By M.E. Jones
SHIRLEY -- Retired Police Chief Enrico Cappucci, who held the top Police Department job here for a few years before moving on to finish his long law enforcement career as police chief in Duxbury, was also a one-term selectman in town just a few years ago. When his term was up, he ran again but lost to David Swain, who now chairs the board.
Now, with one of the three selectmen, Andy Deveau, having resigned and set to step down before the April 30 election, Cappucci is making a bid for the vacated seat, with one-year left on the unexpired term.
He faces an opponent, former School Committee member Robert Prescott.
Interviewed after a recent meeting of JBOS, on which he serves as the Shirley selectmens' appointed representative, Cappucci talked about his latest bid for office.
"I did it," he acknowledged with an ironic smile, and he doesn't regret it.
"I was surprised when Andy stepped down," Cappucci said, noting a gap that he felt someone should step up to fill. "Nobody was interested in running," he said. So he took out nomination papers as soon as the option opened up.
"Well, it's for a year and somebody's got to do it," he said, recalling his reasoning at the time. Prescott joined the race later, but Cappucci said he didn't anticipate competition until "just before the deadline" for filing papers.
"The initial reaction when I took out papers ... even (some of) those who didn't support me before, did now," he said. Reason enough to re-enter the arena.
The first time around, one of Cappucci's campaign promises was to foster transparency in town government. Asked about his agenda this time, Cappucci noted his efforts to go after new revenue opportunities for the town as an active member of the Economic Development Committee and said he aims to continue in that direction as a selectman.
"And I'm interested in the school contract," he said, referring to a cause he has championed on JBOS: for the new Ayer-Shirley Regional School District to get a crack at the lucrative Devens education contract now held by the Harvard Public School District.
Cappucci traced his interest in improving the local economy back to March, 1982, when he became Shirley's police chief. "I got the MCI (state prison) grant under Gov. Dukakis with Sylvia Shipton and Eliot Goldman," he said, co-crediting two other civically active residents with the historic accomplishment. The $10 million windfall -- now just about depleted -- was for many years the town's go-to fund for public safety and infrastructure improvements, under the selectmen's direction.
"I've always done whatever I can for the community," Cappucci continued, as police chief and as a selectman. As for losing the second time around, he was philosophical about it. "I lost to an opponent well versed in town government," he said.
Swain faces no opponent in the upcoming election. Absent a write-in upset, the two would serve together on the board if Cappucci wins, a prospect he has "no problem with," he said.
Once in, he'd do the job, as promised, Cappucci said, with long-range planning "still a focus." And he plans to stay the course.
"You can just go home anytime or do what you claimed ... and ought to do," he said, seemingly taking a jab at Deveau, who is stepping down a year before his second term expires.
In his letter of resignation, Deveau explained why he's leaving early, citing the anticipated sale of his home here and his plans to move to Florida.
Cappucci characterized himself as ready, willing and able to do the job, as a selectman and a member of JBOS. "I'm retired, I have the energy," he said.
Cappucci denied any animosity toward his rival, Bob Prescott. "I've known Bob since he was a kid," he said.
Citing a family connection, he said Prescott's wife was his secretary when he was police chief. Smart and savvy, she was an asset to the department at the time, he said.
But as capable as Bob Prescott may be, Cappucci doubts he could successfully transition from the School Committee to town government. "It's never happened," he said.
The two areas are very different, in his view. For example, while the School Committee has access to a finance director, administration and staff, the selectmen have "limited resources," Cappucci said.
Right now, the new regional school district is struggling with a financial dilemma that Capppucci has "definite ideas about" solving, he said. But not by raising taxes again.
After a districtwide vote approved the high school building project last year, voters in the two member towns agreed to up their taxes via debt exclusions to pay their respective shares. But the lion's share of funding for the multimillion dollar project is coming from the state via the Massachusetts School Building Authority.
Cappucci said he favored supporting the school building project once the region was established, but the town isn't likely to take a costly route like that again anytime soon. "I can't see another (Proposition 2/1/2) override (passing) after the school project," he said. Historically leery of tax overrides, Shirley voters did the right thing. "People said (they) never would," pass the debt exclusion, he said. But it passed. "I was proud of that."
Now, town officials must keep a close eye on cost control as the building project and the new regional school district move forward, Cappucci cautioned. "We need to start looking at (the state's required local contribution), which went up substantially this year for Shirley. "Eleven percent doesn't seem rational to me," he said of the hike.
"We should be okay the first year, but we need to work with the school to try to reduce the impact," he said.
Again, he spoke of the Devens education contract, which MassDevelopment awarded to Harvard, with a rollover clause that bypassed the bid process. "That's $1.3 million," he said. "If we had any of that money, it would make all the difference."
MassDevelopment has said there's no window there, however, until the renewed contract expires. When it does, Cappucci said he'll advocate for the local district to submit a bid.
Asked if he plans to continue on the Economic Development committee if he's elected, Capppuci said it's up to the board. "I'll stay if they say it's okay," he said. And would he run again for selectman next year? "That's up to my wife," he said.