Will 2 of 3 team up?

By Mary E. Arata

AYER — Ayer Selectman Jim Fay pulled papers on Jan. 26. Two days later, former selectman Pauline Conley pulled papers for her own fresh selectmen run.

The third person in the race, Ayer Finance Committee Vice Chairman Jesse Reich, pulled papers in early January. Reich was an unsuccessful Democratic candidate for state representative last fall.

The three have been on opposing sides before.

Finance Committee flap

Reich was appointed by the selectmen, including Fay, to serve on the Finance Committee in June 2009. At that same selectmen’s meeting, despite the unanimous support of Finance Committee, Fay and the selectmen ignored Conley as a candidate for a second vacant seat on the FinCom.

A week later at his first FinCom meeting, Reich said: “I’d be willing to serve with Pauline Conley” when the committee was trying to retrace why the selectmen disregarded Conley for their board.

Fast-forward to the present day and, a year and a half later, and the saga continues for Conley and the FinCom. When a vacancy occurred on the FinCom this past fall, Conley expressed a willingness to serve, if asked, to get the board through the winter, the busy budget season and Annual Town Meeting. The appointment term for the vacant seat is up in June.

This time around, Fay supported Conley for the Finance Committee vacancy at the Dec. 16 selectmen’s meeting. “The Finance Committee is too important, especially over this time frame…Given Pauline’s experience, I’d second the motion and vote for her. I told her that,” said Fay.

Fay qualified his support, however, by stating he wanted to hear first from the FinCom itself to confirm the committee wanted Conley to serve in their ranks. Fay said he wouldn’t support a candidate for appointment absent that support because in a prior example, an entire Conservation Commission quit in protest over such micromanagement.

“So it is a bad precedent but in the interest of the Finance Committee and the budget season, Pauline’s expertise in that arena is hard to argue,” said Fay. However, the current FinCom vacancy has lingered, leaving the five-person board short by one throughout last summer, fall and this winter budget building season.

At that same Dec. 16 selectmen’s meeting, former longtime Finance Committee member Mary Spinner asked if Reich was still serving on the Finance Committee due to what she called an inordinate number of absences. Along with Conley, Spinner is a frequent fixture in the audience for FinCom meetings.

“I’ve gone to many of the meetings and he’s has not been present, “said Spinner. “I wondered if you’ve heard anything from him. Again, here we are going into the budgets and we all received the schedule from the chair so it’s important to have the full board there, I think.” Contacted later, Reich answered simply that he was “absolutely” still intending to serve on the Finance Committee.

If elected to the Board of Selectmen, Reich would have to resign from the Finance Committee because of a town bylaw that prevents Finance Committee members from being otherwise elected to office in Ayer. It’s the same bylaw that was upheld by Town Meeting in 2009 that forced Spinner, an elected Board of Health member, from the FinCom.

Since Reich and the Finance Committee have yet to decide the fate of the sole applicant for the post, Conley, the selectmen have not moved to unilaterally fill the vacancy with Conley.

Party politics

Fay, who is a registered voter but not affiliated with any political party, was a vocal and prominent supporter of failed Republican state rep candidate, Cornelius “Connie” Sullivan, who left the selectmen to run for the House seat being vacated by the retiring Robert Hargraves.

“Connie’s a friend of mine, I voted for him. He lost. I feel bad,” said Fay.

After Sullivan’s primary defeat, buttons popped up on lapels reading “Sullivan supporter for Reich.” Fay said that following Sullivan’s defeat, he, too, shifted allegiances to Democrat Reich who ultimately succumbed in the general election to Groton Republican Sheila Harrington.

“I’m an independent. At the time I thought Jesse would be a better candidate for Ayer,” said Fay. “I voted for Jesse, but I’m not saying Sheila’s doing a bad job. ”

Meanwhile, Conley steadily supported Harrington’s candidacy throughout her primary and general election wins.

For his part, Reich said in an interview with the Public Spirit in January that he’d be pleased to win Sullivan’s support for his selectmen run. “I would be honored if he’d support me.”

Fay said while he hasn’t asked Sullivan for his support in the selectmen’s race, he still considers Sullivan a good friend. “I’ve still got him on speed dial.”

Fay said he ran in 2008 in response to Conley’s candidacy for a second term on the board. “I clearly did. That was one of the reasons I came back. It was to stop the negative vitriol. I think we did that for a while.”

Fay said he’d be excited to work alongside Reich on the Board of Selectmen. “I believe so, yes. Jesse clearly has strong financial strengths. The board needs that always.”

Fay said that’s particularly true in the wake of the resignation of Chairman Rick Gilles last month. “But the board can also carry on as well. Myself and Gary and Caroline are excellent with numbers, no doubt about that.”

But, no, Fay said. He and Reich aren’t running as any kind of selectmen ticket for the town’s Monday, April 25, town election.