SHIRLEY -- In an April 28 letter to selectmen and subsequent conversations with Town Administrator Patrice Garvin, War Memorial Building Trustees expressed dissatisfaction with language in a lease set to expire in June that they do not want to renew as written.
Chairwoman Theresa Richards and Trustee Norman Albert told selectmen Monday night that the lease strips them of their responsibilities as elected officials and cedes the legal right to control use of the town-owned building to selectmen.
Citing Massachusetts law and town records dating back to 1936, Richards and Albert traced the genesis of a custodial conundrum that Garvin posited might date back to the 1980s, when records show the lease issue first came up.
The current lease, hammered out at a high price with hefty input from former town counsel, is based on the attorney's "flawed" interpretation of the law and does not recognize the trustees rights and responsibilities as building custodians, Albert said. Basically, "our authority was voided by town counsel's flawed opinion," he said, adding that it was "too bad" the town can't get back its legal fees.
The trustees' rights and responsibilities are spelled out in state law, Richards said, although she was not clear when "War Memorial Trustees" became "War Memorial Building Trustees," since it appears they have never taken oversight of other war memorials and monuments in town, only for the War Memorial Building.
"Our preferred outcome" would be for the next lease to be between the trustees and the Legion, the building's sole tenant, currently and historically, and if there is a separate agreement with the town it should clearly state that the building is administered by the trustees, she said, scratching the notion that they do so with selectmen's permission.
Selectmen could sign on behalf of the town as the building's owner, but as it is, the trustees are "allowed" by the other board to do what the law already charges them with doing, Richards said, and that, in a nutshell, is the rub.
"The trustees have always rented out the building, but they are not "the landlord," Albert said, which was about the only thing he figures the town's former attorney got right.
Otherwise, "he was erroneous in his determinations," Albert said.
Selectman David Swain agreed selectmen should not play a role in building management, but they do have jurisdiction over town-owned buildings and the lease reflects that. "So where am I confused?" he asked. "I want to keep the trustees as a viable organization."
Chairwoman Kendra Dumont said it was a matter of interpreting phrases in the lease differently but in her view, counsel "did their due diligence to the extreme." And she was leery of having no say in the rental deal, given that the town is billed for building utilities.
Albert said it could be spelled out either in the lease or an accompanying document that the tenant, American Legion Post 183, pays the town for its share of utility costs.
Richards suggested a "memorandum of understanding" or perhaps a document in lieu of a lease. She stressed that the last thing the trustees want is a "confrontation" with the town.
Swain suggested having the new town counsel take a look at the issue to see if there's an alternative that suits both sides when she's "on our dime" for Town Meeting on June 2.
Albert asked if the trustees could sit in on that meeting.
Swain said he had no problem with that, nor did Dumont or Selectman Robert Prescott.