SHIRLEY -- In the annual town election on April 30, there are two candidates vying for the one-year position being created on the Board of Selectmen by the resignation of Andy Deveau. One is former Selectman Rico Cappucci, and the other is Bob Prescott.
In a recent interview at his home office in Shirley, Prescott said he is a fourth-generation Shirley native. Asked why he has stayed, he replied that he has never considered living anywhere else.
"This is where I live, where my family is and where my business is," he said. "I care about the town. I have roots here."
Prescott owns a landscaping excavation company and is a developer.
The primary reason he is running for selectman, he said, is because he is concerned about Shirley's financial future.
"I just think that we don't have a plan, and somehow we have financial difficulties every year, and they are getting worse," he said. "The state's imposing mandates on us that we don't have any control over, and we aren't working collectively to solve them."
The better candidate?
When asked what he believes makes him a better choice than his opponent, he replied, "Rico Cappucci has had a couple of turns at bat, and we haven't seen a course change for our town in those periods of time.
"I'm willing to invest the time to try to find some solutions. I'm not saying that I have the answers, but I think that we need to work toward finding an answer.
Prescott has been a member of the Conservation Commission, for which he has served as both a chair and co-chair, and served two terms on the School Committee, as well as a two-year term on the Ayer-Shirley Regional School Committee. He also served on the nonoperational Shirley School Committee during the school district's transition year.
He has also served on the regional study committee for three years, and on the building committee for the middle school, serving as a liaison between the school and building committees.
"I also served on various budget committees over the years," he said.
Top five goals
"I strongly believe that one of the things we do is that in the fall of every year, we should have a tri-board of the School Committee, Finance Committee and the selectmen to engage each other in the budget process," Prescott said. "I mean, there is a definite financial problem we have in this town, and we need to start working on it. We need to start figuring out smart growth and how to operate more efficiently.
"I believe we also need to hire a strong financial town administrator. Someone needs to lead the town offices in a professional manner and report to the selectmen. I don't believe the selectmen should be involved in the day-to-day operations of these departments.
"Another thing I see is the DOR report," he added, referring to the Department of Revenue. "The state put out a report giving suggestions for things we could do to improve our financial situation. Some of those things have been done, but the majority of them have not.
"It would be my charge to review them again and see how many of those things we can implement. I think we need to take a long-term approach also, and see how we can create some growth in this town.
"It may sound corny, but I think this town is a hidden gem," Prescott added. "If you take a look at towns with dual tax rates, from a business prospective, it costs twice as much to do business in, say, Ayer, as opposed to Shirley, and we have the town sewer and the town water. But I don't think we are taking advantage of selling that out there -- that we are a great deal.
"I also think we need to take a long-term approach to see where these commercial entities could go."
A fifth goal, said Prescott, would be to look at the MassDevelopment property at Devens and plan for the future.
"But I think that we should not abandon the Shirley Village," he added. "I think we should be helping and improving those businesses as much as we can, and look at how we can court some new businesses to the area. It's creating a positive business climate. It's a partnership."
State of town government
Prescott said he feels the town should be run more like a business.
"We should be in the business of serving the townspeople as professionally as possible," he said, reiterating the need for a strong financial manager and the reformation of a tri-board. "We can call it anything we want, but I think everybody should be engaged in our problem-solving."
Prescott said he has a lot of experience working productively in a group, and that he believes people are concerned about that.
"Rico is saying that I am going to close the library and senior center and give all of the money to the school. When I worked for the School Committee, my job was to work for the school. And if I am a selectman for the town, I will work for the town as much as I worked for the school. It will be my job to work for the town, and that is what I intend to do.
"And all of those departments have a value," he added. "The fire, police, DPW, the library and senior center are important to people. In order for all of those things to work, they all need to be addressed, listened to, helped."
Prescott said one of his issues of concern is that a current selectman is not representing Shirley on the Joint Boards of Selectman.
"I am concerned that my opponent has brought up the issue that the contract between Devens and Harvard (Public Schools) is invalid, and that he would like to see the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District go after that contract," Prescott said.
"I think what people need to realize is Devens left Shirley before we were regionalized, and there was a lot of financial turmoil going on over the contract and the budgets.'
"The school renegotiated with Devens for $250,000 less than the previous year in order to retain that contract for three to five years because to take that hit all at once was going to be too much. But we ended up taking it anyway.
"At the end of the day, the Devens people decided that they wanted their kids to go to the Harvard schools. It didn't matter the cost. It does us no good to claim that the contract between Devens and Harvard is illegal, because it's not, and I think it's putting a real strain between the town of Shirley and the representatives on Devens for the state. I mean, we have been good partners with them in the past.
"I believe it has to come out over a period of time. Harvard has only a certain capacity to fill, and when Devens outgrows Harvard, then they will need a solution to find a place for those students," Prescott said.
"Right now they can fill it like choice, plus they are being paid more than triple choice, so it's a great deal for Harvard. But they are going to come to full capacity at some point, and with all the building and land development going on, they will need another solution, and that is when I believe there could be some sort of tuition agreement down the road, but not today."
Prescott said in his free time he enjoys working out and that he is a big football fan. He also enjoys spending time with his three daughters, two of whom are in college. The other is a junior in high school.
"We spend a lot of family time together when I'm at home. But I am not a golfer, no. I don't have time for that."
"The selectman's position is not a full-time job, nor should it be," he explained. "But I will dedicate all the time that is needed to work on all of these issues and represent the town.
"But I don't intend to post camp up there in that (town office) building. I gave an immense amount of time to the school when I worked for them. I served on two or three committees at a time. I spent a lot of evenings working."
In it for more than one year?
"My intention is long term -- a couple of terms. I am not interested in being selectman forever, nor did I want to be on the School Committee forever, but there are a lot of problems here and it will take a while to work through these and set a course for the town. We don't have a course right now," said Prescott.
"I believe that my having worked with and understanding the School Committee is an asset to the town -- and the checks and balances, too. I understand what's going on there (with the school budget). I don't think we have had that on our selectmen's board.
"It's not just a school issue; it is collectively a problem for all of us to solve. The school can't succeed if the town is failing, and the town can't survive if the school is failing. That is just the gist of it."