Shirley’s only contested race features two former selectmen and a little controversy

Shirley’s only contested race features two former selectmen and a little controversy
Shirley’s only contested race features two former selectmen and a little controversy

SHIRLEY – With the town election set for Tuesday, May 4, the only contested race on the ballot is for town moderator, a three-year term.

The candidates – both former selectmen and well-known – are Enrico C. Cappucci and Leonardo M. “Chip” Guercio, Jr.

Cappucci has been moderator in the past. Elected in 2014, he quit to run for a seat on the Board of Selectmen, which he had served on previously. He won.

Now, he’s running for moderator again, in part because he thinks it would pose a conflict of interest for his opponent to hold the position.

“He doesn’t see it…so I decided to run,” he said.

According to Cappucci, Guercio, who is currently a sewer commissioner and chairs the Zoning Board of Appeals, has said he aims to stay on both boards if elected moderator.

A longtime town resident and former police chief who once held that job in Shirley and went on to serve in Duxbury before retiring, Cappucci was also a selectmen in Stoneham when he lived there and has attended many town meetings in all three towns, he said, in his official capacities and as a resident.

In Shirley, the first moderator he observed in action was Liz Noyes, he said, followed by George Knittel, each of whom set an example for him. Knittel, who authored a guidebook called “Town Meeting Time,” was a “model” moderator, Cappucci said, adding that both of them were impartial. “They never indicated support for an article,” he said.

He thinks his opponent might find it difficult to be”neutral” in some instances, Cappucci said, due to his commitments to other town boards, the Sewer Commission in particular.

“It could be a handicap,” he said. For example, if and when town meeting voters consider a request that hasn’t been made yet but which he thinks soon will be. It would be in the form of an article seeking voters’ approval to extend Shirley sewer services to a development in Lancaster, which would require a 2/3 town meeting vote to pass.

He questions whether Guercio might influence that decision, although he couldn’t say precisely how. Besides, Cappucci thinks it shouldn’t come up in the first place. His take on the matter is, “Charity begins at home,” he said, noting that there are at least a dozen roads in Shirley that don’t have sewer lines, which in his view should happen before offering service to another town.

On the positive side, Cappucci said he wants to be moderator because he liked it last time around. And he has a new idea to propose: establishing a class for Finance Committee newcomers.

In addition to presiding at town meeting, the moderator’s other duty is to appoint FinCom members. Cappucci said it’s challenging to find people who feel qualified to serve, but with an introductory course offered, it might be a different story. He even has someone in mind to teach the course, he said: a former FinCom member and retired university professor who taught finance and worked in the corporate sector as well. “He’d be perfect,” Cappucci said.

Cappucci said he wants to keep the moderator’s position free of politics. “My advice to the moderator is to stay out of town hall,” he said.

Guercio said his interest in becoming moderator was sparked when Karen Ludington announced she wouldn’t run again. It posed a new and interesting challenge for the lifelong resident and former multi-term town selectman, who now serves on the Sewer Commission and chairs the Zoning Board of Appeals. “I’ve been involved in town government…but I’ve never been a moderator before,” Guercio said.

Interviewed at the Bull Run – his family’s business for more than a half century and as a former innkeeper and current chef at the restaurant, his workplace for almost as long — Guercio said he plans to stay on the other boards he serves on, although he didn’t recall speaking to his opponent about it. If elected, he’d at least finish out those terms, he said, and he doesn’t know of any legal prohibition that would prevent him from doing so.

One board has key work in progress. The ZBA is in the process of reviewing a proposed townhouse condo development on Benjamin Road that’s been in the works for over two years. The board is currently holding a public hearing on the proposal that’s been ongoing for some time.

Guercio’s seat on the Sewer Commission dates back to 1998, prior to its formation. Tracing its evolution from study committee, to steering committee, to a commission as the town-wide sewer project moved forward, he said he is one of two appointed members. The other two are elected.

Asked what he’d do if a warrant article, possibly linked to one of those boards, posed a conflict of interest, Guercio said the moderator can temporarily step aside and an appointed alternate takes over. That’s how it’s been done in the past, he said. That option is available, he said. But in terms of when it is called for, if it’s not obvious, he’d turn to town counsel for advice.

As for Cappucci’s concerns about the Sewer Commission’s dealings with Lancaster, Guercio said that while the commissioners had considered the project, they didn’t propose it. “Lancaster approached us,” he said. “We said we’d discuss it.” Talks with the town administrator followed. “We told them there would have to be a clear benefit to Shirley users,” he said. “Our job is to serve users in Shirley.”

Besides paying a fee, the other town must cover all costs, for example. The takeaway was a memorandum of understanding, or MOU, which sketches what the proposal would look like. It was presented to the Lancaster Selectmen and the Shirley board would likely take it up soon, Guercio said.

If both boards agree, it would up to them to hammer out the details, he said. Then, it would go to a town meeting, with a 2/3 vote required to pass. “The selectmen would bring it forward…not the moderator,” he said.

Asked about Finance Committee appointments, the other duty in the moderator’s job description, he said the board is two short of a full table now, so his goal if elected would be to fill those positions.

His experience as a selectman could help with both aspects of the moderator’s job. “My helpful to me,” he said, noting the administrators, accountants and Finance Committees he’s worked with over the years and the many town meetings he’s been part of.

Guercio served consecutive terms on the town’s top board, twice. First, from 1986-1993, then from 1998-2009. If elected on May 4, he aims to start work right away, Guercio said, so he’s fully prepared for the May 10 town meeting, the first he’d preside over as moderator.