SHIRLEY — With five articles on the warrant and 53 registered voters signed in, the Special Town Meeting, held in the Ayer Shirley Regional Middle School Gym Monday night, wrapped up in less than half an hour, and the only item that sparked controversy didn’t have a dollar sign attached.
Although so-called “money articles” tend to draw discussion, Article 1 did not.
There was a proposal to add a position — part time social service coordinator — to the town payroll and transferring $8,000 from American Rescue Plan receipts to help pay for the new hire .
Only one person, representing the Shirley Charitable Foundation, spoke favorably on the article.
“We see a tremendous need in the community … it’s important to pass this,” she said.
Voters agreed. On a hand count, Moderator Chip Guercio declared a majority voted in favor.
Article 4, however, a proposed general bylaw amendment, sparked debate.
The article sought to strike a provision of The Roadways and Street Names bylaw, which stakes a claim for the town’s right to name new public streets, but with a caveat. The town’s recognized war heroes — men and women serving in the military who died in armed conflict — must get first priority.
The bylaw reads, in part that the priority given to members of the military be made, “In humble and grateful appreciation” for the “selfless acts” of the service men and women of Shirley who died “in defense of their nation.”
Naming new town streets after these brave men and women memorializes “their all too short lives among us” and recognizes the “pain and loss” felt by parents, families and friends,” according to the text of the bylaw.
In practical terms, it has meant that the street-naming committee must turn first to the town’s roster of war heroes killed in action and use every name on the list before any other “distinguished persons” can be considered.
According to American Legion Post 183 Commander Dwight “Mike” Detillion, the list includes 13 Shirley residents who died in World War II, two who died in the Korean War and two who died in the Vietnam War.
Those who supported changing the bylaw felt it was too restrictive and more far-reaching than necessary.
James Quinty, who helped write the bylaw 16 years ago, disagreed, suggested its current language wasn’t inclusive enough. “This … must also include the names on the monuments in town,” he said.
“Before this bylaw … developers could name streets” after anyone or anything they chose, Quinty said. “This was one thing we could do to memorialize” the town’s fallen war heroes instead, he said.
Other residents favored the bylaw change.
Janet Tice said it simply means that “all the veterans must be mentioned” but the list would not necessarily need to be “exhausted” before the street-naming group could consider other names, distinguished residents, those who are now deceased and whose contributions to the town are well-known. One example of using that definition would include longtime Town Clerk and former Selectman Sylvia Shipton.
Town Clerk Bill Oelfke explained that a “Yes” vote on Article 4 would scratch that specific section (General Bylaw XXIX, Section 5) but keep the rest, while a “No” vote would keep the bylaw as it is.
The article passed by the required majority, making it less restrictive.
Articles 2, 3 and 5 also passed, without discussion.
Article 2 sought to change the name of the town’s top board from Selectmen to Select Board. Because the change called for an amendment to a Zoning Bylaw, it required a 2/3 vote.
Article 3 asked voters to up the treasurer/collector’s demand fee for overdue real estate, property and motor vehicle tax bills from $15 to $20, the only increase since 2009.
Article 5 asked for authorization to transfer $28,110 from the PEG account — funded by ComCast via its contract with the town — to cover fiscal 2022 expenses for SPACO, the town’s public-access cable TV programming provider.