HARVARD -- With an open seat on the Community Preservation Committee to be filled until the elected position expires in April, the process calls for a joint roll call vote of the CPC and the selectmen to fill the vacancy.
Tuesday night, with two candidates for the same slot, the two groups could not agree on which one should be appointed: Former selectman Leo Blair, who was present, or former School Committee member Willie Wickman, who was not.
The CPC oversees allocation of funds for qualified projects under the Community Preservation Act, a state law that collects funds via a surcharge on resident's tax bills in communities that vote to participate in the program.
Surtax options range from one to three percent, with the state kicking in matching funds, the percentage of which has decreased each year since the CPA was established. In the beginning, the state matched taxpayer funding dollar for dollar.
There are strict criteria for use of CPA funds. Projects must be aimed at historic restoration, open space and recreation or affordable housing. It's the CPC's job to review project applications each year with those criteria in mind and to make project funding recommendations to Town Meeting, which allocates the money.
The CPC is part of the package by law, as is its makeup, which consists of both appointed and elected positions, with town boards assigning representatives.
The latter component comprised the rub in this instance.
Blair is a member of the Municipal Affordable Housing Trust, which is one of the boards with an assigned CPC member. If Blair were to fill the elected slot, two MAHT members would be seated at the CPC table. In the view of some selectmen and CPC members, that could be a problem.
CPC Chairman Debby Ricci, however, was not one of them. While Blair has attended recent CPC meetings, including two when project presentations were made, Wickman has not attended any, she said. In her view, that raises concerns about the candidate's interest. She and member Rhonda Sprague both favored Blair's appointment, which, as Sprague pointed out, is only temporary anyway, pending the next town election.
For his part, Blair said he wants to serve on the CPC because it's a way to "enrich citizen's lives." Having heard a couple of project requests, he also thinks it will be fun. "It's great group I'd like to be part of," he said.
Wickman, who was out of the country, sent a letter of interest, which Chairman Lucy Wallace read aloud. In part, the letter stated that Wickman wants to serve on the CPC to help preserve Harvard's rural character and to promote affordable housing goals.
Wickman said she's "comfortable with numbers" and now has time to serve on the CPC.
One Slot, Two Candidates
Selectman Ron Ricci nominated Leo Blair early on, but Marie Sobalvarro questioned whether it's a good idea to have two MAHT members on the CPC. "How do you folks feel about that?" she asked the members present
"We discussed it," Ricci said. "There is no conflict."
"We don't see a problem," Sprague added.
Selectman Tim Clark, however, clearly did. As a "gatekeeper" for CPA funds, the CPC was intended to be a "balanced" committee," he said. "I share Marie's concern." He asked Blair if the MAHT had discussed the issue.
Blair said no.
Sobalvarro said she'd like to hear the group's view on the subject.
After a vote was taken, the result of which was a stalemate -- six yes. six no -- there was some back and forth about whether waiting for the MAHT to weigh in would make any difference, since those who said no would likely do the same next time, either way.
Exasperated, Ricci said the discussion missed the point. "This is about filling a vacant position," he said. "I don't think anything (in the law) precludes this..." In his view, there's no reason Blair could not serve as an elected CPC member because he is an MAHT member. "You're pettifogging the issue," he said.
Johnson also wondered if taking a stand against Blair's appointment for that reason would set a precedent. Would it mean, for example, that current members of appointing boards should not run for elected seats on the CPC? he asked. "That's a public decision...either they (voters) care about it or they do not."
"Let's not go there," Wallace admonished. She was one of those who felt MAHP input would be useful.
In the end, that's what the selectmen decided would happen. With Blair's appointment in limbo on a tie vote, no move was made to initiate a second round by nominating Wickman. Instead, the MAHP would be contacted and the matter taken up again at the Dec. 18 meeting, Wallace said.