By Jon Bishop
SHIRLEY — A proposal brought to the Joint Boards of Selectmen would change the way in which the towns of Ayer, Harvard and Shirley vote at Super Town Meetings.
Currently, Chapter 498 says that when a Super Town Meeting is called, each town holds its meeting on the same day. If one town defeats the proposal before them, it dies.
The proposed change would count the total votes cast in the three towns, the aggregate required majority determining the outcome. No one town could defeat the article.
Harvard Selectman Leo Blair, chairman of the Joint Boards of Selectmen, offered two ideas at Thursday’s JBOS meeting: amending of Chapter 498, and raising the contribution of each member town to joint boards operations from $5,000 to $10,000.
First, Chapter 498. Blair said that it might be better to require the Super Town Meetings within a certain window, rather than have each member town meet on the same day.
“The coordination of trying to put together a Super Town Meeting is tough, and it’s almost destined to fail,” he said. He doubted whether the Super Town Meeting process, as it stands, is effective.
And, he suggested that they could use an aggregated majority of all the votes cast.
“That way, you don’t have a situation” where attendance is higher in one town and lower in another, he said.
When he brought this proposal to his colleagues in Harvard, “two of the members thought (it) was pretty good,” he said. Another was uncomfortable with the aggregation of votes.
But he stressed that he saw this as a first step and that members should take it back to their respective committees for consideration.
Elizabeth Witmer, of the Devens Advisory Committee, seemed to support the idea, pointing out that Devens has fewer people than the other towns.
“I think the veto power of one town over the three others is a little problematic,” she said. “I don’t know if the solution you’re proposing is the right solution.” But she noted that she is not against amending 498 and will take the proposal back to the Devens committee.
George Ramirez, MassDevelopment’s executive vice president of Devens operations, said, from the audience, that this is “the kind of issue where you’re kind of amending the major documents.
“It would carry a lot of weight if each of the boards voted to say that this is what we want,” he said. “After that, it would require legislation.”
He cautioned that, since there is “so much in 498,” a change could open Pandora’s Box and lead to other changes, bringing it “out of control.”
“We’d love to have some of those changes you’re talking about,” but in a controlled manner, he said. He later noted that “the conversation seems to be timely.”
Blair again emphasized that his proposal “will be a first step — an important first step,” and he said Ramirez’s “words of caution are very well taken.”
Swain said that 498 should be treated like a bylaw: a living document that has to be adjusted once in awhile.
A proposal such as this could instill confidence in the JBOS process, Blair added.
“Let’s go around (to our committees) and see what we come up with,” said Luca.
Second, the funds: Blair said that raising the contributions to $10,000 “gives us more funds, which I think we’re going to need.” It would also help emphasize the fact that the towns are “engaging in a process that’s going to lead somewhere.”
He noted too that $10,000 won’t detract from the operations of each town.
He said he would ask that it be included in the selectmen’s budget in Harvard, adding that it would fall under the same category as legal fees.
Shirley Selectman David Swain said that the way they’ve talked, internally, is that it’s contingent on the other towns contributing.
“That’s the way Shirley’s going to approach it,” he said.
Ayer Selectman Gary Luca agreed.
“I’d go the same way you would,” he said.
In other business, Edmund Starzec, director of Land Entitlements for MassDevelopment, discussed four changes to Devens bylaws: adding senior residential uses as an allowed use in the Shirley Village Growth I zoning district; adding health care uses as allowed uses in the Shirley Village Growth I, Innovation and Technology Center, and Business/Community Services I zoning districts; undertaking two zoning swaps to allow for the residential redevelopment of the former Adams Circle neighborhood and to protect valuable adjacent environmental and historical resources; and rezoning part of the southern end of the Grant Road district for appropriately buffered commercial uses.
Also, on the Jackson Road widening project, Ramirez said, “We’re hopeful that (this) will be a year and a half project.”
“We’re excited about that,” he said.
MassDevelopment recently received a $1.8 million grant for the project.