Swain makes return bid

SHIRLEY — Last year, David Swain lost his bid for re-election to the Board of Selectman to challenger Andy Deveau, the board’s current chairman. Now, Swain is back, running against incumbent Selectman Enrico Cappucci.

Born in Illinois, Swain holds a degree in business and economics. He grew up in Harvard, where his late father, a former partner in Hatch-Jennings, founded the business he owned and operated with his brother until recently. He is now a sales representative for a firm dealing in marine equipment.

Swain settled in Shirley with his wife Dorothy nearly 30 years ago. They have two children, a daughter in college and a son in high school.

Before serving as a selectman from 2005 to 2008, Swain was an assessor and a member of the Finance Committee for seven years. He has been active in the local Boy Scouts for several years.

In a recent interview, Swain pledged to change the selectmen’s direction if elected. The slogan on his campaign signs reads “a voice of reason.”

Swain has said being a selectman was “doing his duty as a citizen.” He’s running this time with a purpose: to end the “bashing” he said characterizes the current board’s management style and its negative impact on relationships with other town entities, most notably the schools. Switching town counsel last year is another example, he said. Although the official explanation for the change was cost savings, Swain didn’t buy it. Irked when a legal opinion they asked the attorney for at annual town meeting didn’t jibe with their plans, the selectmen sought new representation, he said. It was bad form, in his view. “The problem I see is that when they don’t agree with someone, they go after them,” Swain said.

He’s also running because people asked him to. He said he has been approached by a number of people over the last several months who did not like what was happening in the town’s government.

As for the town versus school issue, Swain said the selectmen’s oversight of school budget matters ends once the new district is operational. Then, the school budget will be the sole purview of the Regional School Committee, which will present an assessment for town meeting to vote on. Until then, he’d rather build bridges than burn them.

Despite continued budget cuts that according to school officials reached the $1 million mark last year, Swain said the school system provided a good education to Shirley students and that seniors graduating from Ayer and Lunenburg, the two public high schools the town has tuition agreements with, were often class valedictorians and salutatorians.

Choice-out is a problem, though, he said, costing the town over $1 million annually. The choice option will still be there next year and beyond, but when the Ayer-Shirley district launches in Fiscal Year 2012, choice outflow to Ayer stops.

If all the choice money came back, the town’s share would total $400,000, Swain said, based on the 60/40 deficit split between the school district and municipal government that came out of budget talks last year. “The town might even be able to fund trash pickup again,” he said, naming a service lost to budget cuts. The town now uses a pay-as-you-throw trash pickup system that also includes a recycling program.

The deficit split is history after the regional school district starts up. Gone too, will be financial summits between the town administrator and superintendent, which Swain sees as no great loss. “This board micro-manages too much,” he said.

The selectmen’s job is to set policy and procedure for department heads to carry out. “We have good people,” he said, and the selectmen shouldn’t tell them how to do their jobs.

Long-range planning is a must, he said, with a “plan B” for every item on the to-do list. But that kind of plan can’t be rolled out at weekly selectmen’s meetings. He’d suggest roll-up-your-sleeves Saturday planning sessions, he said.

If that kind of vision had been employed in the past, townspeople might have had more options for revenue, he said. For example, re-zoning part of Route 2A. The proposal came to town meeting without facts to support it he said, which is why he thinks the measure failed. “The selectmen didn’t do enough,” he said.

Vacated town buildings are another concern, from the former municipal building to the old library, with the elementary school slated to follow in a few years. Those buildings could reap tax revenue, he said. But only one has been sold, for a dollar. The former police and fire station in the village, with its nicely restored exterior, is no longer an eyesore, but it’s not a moneymaker either. “We need to review and evaluate vacant, town-owned buildings,” he said. “We have vacant parcels of land, too,” some big enough to sell. “We need to be really transparent about that.”

Speaking of transparency, he’s concerned about the current board’s apparent foot-dragging when it comes to releasing executive session minutes, he said.

He’s also concerned the board may be using town counsel too often. Sometimes its necessary to seek a legal opinion, he said, but members should not “overuse” counsel for matters that can be easily determined without it, such as the number of signatures required on a petition for an article to be placed on a town meeting warrant.

While spotlighting what’s wrong with town government as a keynote of his campaign, his message is also about building for the future, he said. To begin with, things are not as black as some people have painted them; the economic crisis isn’t only local but regional, state-wide, national, even global and it’s not necessarily a bellwether for Shirley’s future. “The town is at a crossroads,” he said.” We need to work together to make things better.”