The differences between the three public hearings would likely be striking to viewers. Public comment was held in tight check in Ayer. Less so in Shirley, but the momentum was palpable.
Harvard was on deck first. The town’s delegate to the Joint Boards of Selectman, Harvard Selectman Ron Ricci, provided a concise overview of the proposed changes using an overhead PowerPoint presentation.
The introduction was followed by an unfettered Q&A session that included some 14 questions and comments, many of which were probative in the hunt for more details — specifically with regard to affordable housing and how the towns would divvy up such affordable housing credits. There was ample opportunity to be heard and the discussion came neatly to its own conclusion.
In Shirley the hearing ran some 40 minutes. MassDevelopment’s Ed Starzec read from a print-out of the PowerPoint slides but did not present them on a big screen for the audience members. On contentious or challenging questions, MassDevelopment Executive Vice President Rich Montuori was on hand and truncated discussion.
Montuori offered to entertain inquisitive residents via pre-arranged appointments at his office rather than answer on the spot. Montuori’s late arrival and seat at the table was not in keeping with his low-profile position at Ayer and Harvard hearings. Rather, his arrival and position seemed like subtle cues to move quickly.
JBOS member and Shirley Selectman Enrico Cappucci continued in his role as cheerleader for the cause, making a fervent pitch for the rezoning plan.
And finally, it was Ayer’s turn at bat on Tuesday night. Ayer arguably is the largest stakeholder of the three towns with regard to the outcome of Vicksburg Square, since roughly 60 percent of the 20-acre parcel was once within the town bounds and the proposed accessory retail uses may pose another challenge to Ayer businesses.
But the meeting was tightly corralled into exactly 30 minutes. The meeting room was snugly scheduled, with a 7:30 p.m. working budget meeting for department heads stepping off on time. The presentation by JBOS member and Ayer Selectman Jim Fay was brief, and a mere five comments and questions were permitted from the floor before the lid was placed on the proceedings.
While it all may be sheer coincidence, or part of a plan to tighten the presentation as it played out on three different stages, it would be educational for Harvard, Ayer and Shirley cable viewers to note the different presentations, to hear one another’s concerns and to watch the machine in motion.
If we’re going to do business together, we should continue to get to know one another as the process plays out.
But for that regional mindset to grow and prosper, the diet of information these towns are fed should be the same.
Differently orchestrating public presentations of like information will build neither trust nor successful regional prosperity.