AYER — The wheels have come off one wagon and are being fitted on another vehicle set to explore regionalization efforts between Devens towns.
Selectman Jim Fay chairs the Joint Boards of Selectmen for the Devens towns of Ayer, Harvard and Shirley. After the last several monthly JBOS meetings, the group has come to a cross roads.
Harvard selectmen have conditioned it’s participation in a “transition” subcommittee upon each town submitting its respective town administrators to serve on the group, charged with finding collaborative municipal service opportunities. It’s a far cry from Fay’s original call for a “Governance Committee,” which Fay contemplated would investigate, among other things, the $64,000 question — the ultimate disposition of the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone lands which remain following the 1996 closure of the Fort Devens army base.
Individually, Ayer selectmen grumbled that they resented both Harvard’s changed focus for the subcommittee and the ultimatum that each town administrators serve. But it had never been put to a definitive vote by the Ayer selectmen until Tuesday night.
The selectmen voted 4-1 against tasking Ayer Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand with the extra Devens duties.
“Harvard has said if we don’t put Robert or a town administrator on , they don’t think it will be a successful effort and that selectmen can’t do the job. I disagree with that whole-heartedly,” said Fay. “I think it’s unfair to give Robert this thing called Devens that we’ve been wrestling with for years.”
Fay said the tone of the JBOS was darkened when Harvard selectman Peter Warren walked out of the last JBOS meeting on July 28 in protest over comments made by Ayer selectman Frank Maxant. Maxant suggested that Vicksburg Square should be leveled and not renovated into 246 “workforce housing” rental apartments.
“When Peter Warren walked out of the last meeting, I was disappointed. Maybe not shocked, but disappointed,” said Fay. “I don’t see the JBOS moving forward on the transition effort.”
“My (JBOS chairman) term will be up at the end of August or September. Everyone will know very clearly that I don’t see any successes there. I’m not going to waste my time on the antics.”
“Ditto to what Jim just said,” said Maxant.
“I have to respectfully disagree,” said Selectman Carolyn McCreary.
She said town administrators are “the professionals in the area with forming inter-municipal agreements. They’re the ones that don’t have the parochialisms. They can look most objectively. They’re better suited to do this, frankly.”
“The town administrators do exactly what they’re told because that’s what they’re supposed to do,” said Fay. “Elected officials make our policy decisions and they carry it out.”
In other regionalization efforts, Fay said he’s reached out to Shirley Selectman Kendra Dumont to gauge interest in the two towns convening joint meetings of the Ayer and Shirley Boards of Selectmen and Finance Committees to collaborate on “issues that will benefit both towns.”
“I think JBOS has evaporated,” said Fay. “I see JBOS as not being successful and I think we can be more successful and so does Kendra.”
Shirley selectmen have not appeared at JBOS meetings since the spring. At that time, Dumont questioned the purpose of the board, noting the lack of forward movement for the collaborative.
Selectmen Chairman Gary Luca said he and Pontbriand were meeting with Ayer Finance Committee Chairman Brian Muldoon on Wednesday and they’d float the two-town bi-board concept at that time.
Meanwhile, Maxant is forging forward with his own mission, which he said is neither a public nor an official gathering of stakeholders from Devens, the three towns and even the fourth Devens town of Lancaster.
Maxant stressed, “It will not be an official public body subject to Open Meeting or Public Records Laws.”
Maxant said that he’s single-handedly launching the initiative “in response to the board giving permission at the last (selectmen) meeting.”
Maxant said the gathering would be “without any formal authority” but would help “to get the communities working together.” It’s tentatively to begin meeting on Tuesday afternoons.
“Unofficial things” would be the fodder for discussion, like looking for areas of overlap between youth programming and presumably expanding considerably from there.
“We’ll have a seat at the table for the four Devens towns, including Lancaster and also Groton” which is in talks with Ayer for waste water linkage for Groton’s Four Corners section of town.
It was news to his four fellow Ayer selectmen.
“Did you say this board authorized you to do that?” asked Ayer Selectman Chairman Gary Luca. “At what last meeting was that?” asked Fay. “How come I don’t remember that?” added Luca.
“I have the DVD at home if you want to review it,” offered Selectman Pauline Conley. “We authorized no such thing. Mr. Maxant asked.”
“And the answer was generally ‘yes,” said Maxant.
“He’s a libertarian,” joked selectman Carolyn McCreary.
“If you’re representing this board or a town, there’s a concern,” said Luca, who added “I understand the intent.”
“Mr. Maxant, are your representing that you’re a selectman in Ayer,” asked Conley.
“We haven’t authorized that,” said Luca.
“I am a selectman, whether you authorize it or not,” answered Maxant. “I’m not saying I’m doing anything officially on behalf of the board.”