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SHIRLEY – Finance Committee Chairman John O’Keefe, who has served on the the board for five years and chaired it for 2 ½ years, has left his moderator-appointed, volunteer position.

But it wasn’t his idea.

With his term set to end, he would need to be reappointed to stay on for another term, starting July 1. But he was informed in a June 30 e-mail from Town Moderator Karen Ludington that she would not reappoint him, citing their differing opinions about the FinCom’s role.

As the moderator sees it, according to O’Keefe, that role is spelled out in town bylaws. Basically, that it’s tied to town meeting: reviewing financial articles on the warrant and making recommendations.

O’Keefe said that interpretation may be too narrow, based in part on state standards that suggest a broader view, with FinCom able to advise taxpayers on financial matters, not limited to town meeting.

The ouster, which O’Keefe says surprised him, even though he and the moderator aired their differences during an informal meeting last month, comes amid a renewed push for an Ayer Shirley High School athletic fields project that he and other FinCom members opposed and which he has repeatedly and vehemently spoken out against, citing its cost and insufficient data to support it.

When later modifications downsized the project’s scope and cut costs, O’Keefe still actively opposed it.

The fields project has been in the works for some time and the district spent a substantial amount of money on its design, including the cost of an architect.

The project had strong support in the school community, but faced opposition in Shirley, where voters rejected a debt exclusion ballot question aimed at funding it. The question passed in Ayer, but the School Committee had pledged not to move forward unless it passed in both towns.

Now, it looks like proponents plan to try again.

To that end, O’Keefe said, town officials and Town Administrator Mike McGovern have been meeting with Superintendent of Schools Mary Malone and School Committee members from both towns, including Jim Quinty, who represents Shirley.

Quinty, who served on the original fields committee, hatched an alternative, lost costly makeover plan that he presented last time around that O’Keefe supported. But it gained no traction with other board members or the building committee.

In numerous presentations before and after a district-wide referendum backed the project but before the two-town ballot question derailed it, fields committee members explained how new and improved fields would benefit student athletes by clearing up safety hazards and said it was the final touch needed to cap an earlier high school renovation/addition project that turned an outdated, dilapidated building into a sleek modern facility, with state of the art features and fixtures.

Although state aid helped pay for the high school project, there’s no state funding for sports facilities.

O’Keefe’s position, then and now, is that the town and the school district should address the two aging elementary schools before committing to a pricey fields project that would be on the books for years.

“There was no focus on the elementary schools,” he said. Other board members agreed. “These were unanimous votes,” he said.

First appointed to the FinCom by the previous moderator, and later re-appointed by Ludington,

O’Keefe said he’s unsure if he’ll seek out another volunteer option in town.

FinCom fit his professional experience and personal preference. “I love spread sheets,” he said. “I don’t like politics.”

Contacted Tuesday afternoon, Ludington was asked if O’Keefe’s outspoken stance on the fields project influenced her decision not to reappoint him.

“Everybody has a right to speak out,” she said. “I disagreed with his approach to the role of the Finance Committee.”

Asked if she turned to town bylaws for guidance, she said they were not “terribly clear” on the matter and that, when it comes to appointments, her decisions are based on “my best judgment” of the Finance Committee’s role in town affairs.

But Ludington made it clear she didn’t ask O’Keefe to step down. “His term was up,” she said. “I am grateful for his caring…and his hard work.” Which is basically what she said in her e-mail to him.