SHIRLEY — Devens’ disposition, school regionalization and fiscal hurdles were key issues the town had to tackle in 2007, according to the two veteran members of the Board of Selectmen: Chairman Leonardo “Chip” Guercio and Selectman David Swain.
Guercio and Swain listed three main items on the municipal radar screen in 2007:
* Failure of town-building “Scenario 2B” to settle Devens disposition.
* Ongoing regionalization talks with Ayer and Lunenburg
* Tight town finances.
The newest member of the board offered a different slant. Selectman Enrico Cappucci was elected on a platform that challenged the status quo and promised change. He said he feels much was accomplished this year, and he anticipates more progress ahead.
Selectman Chairman Leonardo “Chip”
On Devens: The defeat of Scenario 2B in October moved the disposition process back to square one, he said. The best bet for Shirley is to have the issue finalized, he said.
In the meantime, the town is protected by Chapter 498, the enabling legislation in Massachusetts General Law that governs Devens during the transition under MassDevelopment.
Housing is still a sticking point, he said, raising related issues, such as the numbers of affordable versus market-rate houses, traffic, and the impact on local infrastructure and schools.
The current cap set by Chapter 498 and the Devens Reuse Plan is 282 units, including existing houses that were rehabilitated and sold. Now, the governor’s office reportedly wants to raise that cap by another 400 houses, for a total of 682 units.
“I’m not sure how they’ll get from here to there,” said Guercio.
The Joint Boards of Selectmen (JBOS), which now includes Devens residents and MassDevelopment representatives, have discussed housing over the past year and will continue to do so, he said.
The subject will be spotlighted at the group’s Jan. 24 meeting.
On regionalization: “We’re in the throes of a regionalization study,” said Guercio.
Ayer, Lunenburg and Shirley each have three-member committees and have formed a joint board. The end result could be a regional school district that includes two or all three towns, he said.
Citizens will have to weigh the pros and cons in light of major repairs and costly renovations needed at Lura A. White School, he said.
On finances: It’s been a lean year, said Guercio, and Shirley’s not alone.
Tight budgets have been a fact of life this year in communities across the state.
Town departments were level-funded, said Guercio. Projects, such as a police station expansion, are on hold, he said.
“We’re getting as creative as we can, but non-recurring resources have been used up,” Guercio said.
Some items “on the table” now should work up a full head of steam in the new year, he said. For example, a review committee was recommended by town moderator George Knittel will look at non-zoning bylaws with an eye toward streamlining some aspects of town government.
Other 2007 to-do items are underway, said Guercio. The Personnel Board, for example, after a long hiatus, was reconstituted in 2007.
Recently, the three-member board, which is still short a couple of members, presented its recommendations for setting up an evaluation process for town employees, he said.
The Board of Selectmen approved the plan.
Asked about some residents’ public discontent with town government and the contentious sparks that flew during a couple of packed selectmen’s meetings earlier this year, Guercio said things seem to have settled down.
On one side of the controversy, citizens said they want a more open and accessible town government.
On the other, three town employees at the Town Offices complained that one selectman’s means to that end were unacceptable and might be harassment.
Town administrator Kyle Keady, assistant administrator Kathleen Rocco and town accountant Bobbi Jo Colburn filed letters of complaint with the board, asserting that Cappucci had treated them disrespectfully and made it hard for them to do their jobs.
Addressed in a meeting between the employees and the board, the matter has been resolved, said Guercio, who he feels there’s “good rapport” on the board.
“The heat seems to be somewhat off,” he said. “I think we’re in a more functional place now.”
The minutes of that meeting, conducted in executive session, have been released, and the document is now a public record.
Selectman David Swain
On Devens: Shirley approved Scenario 2B at its Special Town Meeting and the polls, said Swain, but it failed to pass in the other towns, Harvard and Ayer. Now, he said planners must work harder and in concert with MassDevelopment to come up with an alternative disposition plan.
On regionalization: Swain serves on Shirley’s regionalization committee, which has formed a joint board with Ayer and Lunenburg. To date, the board has hired a consultant, NESDEC, which has outlined its plan of action and planned to present enrollment projections and space-use assessments at the Dec. 18 meeting.
On finances: Things were tight this year, he said, and there’s no relief in sight. One-time sources of revenue were tapped out, such as line-item transfers from accounts with balances to accounts that fell short.
“We turned over every stone three times,” said Swain.
Selectman Enrico Cappucci
Cappucci is new to the board and the way things work, but he said he’s been proactive in fulfilling his campaign promises to make town government a transparent process and more accessible to citizens in the community.
“We’ve accomplished a lot ” he said. “Some big changes have been considered.”
Employee evaluations, for example. He said he’s “very pleased about that,” and even more so that the Personnel Board has been reconstituted.
For awhile, the defunct board’s duties were assumed by the Board of Selectmen and town administrator, he said. Now, it has three members and is seeking more.
The re-established board and its recently accepted employee-evaluation recommendations are positive steps in the right direction, said Cappucci.
“They’ve taken hold of the evaluation process in a positive way,” he said.
It will be eased in, not forced on the system, he said, allowing employees and department heads to adjust it to fit their needs.
Next: The selectmen share their views on 2008.