SHIRLEY — During the first live broadcast of a selectmen’s meeting on cable TV on Monday, Chairman Andy Deveau took a last-minute sidetrack from the agenda. Despite the risk of “blind siding” his colleagues, he rolled out a list of issues he’d been mulling during a lull in the summer meeting schedule, including events that roiled the Town Offices recently.
First, he took a stand on the tax override questions to be decided at a special election on Tuesday: $16,101 for the Council on Aging to operate the new Senior Center and $21,334 to fund the library, whose budget has been cut below certification level.
“We need to clean up our own house before we ask taxpayers for more money,” he said.
But he said he’d vote for both overrides, noting the facilities’ value to the community. He also pledged to support earmarking that revenue after the first year. “If voters agree (to fund the overrides), I think we should keep that money where they put it,” he said.
He cited progress on the government’s part, such as collecting back taxes and crafting a strategic plan for the town, as well as energy conservation efforts and plans for a government study. The intent is to transform Shirley into “one of the best small towns in America,” he said.
Selectman Kendra Dumont said she’s “committed to the seniors” and favors the library’s mission, but opposes overrides on principle. “I won’t tell you how I’m going to vote,” she said. But she pointed out that the public had voted for tax overrides for trash collection four times, only to have the service taken away.
Selectman Enrico Cappucci said it’s no secret he’s against overrides. But the senior center represents a laudable volunteer effort and the library provides valuable services to kids, he said, and he’d hate to see either facility close.
Next on Deveau’s list was a communication gap between municipal government and the schools that became an impasse over the summer. After a season of Budget Committee sessions leading to annual Town Meeting in June, interim Superintendent of Schools Malcolm Reid told the School Committee he’d been given the cold shoulder when he tried to set up a meeting to discuss unfinished business, such as the eleventh hour agreement to split added revenue that might come in after the Town Meeting.
Deveau denied he’d “ordered” the town administrator not to speak to the School Department. To clear the air, the town’s newly appointed “transition manager,” Assessor Ron Marchetti, had a sit-down with Reid and business manager Evan Katz. Deveau met with the two after and they will meet again to discuss the revenue issue, he said.
Offering a glimpse into the chasm, Dumont said she’d told the town administrator that future meetings with School Committee representatives should occur only in his office. Cappucci stated that the other committee should come to the selectmen to discuss budget matters rather than do so “behind closed doors.”
No matter what caused the breakdown, Deveau said it can’t continue. “I told Evan Katz … and I say now that under no circumstances did we indicate we didn’t want to talk” he said. “It’s important to work together to provide the best education for our kids that the town can afford.” But he backed Dumont on the venue. “All policy or budget discussions would be in the town administrator’s office,” he said.
Lastly, Deveau tackled “potential employee resignations,” blasting Town Administrator Kyle Keady for an “unprofessional” attempt to take other key employees (administrative assistant, town accountant) with him to Pepperell, where he had been tapped as the new town administrator. He has since turned down the position. But Deveau said the board is mulling “appropriate next steps.”
Cappucci said Keady should be fired from his job in Shirley. “If I had the votes, I’d request that you be terminated,” he said to Keady. “You left us with an awful mess.” Morale is at “ground zero,” he said, and he blamed Keady. “Trying to bring three employees with you … that’s insane!” he said. “I hope you will work with Mr. Marchetti to clean up this mess!”
Deveau said he’d brought this matter to public attention now to debunk the notion that the selectmen offered Keady a salary hike to stay and had come up with a “mysterious” funding source. There’s no such source and there was no such offer, he said.
Given a chance to rebut the accusation that he’d instigated defections, Keady said it was the Pepperell selectmen’s idea to bring his team on board. But he had no intent to “dismantle” Shirley operations. “Nobody loves this town more than I do,” he said.
The discussion segued to contract issues. For example, “rollover” clauses in three employee’s contracts that Cappucci strongly objects to.
Deveau wants to scratch the “for just cause” termination caveat in Keady’s and other town employee contracts. When the Pepperell selectmen took it out of the town administrator’s contract they offered Keady, he turned it down. But Deveau said that town’s labor counsel said the clause is “unenforceable” and therefore illegal. “We don’t want something illegal in our contracts,” he said.
The board agreed to discuss these issues with town counsel in an executive session.