for the people of Ayer," he said, sitting in the kitchen with his wife, Pam, in their home on Groton School Road.
"If you're in it to get accolades or anything else you're in it for the wrong reason," he said. "What you should be doing is for the people."
Luca said he first got involved because he thought he could make a difference -- and still thinks he can.
"Plus, it gets me out of the house," he jokes, adding an "oh, sorry," to his wife.
Luca admits that the board is a "dysfunctional family" held together by Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand. But he said the board still gets things done.
"You're always going to have disagreements, you're not going to have everybody agree with everything," he said. "The world would be kind of dull if they did."
This year, the board will shrink from five to three members following the town's vote to pass the change into law.
Luca said the number of people on the board does not make a difference to him, but whether the people on it have agendas.
"That's what I've found has been the biggest difference in the eight years I've been there -- a majority of people on the board have an agenda on something," he said.
The only thing on Luca's agenda is the taxpayers, he said. For him, the budget is one of the first issues that should always be addressed.
"Thankfully, the last few years we've been in really good shape," he said. "We've decreased a lot of our cost, so that's helped ease everything."
But one of his biggest concerns is the state of town roads and overall infrastructure, and he cites this year's proposal to replace one of the town's major water lines that runs along East Main Street.
"We're talking about a couple million dollars to have to do all the work, so we have to line up some funding and that has to be on the top of the list to get done," he said.
The issue of Devens took yet another form this year with Harvard Selectman Leo Blair's proposal of an overlay governance district. In this proposal, the three towns of Ayer, Harvard and Shirley would have reigned over Devens during the transition period that ends in 2033.
But the initiative was stifled after one meeting of the Joint Boards of Selectmen ended in an argument over jurisdiction.
The towns were trying to see if they thought they should poll their residents on what they thought of the proposal, and also if they thought that Devens residents should be polled first.
"I go back and forth on this," Luca said on the idea. "I don't know if it's a good or bad thing. It's such an odd situation up there, it's different from anything else, and it seems as though anything that you want to do up there gets met with resistance by one of the three towns, or two of the three towns, or MassDevelopment."
Although JBOS was set up as an advisory board to MassDevelopment, Luca, the JBOS chair, said the government agency has not taken any advice since its inception.
The issue of whether to poll Devens residents ultimately tore the board apart, with Blair arguing that Devens residents can already be polled in Harvard since some of them already vote there.
Luca said Blair has a point.
"They're living up there, there are historic boundaries of Ayer and Harvard, they have a right to vote in Ayer or Harvard depending on where they live," he said. "So why would you give them an extra right where they already have the right to vote in either town?"
Luca said Devens can be polled, but the question should still come before the other towns.
"I guess I could care less if they have a vote or not," he said. "If they want a vote, let them vote, but I still think the towns need to go forward regardless of what their vote is."
Property enforcement also reared its head this year, most recently with selectmen telling farmer Ralph McNiff to clean up his land. Although some might see the demands as overbearing, Luca said he does not see any problems with what the board has done.
Initiating enforcement needs to be done to a point, Luca said.
"The point is how far do you go? And where do you draw that line?" he said. "That's my only concern, that it could get ugly, but if it's done right it would be fine."
The board also voted to transfer Assistant Treasurer Melisa Doig to the supervision of Pontbriand again this year, after another round of complaints Doig filed against Treasurer Stephanie Gintner.
Luca said it's good that Doig is under the supervision of Pontbriand because the board can work more closely with her. He supports the idea of changing her job description to that of a payroll/benefits manager, which would entail most of her current duties but put her under the authority of Pontbriand.
The board rejected such a reclassification in 2012, with some taking issue because of its higher pay grade. The five-grade increase would have paid Doig's salary higher than Gintner's, Nashoba Publishing reported at the time.
Back then, Luca said, he had no problem with it.
"You reward your good employees and she's certainly worth it," he said. "People say I'm prejudiced because I support her but I support her because she does a very good job."
Luca touts his financial capabilities as a good reason or his re-election. The audit that he requested from the state during his first term helped determine the financial shape the town was in, he said.
He also helped settle two lawsuits against the town for wrongful incarceration, working down from a payment in millions to only a couple hundred thousand dollars, he said.
The town also saved $250,000 for each of the past two years on health insurance, he said, and will save $135,000 this year.
"Being a part of all that, I feel good that I've done what I've done for the town," he said. "I think people see that, and, hopefully, they'll vote for me again."
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