SHIRLEY — When Enrico Cappucci ran for selectman three years ago, the retired former town police chief said he had both the time and experience to do the job. Now, he looks back on his first term in office with satisfaction because he fulfilled campaign promises and made progress toward meeting his goals, he said. But there’s still work to do. In a recent interview, Cappucci summed up his successes and talked about items on his to-do list.
Cappucci and his wife Carol have lived in town for nearly three decades and have a close-knit family of grown children and grandchildren.
He was police chief in Shirley for 20 years before accepting a higher paying job as police chief in Duxbury. He retired after 37 years in law enforcement.
Incidents from his career illustrate how Cappucci handles problems, such as the amusing anecdote about being one of the few college-graduate rookies on a city police department. Another account, more serious, noted an in-house corruption case he helped clear up while he was Duxbury’s police chief and continued to work on after leaving. Since retirement, he has served on police chief search committees and department evaluation groups in several communities.
Talk turned to what public officials must do to get the town out of economic trouble.
If elected for a second term, he’d continue to target areas of concern he vowed to tackle the first time around, he said, including “getting people involved in government again” and revamping the budget management system.
One big step was to reestablish the Personnel Board, he said. A key facet of the board’s work was developing an evaluation process for department heads to rate employees’ job performance. “That was important, to have it come from where it should,” he said. That is, the other board, not selectmen.
Another focus would be the concerns of elderly citizens, same as the first time around. Because about 40 percent of the town’s population is over the age of 50, he said resurrecting the Council on Aging was a “major goal.”
Many older Shirley citizens are folks who worked in the town’s mills and factories generations ago. “They helped build this town,” he said. Now in their 70’s and 80’s, they may benefit from the council’s programs and services.
The Council on Aging director’s job is to identify needs and help with a range of age-related issues, including health insurance questions and social security assistance. The new Senior Center isn’t just a social gathering place but a “place to turn to,” Cappucci said.
The Government Study Committee the selectmen created last year also ties into Cappucci’s vision, even if it wasn’t his idea. “That was a follow-through from town meeting,” he said. “They’re ready to present their report.”
Working through 98 percent of the recommendations in the Department of Revenue audit is another of the board’s accomplishments, Cappucci said, as is the Tax Committee, whose work led to recouping $100,000 in back taxes so far. Yet only about half the $52,000 town meeting voters approved for the purpose has been spent.
Pervious boards did not take on the problem, but this one did. Two percent of residents who didn’t pay their taxes cost the town close to $1.5 million over the past couple of decades, Cappucci said. “We’re the first board in a long time to put money back in town coffers,” he said.
As for using the reclaimed revenue, Cappucci said it belongs to the people and they should be part of that discussion. “It’s their government,” he said. “We (selectmen) are just caretakers, the citizens have a right if not an obligation” to participate, he said.
The Economic Development Committee was the brainchild of Chairman Andy Deveau, and Cappucci said he’s committed to its goals. At a recent meeting with the folks at Bemis Associates, State Representative Jen Benson and others discussed strategies to bring industry into town, he said. “We need new ideas.”
Citing another focus from his first campaign, Cappucci said he thought the town had not spent its money wisely in the past, but there’s no fat in the budget now. “We’ve trimmed as much as possible,” he said, noting severely downsized highway and fire departments.
Every department in town has tightened its belt. “Town employees haven’t had a raise in two years,” he said. The freeze was a necessity, without which a recession could have turned into a depression, he said. “This is the worse economy I’ve ever seen.”
Cappucci doesn’t foresee cost of living increases next year, either, even if there’s an uptick in the fiscal forecast. The inflation such increases are based on isn’t there, he said, and stagnant Social Security checks reflect that. “I’m against COLA increases now because we need to maintain fiscal discipline,” he said.
Another area of concern is the Police Department. The acting police chief, Gregory Massak, wears two hats, serving as a full-time patrol officer as well as the chief. Cappucci, at the selectmen’s request, is currently studying department structure with an eye to rectifying that situation.
Cappucci has also made no secret of his dissatisfaction with the school budget process, which was not, in his opinion, as efficient or transparent as it should be. But if he and the other selectmen were also leery of the Ayer-Shirley regionalization initiative, it was because the planning board didn’t make its case, financially, he said.
“Let’s be clear, the board was accused as being against regionalization,” but that was not the point, he said. “We didn’t understand how the numbers would work, or even what the numbers were.”
But it’s a different picture now. Regionalization has passed and the two districts are partners. “We’ve got to make this work,” he said.