By Jon Bishop
HARVARD — At their retreat on May 12, Harvard selectmen discussed topics ranging from the Town Hall to technology improvements to policy changes.
And, of course, Devens.
Ken Swanton, who first raised the Devens subject, suggested that the town be more involved in its historic land, because that land could one day revert back to Harvard.
He said he didn’t think it was likely that Devens would become its own municipality.
“There hasn’t been a town created in Massachusetts since the 1920s,” he said.
Thus Harvard shouldn’t ignore the Devens lands. It could regret it.
“I think you raise a good point,” said Lucy Wallace.
Leo Blair noted that the land never left the three towns. It’s only under MassDevelopment’s jurisdiction temporarily. He agreed with Swanton and said the town should be more proactive.
“The best deal for Harvard is to make our own deal,” he said.
He said the fact that Harvard educates Devens students is a big stick they can use in any negotiations.
“We need to understand that we matter,” he said.
The town should find out what the Devens endgame is and assert itself, he said.
Wallace said she tends to think of Devens as an overlay district, not as a municipality.
Blair said it could stay that way and still revert back to the towns. They’ve been playing too much defense, he said. It’s time for offense.
The selectmen decided that Blair and Wallace would come up with a list of questions about Devens and bring them to legal counsel.
Another topic the selectmen discussed was a town manager. Wallace suggested the idea, because it might be something that would meet Harvard’s future needs. She compared the position to a superintendent of a town.
“It’s a conversation we ought to have with ourselves,” she said.
“I really hate this idea,” Stu Sklar said. He said that people on school committees don’t have much control. He figured the same would happen to selectmen with a town manager.
Town Administrator Tim Bragan noted that it would not be similar, because they would be able to define the relationship with the town manager.
This led into a general discussion about municipal government. Blair said Harvard has too many committees. And they can become advocacy groups, making them ineffective.
Selectmen, he said, should set the example of how government in town operates. It shouldn’t be “free-styled,” as it often is. Having too many committees doing their own thing is part of the problem, he said.
Wallace countered that the presence of committees shows that Harvard has a strong sense of volunteerism and community. This should be approached with sensitivity, she said.
But Blair noted that many committees have trouble getting members.
Swanton said he was glad Blair brought up the topic, because it is a necessary conversation. Evaluating the number of committees will also let the town effectively utilize its volunteers, he pointed out.
Selectmen discussed a possibility of a sunset that would prevent committees from lasting too long.
Also on the topic of government was the possibility of switching the town clerk from an elected to an appointed position, another issue Wallace raised.
“I think it’s a no-brainer,” Blair said.
Bragan said he’s had this conversation with Town Clerk Janet Vellante before. He said she agrees that the position continues to get more complicated, and he believes she’d support a change.
Wallace said that, as long as she wants to continue working, they would appoint her to that position.
Swanton said it shouldn’t be on their list of goals until they know Vellante is comfortable, and Bragan said though she hasn’t given an answer yet, she’ll likely give one in January.
Ron Ricci said an appointment would also help the town. Once Vellante retires, they’d be hard-pressed at finding another resident with her skills and qualifications.
Follow Jon on Twitter and Tout: @JonBishopNP.