AYER — Some wondered if the Ayer School Committee, being superseded by the Ayer-Shirley Regional School Committee next year, would continue to cooperate as one of the three prongs of Ayer’s TriBoard financial-planning vehicle. The TriBoard includes the Ayer Finance Committee and Board of Selectmen. If the School Committee left, would that turn the TriBoard into a BiBoard?
Others have asked whether the Regional School Committee, and possibly, by extension, the Shirley selectmen and Finance Committee, ought to join with Ayer’s TriBoard to chart a shared financial future.
The ideas were discussed at Tuesday night’s TriBoard meeting. In the end, prevailing sentiment was to invite the Regional School Committee members to the Ayer TriBoard meetings on a quarterly basis. Finance Committee Chairman Brian Muldoon urged it, along with selectmen Frank Maxant and Carolyn McCreary.
McCreary said school budgeting and union negotiations are shared concerns. “So when we have everyone together, we would just limit ourselves to objectives that come between the town and the regional school district,” McCreary said.
As to any notion of a two-town TriBoard meeting, Ayer School Superintendent George Frost said “from what I read in the papers anyway it doesn’t appear there’s a great deal of desire within Shirley to develop their own TriBoard, so the likelihood that you’ll get them to participate in the town’s next door…” he trailed off.
Frost said, beyond group meetings, he’s concerned that Ayer’s budget building for fiscal 2012 isn’t further along. Frost said that last year at this time there’d already been a couple of meetings among himself, Town Business Manager Lisa Gabree and former Town Administrator Shaun Suhoski.
“We’re behind the 8-ball,” Frost said, suggesting the Executive TriBoard should “start meeting next week to start catching ourselves back up.” The first budget building meeting for the Executive TriBoard was scheduled for Sept. 8 at 7 a.m. at Ayer Town Hall.
Financial policies are for a second public meeting for further input. That will take place at 7, also on Sept. 8, to provide enough time for the selectmen to vote Sept. 21 to consider placing the guidelines on the Fall Town Meeting warrant.
Finally it was affirmed that the TriBoard would maintain a standing union contract negotiation subcommittee with a meeting time to be determined. TriBoard and Selectmen Chairman Rick Gilles suggested “we do unified negotiations so that all the unions are at the table at the same time rather than doing serial (talks).” The suggestion unsettled Selectman Jim Fay. “Each of the unions have very different needs. To quote a phrase, it would be a cluster.” Selectman Gary Luca also opposed simultaneous talks. “Everybody’s needs are different and everybody’s comparisons are different.”
McCreary said the town has worked hard to have all the present town contracts expiration dates in synch with one another. “We’ve worked hard to get contracts all due at the same time to form a mutual negotiation base, to make everything transparent. These were our goals. And so doing it serially, even in one year, undermines the goals we worked so hard to achieve.”
Maxant suggested figuring a hard-cost figure for each employee and sitting down together so “they’d see an equivalent, clothing allowances, etc. I think it would be a useful idea for everyone to see the same picture and where they fit in it.”
Gilles seemed the support the notion, stating it’s a proven methodology. “I’ve used it successfully.”
“At the government level?” pressed Luca. Gilles said no. Fay suggested again that simultaneous talks would flop. “I guarantee you trying to bring the same eight-nine unions in the same room; it’s going to fall flat on its face, I guarantee you.”
McCreary clarified — not at the same table, but on the same timetable.
Fay joked, asking if McCreary feared that Fay, who’d helped negotiate last year, would be unable to simultaneously juggle separate contract talks. “OK, I’ll get it done in a month,” Fay commented.
Gabree urged the TriBoard should “tackle the toughest unions first that will go to arbitration” like the firefighters or police unions. “We don’t have a whole lot of room to give away a lot of extras. It’s going to be tight.”
Open Meeting Law snafu
The open meeting lasted an hour and a half in open session before the TriBoard moved to meet behind closed doors.
There was a quorum present of the Board of Selectmen, with all five members present and voting to enter executive session. There was a quorum present of the Ayer School Committee, with members Dan Gleason, Patrick Kelly and Cheryl Alfieri-Simmons present and voting to meet in closed session. The Ayer Finance Committee did not have a quorum present, but members Brian Muldoon and Andrew Crowley remained for the closed door meeting.
The Ayer Public Spirit has made a request of TriBoard Chairman Rick Gilles and Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand for the immediate release of the open- and closed- door meeting minutes.
The reason stated for the executive session was read aloud at the meeting by Selectman Frank Maxant. Maxant asked Gilles to clarify what he was reading, and Gilles stated that two executive session purposes had since blended into one. When asked to clarify whether the purpose of the executive session was for collective bargaining itself or to discuss bargaining strategy, Gilles stated the purpose was for strategy only.
The agenda was not posted on the window at Ayer Town Hall in compliance with the Open Meeting Law requirement of a 48-hour advance posting of an agenda listing all “reasonably anticipated” topics of discussion.
A copy of the agenda obtained after the meeting stated two purposes for the executive session Tuesday night: Collective- bargaining strategy for the Ayer School Committee and Ayer Teachers Association, Inc., and collective bargaining for the town of Ayer, the Ayer School Committee and the Ayer Teachers Association, Inc.
The specific reason for the strategy session with the teachers union was not provided, nor was there any statement that the executive session purpose needed to be expedited on an emergency basis, nor was there any discussion publicly of what revenue sources, if any, would be tapped to negotiate with the teachers union after the setting of the current budget following this spring’s Annual Town Meeting.
The meeting notice hanging in the Town Hall window provided only a listing of what boards could be anticipated to attend the TriBoard meeting, as well as the date, time and place of the meeting. The posting reflects that it was date stamped for filing with the town clerk’s office on Aug. 13 for the Aug. 31 meeting.