AYER — On a split 3-2 vote and with no deliberation, the Board of Selectmen elected Jim Fay as its chairman. The motion to appoint Fay was made by newly-elected Selectman Christopher Hillman, and quickly seconded by Selectman Gary Luca who has served as chairman for the past year.
Hillman and Luca placed first and second respectively in the three-way race for two board seats at the April 23 Town Election. Third-place finisher Mark Coulter suffered a heart attack the night before the election.
Fay accepted the Hillman/Luca nomination forming the winning three vote majority. Selectmen Frank Maxant and Pauline Conley opposed Fay’s election as chairman.
The board quickly moved to unanimously elect Maxant as the vice chairman. Selectman Pauline Conley volunteered herself as clerk, which passed on a split 3-2 vote with Hillman and Luca opposed. Again, there was no debate, discussion or reasons given by the opposition to Conley’s motion.
Fay moved to assume the middle seat reserved for chairman and the meeting pressed forward. The sole question during the open public comment session came from Mary Spinner, who is both a member of the Board of Health but also the Chairman of the Capital Planning Committee. She also is a staple in the audience at selectmen’s meetings.
Spinner asked the re-organized board to reconsider its stance of recent years, preventing public commentary or questions on items not already part of the posted agenda. Spinner noted the policy was that the chairman would entertain a total of five minutes worth of free-form commentary before moving onto the business at hand. “I’d like to have you go back the other way,” said Spinner.
Fay explained the rationale for the change was that “the board needs to have some time” to prepare for pop-up topics. “The best we can do is Thank you, we’ll take it under advisement.”
“I’ll leave it to the board,” said Fay. “I think that all things that come to the board should have some homework done by the town administrator and the board.”
“I prepared a campaign speech for chairman,” bristled Maxant. He said one of his platform planks was that he intended to lobby for the reestablishment of public input for all topics.
“I have served on both sides of it,” said Fay. “It becomes a matter of managing the minutes. I’d hold a speaker to five minutes.”
“It was five minutes total,” stressed Spinner. “Not for each speaker.”
If research was needed by the board before answering, Spinner said past practice was to place the answer or update on the next meeting agenda.
Luca said, “Personally … we hold department heads to give us agenda items on a Thursday” before a m meeting.
“We hold ourselves to that,” added Fay. The selectmen’s meeting packet is prepared for the board’s advance review on a Friday before a typical Tuesday night meeting. The board’s May 10 meeting was an off-cycle occurrence.
“If someone has an issue that’s important, they can bring it to the town administrator,” said Luca.
Conley reminded the board that it already has a policy dating to 2000 that permits public participation and that there’s “no limitation on the topic for the public input section of the agenda. I share Mr. Maxant’s view. We should hear from the public on any topic they wish to be heard on.”
Hillman only added that he agreed with Conley. “We are here for the people.”
“I’ll take that as a challenge to be a time manager of the pubic input section,” said Fay. The meetings have notoriously run late into the evenings of late, in violation of another selectmen policy that meetings aren’t to extend past 10 o’clock at night without a unanimous vote of the board to proceed deeper into the evening.
“Its in our policies, Jim,” said Luca.
“So I think we’ll entertain public input as appropriate,” concluded Fay.
The move to reorganize came with a hiccup. Fay turned and asked “Mr. Clerk” to read the legal preamble to taking the board into executive, or closed door, talks to discuss collective bargaining strategy.
“Madam Clerk,” corrected Conley.
“Brain freeze,” answered Fay with a smile.
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.