DEVENS - Confusion continues regarding which Ayer selectman will cast JBOS votes at meetings of the Joint Boards of Selectmen (JBOS). It's the second year in a row that there has been a hiccup in the JBOS leadership transition.
Under a 2011 Memorandum of Understanding (MOU), Ayer, Devens, Harvard and Shirley agreed the JBOS would consist of one primary and one alternate voting member. Ayer appointed selectman Frank Maxant as its primary and selectman Jim Fay as the town's alternate JBOS member.
But in January, the JBOS voted to elect Ayer selectman Gary Luca as its 2013 chair. With both Maxant and Luca present last Thursday, Maxant yielded the chairmanship to Luca but maintained that he remains the sole Ayer JBOS representative empowered to vote for the town.
Harvard was due to assume the chairmanship this year since the MOU dictates that the post rotates annually and alphabetically among the four communities. Devens held the gavel in 2012.
However, the Harvard selectmen have shunned routine monthly meetings, instead opting to officially attend only when regional matters applicable to all towns arise. In response to Harvard's stance and in Maxant's absence, the JBOS - including Luca- voted 3-0 on Jan. 24 to elect Luca as chairman.
At Thursday's JBOS meeting, Luca acknowledged that his own selectmen questioned the process. "Is it a problem?" asked Luca. "Is it an issue?"
"If any one of our selectmen show up and there's a vote to be made, that person is empowered as a selectman [to vote]," asserted Fay.
Harvard selectman Lucy Wallace attended the meeting in her individual capacity and not as her board's designee. As Wallace sought clarification over an attempted MOU amendment in 2012, Shirley JBOS representative Rico Cappucci moved to block Wallace's comments.
"Wait a minute," said Cappucci. "Are you voting as a member?" Cappucci has been outspoken in berating Harvard's lack of regular attendance at JBOS meetings.
"All selectmen are members of the JBOS," said Maxant. "I definitely want to hear what she has to say."
"God bless her," said Cappucci. "I'm glad she's here... But she's not going to come here and vote as a member of the audience."
"I think she is a member of JBOS as fully as any of us," said Maxant. "She's just not representative of the Town of Harvard."
The Luca/Maxant flap is similar to the Fay/Maxant flap of this time last year. Last winter, Fay was elected JBOS Vice Chair over Maxant. However, that vote was eventually reversed with an acknowledgement that Maxant is Ayer's primary JBOS representative.
"It is my understanding that it was the towns, and not the individual, that takes the chairmanship," said Fay.
JBOS Vice Chair Tom Kinch of Devens agreed the controlling MOU "doesn't refer to any particular person in the town but a town representative." But Kinch also asked Cappucci and Luca to either move to reconsider their vote if they wished or to "move on" with the meeting. Kinch, Cappucci and Luca voted to elect Luca chair in January.
None of the three made a motion to reconsider. Maxant responded, "Don't take this unfavorably, Gary..."
Maxant noted that Luca and Fay have been "AWOL" from most of the year's JBOS meetings. But Maxant offered that he'd be "happy" to relinquish the chairmanship role if Luca holding the title "brings them back" to the table.
"I didn't take it the wrong way," answered Luca. "Me either," seconded Fay.
Confusion continued, however, over who would cast Ayer JBOS vote.
"I thought I was the vote," said Luca.
"You're not the rep," said Maxant. "So I am the vote."
"We'll have to iron it out," said Luca.
Acknowledging the quandary, Luca yielded to Maxant who participated in the final vote of the evening - the motion to adjourn the meeting.
REVISITING GRANT ROAD VOTE
Fay appealed to the JBOS to reconsider its January 3-0 vote (Luca, Kinch, and Cappucci) supporting MassDevelopment's planned search for developers to build up to 156 homes on Grant Road.
"Call it parliamentary procedure but that matter has not been brought before the Ayer Board of Selectmen and has not been voted on," said Fay. The 2011 MOU requires representatives to vote the consensus of their host board and not to "bind" their appointing authorities.
"My apologies because I think I made the motion," said Cappucci. "I made an assumption, which I should not have made, that everyone was on board with more development on the base."
When Fay sought "a motion to reconsider by someone who favored the vote," Maxant chimed in.
"Wait a minute," said Maxant. "Gary's the chair."
Cappucci motioned to reconsider the Grant Road vote and Maxant seconded Cappucci's motion, but the vote to reconsider was never taken.
Kinch opined that reconsideration was not necessary, stating the "spirit" of the vote was to indicate that "the JBOS is willing and wants to act as an advisor" to MassDevelopment. Since Grant Road is already zoned for residential use under the 1994 Devens Reuse Plan, Kinch said, "there was no vote other than saying 'Thank you for keeping us abreast of it."
In February, Maxant and other Ayer selectmen expressed concern that the January JBOS vote could be misconstrued, "If they [MassDevelopment] want to, which they may, they'll use that [vote] to trumpet all around Boston that the towns approve."
On Thursday, however, Maxant said he, too, would have voted to send a message of support of MassDevelopment's work. Maxant said there was a "completely vanilla" intent behind the January vote.
"I didn't even remember voting on the damn thing," said Luca. Luca said the same thing to the Ayer selectmen on Feb. 5.
Fay promised to air the issue at the March. 5 Ayer selectmen's meeting, "It's unfair to have the image by virtue of that vote to say Ayer approved that project."
"I'm to blame," said Cappucci. "You have my apology."
The Grant Road land lies entirely within Harvard's historical jurisdictional bounds but is now managed by MassDevelopment. The final disposition plans for the 4,400 acre Devens Regional Enterprise Zone (DREZ) has yet to be determined
If Harvard doesn't attend JBOS meetings, then "you're in violation of the MOU" said Kinch. "What do you need to see of value here that brings you back?"
"I would come" if regional matters arose, said Wallace.
"You're an audience member," asserted Cappucci. "It's great you're here tonight...[but] if you don't show up, we don't know what you think."
"We've beaten it so it's beyond dead," said an exasperated Wallace.
"You're scolding Lucy because her board isn't participating," said Maxant. "All are welcome," answered Maxant when Wallace asked if the MOU hopes to keep non-appointed JBOS selectmen from meetings.
To prevent "overload," Maxant said the JBOS shrunk to one representative per community. Wallace said she'd deliver the message to her board.
To avoid treating the DREZ like a MassDevelopment "colony," Maxant suggested the creation of a Devens "township" controlled by its residents.
Maxant noted that he's previously and unsuccessfully prodded the towns to seek governmental control of their historical lands. Maxant also noted how the towns failed to agree on the creation of a core town called Devens in 2006. Two pieces of legislation are pending seeking legislative approval for the creation of a town called Devens.
Luca suggested the DREZ be run by a board consisting of a selectmen from each town could unite to "run this whole enterprise zone" with a hired gun to oversee operations. The JBOS took no further action on the concept.
The next JBOS meeting was set for Thursday, March 28 at 7 p.m. at 33 Andrews Parkway on Devens.
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.