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Over the last several weeks, Mr. (Rico) Cappucci and his supporters have waged a divisive campaign to unseat the current town moderator and attack the personal integrity of the members of the Shirley Finance Committee. I feel compelled to “set the record straight” regarding the misinformation and the false accusations that Mr. Cappucci is proffering in his attempt to win election to the position of moderator for the Town of Shirley.

In a recent newspaper article, Mr. Cappucci speaks about Ms. Noyes (the current moderator’s predecessor) as a “performance model” for the moderator’s position. I had the opportunity to serve two terms on the Finance Committee during Ms. Noyes’ tenure. He points out that Ms. Noyes “divorced herself from the FinCom (after appointing its members).” I know that to be true, and it is the same process that the current moderator uses. Mr. Knittel appoints qualified individuals, and then allows the committee to operate without his direct involvement. Strangely, while claiming he will “stay out of its (FinCom) business,” Mr. Cappucci then goes on to threaten to remove three qualified individuals simply because he doesn’t agree with them.

From his recent comments, it is not clear that Mr. Cappucci truly understands the budgeting process, the inputs to that process, or how the final budget is determined. Simply put, the departments (including Board of Selectmen) submit the budget requests, the Finance Committee submits a recommended balanced budget, and Town Meeting determines the final budget. Mr. Cappucci contends that the Finance Committee has changed this process. In fact, we continue to use the same process that has been used for at least the last 20 years. The Finance Committee is tasked with recommending a budget of expenditures that do not exceed the projected revenue. In fact, the state requires that the town achieve a “balanced” budget before the tax rate can be set.

Both the original department requests and the Finance Committee balanced budget recommendations are included in the Annual Town Meeting Warrant, and are presented to Town Meeting, as well as any amended amounts that may be moved from Town Meeting floor. Town Meeting considers the pros and cons, and then votes to approve one of the amounts. As has been our longstanding process, the moderator starts with the highest amount first, and continues through the successive amounts until one is approved, or all are rejected.

In the same newspaper article, Mr. Cappucci makes several additional accusations that are not supported by the facts. Mr. Cappucci contends that Mr. Hayes was “forced” off the Finance Committee. This is simply not true. Mr. Hayes, and Mr. Hayes alone, made his decision to resign after distributing an email message falsely accusing a fellow committee member of “doctoring” a public document. Mr. Hayes was asked by the Finance Committee to recant this false accusation. He refused, and handed his previously prepared resignation to the Chairman at a Finance Committee meeting. At no time was there any discussion by the Finance Committee of asking for Mr. Hayes’ resignation. It is unfortunate that Mr. Hayes chose to level unfounded accusations rather than engage in discussion. And it is unfortunate that he chose to “take his bat and ball and go home” because the other member of the Finance Committee did not agree with his actions.

Mr. Cappucci continues to try to characterize the pending election for the Regional School Feasibility study as part of a Finance Committee “strategy” to “get it passed by working with folks in Ayer.” This too, is simply not true. The proposal for the Regional School Feasibility Study is solely the responsibility of the elected Regional School Committee. And while this “conspiracy theory” might serve to bolster Mr. Cappucci’s election campaign, it has no basis in fact. The Shirley Finance Committee has not consulted with the Regional School Committee, or any committee in the town of Ayer regarding the Regional School Committee’s decision to bring their feasibility study proposal back for a second election as prescribed by Massachusetts General Law. To further this misinformation, Mr. Cappucci contends that “when it (feasibility study) didn’t pass, the Finance Committee voted” in favor of the School Committee’s decision to try again. Again, not true. In fact, the Finance Committee has not taken any vote regarding the School Committee’s second attempt at the feasibility study proposal.

Mr. Cappucci’s assertion that my past participation on the Regionalization Planning Board is proof that I have a personal “stake” in the passage of the Regional School Committees feasibility study is spurious at best. I was appointed to the Regional Planning Board as the representative member from the Shirley Finance Committee (on which I served at the time). Our sole concern was determining if a Regional School District would be advisable. Now that Town Meeting in both Ayer and Shirley has decided the issue, that work is complete, and the Regional Planning Board has been disbanded. Decisions made regarding the strategies and the operation of the newly formed Regional School District are developed and executed solely by the elected Regional School Committee.

It is unfortunate that Mr. Cappucci and his supporters find it necessary to wage such a divisive campaign. Shirley, like most of the cities and town across the Commonwealth, and across the nation, continue to suffer the financial repercussions from the worst economic downturn our country has experienced since the Great Depression. Attempting to pit one constituency against another is not the answer. This cannot be about “us” versus “them.” It must be about how we work together.

MICHAEL SWANTON

Member of the Shirley Finance Committee