AYER -- If he's there, he's the chair. That was the informal consensus following the Feb. 5 Ayer selectmen meeting, confirming that Ayer selectman Frank Maxant remains the board's representative to the Joint Boards of Selectmen. As such, a majority of the Ayer selectmen signaled that Maxant is arguably, therefore, the JBOS chairman.
Maxant is a JBOS regular, the sole Ayer appointed JBOS representative, and served as JBOS vice chairman last year. Ayer selectmen's discussion tends to challenge the Jan. 24 JBOS vote in which Ayer selectman Gary Luca was apparently elected as the JBOS chairman.
Maxant and Luca agree: Maxant was intent on attending the first JBOS meeting of 2013. However, due to a train delay, Maxant missed it.
Luca had agreed to pick up Maxant at the downtown Ayer train stop and to transport Maxant the 2 miles to the JBOS meeting site on Devens. When Maxant's train didn't appear at the appointed time, Luca left Depot Square solo for the JBOS meeting. Maxant missed the first JBOS meeting in its entirety.
Luca's presence was apparently used to help the JBOS reach a three-member quorum to conduct business. Luca and the other two JBOS representatives voted 3-0 to elect Luca specifically as the JBOS chairman.
However, according to a 2011 memorandum of understanding signed by the selectmen and representatives of the JBOS member communities (Ayer, Devens, Harvard and Shirley) the chairmanship was due to rotate in alphabetical order this year from Devens to Harvard. The vice chairmanship was likewise to follow alphabetically, switching from Ayer to Devens.
However, Harvard selectmen have shunned regularly monthly JBOS meeting attendance, opting to attend only on an as-needed basis. Harvard selectmen Chairwoman Lucy Wallace was present as a spectator at the January meeting and also noted that she could find no reference in the Harvard selectmen's meeting minutes that her board had ever formally voted to accept the 2011 MOU terms, despite the fact the then-sitting Harvard selectmen signed the agreement.
Luca, Kinch and Shirley JBOS representative Rico Cappucci voted unanimously to tap Luca as JBOS chair. The three added that Harvard could assume the JBOS chairmanship in 2014 if Harvard resumed regular JBOS meeting attendance.
The MOU states that each community is to have a primary and secondary JBOS representative. Only Devens presently complies by that MOU term; Shirley and Ayer each have one JBOS representative and Harvard, for the time being at least, sends no one.
MassDevelopment has an advisory-only seat at the table. The state agency has both a primary and an alternate representative to attend JBOS meetings.
Similar confusion broke out a year ago. In late 2011, Kinch suggested and the JBOS voted to elect former outgoing JBOS Chairman Jim Fay of Ayer as the 2012 vice chairman.
The JBOS so voted, confusing the November 2011 vote of the Ayer selectmen to appoint Maxant as the Ayer's primary JBOS representative. Ayer selectmen voted to appoint Fay as Ayer's secondary JBOS representative.
At the February 2012 JBOS meeting, the panel acknowledged its error and confirmed Maxant as its vice chairman, noting the role is to flow to the town's designee.
Maxant misses ride, meeting, and vote
"I was sitting by the train when the meeting started," said Maxant.
"I waited as long as I could, Frank," said Luca. "I thought you were going to walk down and walk into the room."
Luca said the JBOS "intent was that I be appointed for the next calendar year until we can rectify this (with Harvard) ... I don't know if they'll be back."
Fay had no problem with Luca serving as JBOS chairman. "He who shows up votes."
"As far as I know, I was the one authorized to be there," said Maxant. "Each town was to designate who was to be there, and this town hasn't designated an alternate."
"As selectmen, we're all members, so in my mind it's moot," said Fay. The 2011 MOU states that substantive matters are to be brought back to a host community's board for a vote, with the JBOS representative then voting the will of his or her board.
Ayer selectman Pauline Conley was disheartened that Wallace was not first allowed to "go back to her board to discuss if (Harvard) wanted to become a more active participant."
"The next (community) sequentially would be Shirley because it's alphabetical," continued Conley. "That's always been the case, per the MOU, and all four members have always agreed to that rotation. That wasn't even discussed."
Conley maintained that Maxant is "Ayer's representative, voted by this board."
"One man, one vote," said Fay.
"One town, one vote," said Conley.
If both Maxant and Luca appear at a JBOS meeting, then "Mr. Maxant is the chair for the evening," said Conley.
"But he wasn't there," said Fay.
"Not that night," answered Conley.
Luca countered that the JBOS "majority rules" since, even negating his vote, the other two JBOS representatives voted for him. Luca argued his election as chairman "still would have happened."
Luca said to Fay, "I'd expect if you showed up one night and me and Frank didn't that you could vote."
"Of course," agreed Fay.
"I'm OK with that," said Conley.
"Thank you, Gary, for stepping forward ...," said Fay.
"... and filling Frank's shoes," interjected Conley.
Luca knocked Conley for allegedly insinuating there was a conspiracy for him to attain the JBOS chairmanship.
"I was on the grassy knoll in Dallas, too," said Luca, alluding to conspiracy theories over the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Gridlock on Grant Road
Conley asked why the JBOS voted to endorse MassDevelopment's plans to seek developers for the residential buildout of 200 acres on Grant Road on Devens. "That was not discussed by this board," said Conley.
The 2011 MOU states that the JBOS shall not vote on substantive issues until the matters have first been deliberated locally, with JBOS representatives then voting the will of their respective boards. "I'd like to know how that happened."
"I don't know," answered Luca.
"So there was no vote at all?" queried Conley.
"What we say has nothing to do with whether or not ..." began Luca.
"Was there a vote?" interrupted Fay, who pressed Luca to answer, "Yes or no?"
"I don't remember there being a vote," said Luca.
Maxant said the draft meeting minutes suggest the JBOS did vote to accept or endorse MassDevelopment's plans to move forward the Grant Road project. Maxant cautioned "if (MassDevelopment) want to, which they may, they'll use that (vote) to trumpet all around Boston that the towns approve."
Fay cautioned that any such plan should not be rubber-stamped, stating any JBOS representative should "be wary of its contents unless my board knows them."
"I can't remember what it was," said Luca.
"We should be ready to straighten out the impression," said Maxant.
"As far as I'm concerned, this town hasn't accepted anything," said Conley. "And I'd like to have that communicated to the JBOS."
Conley implored Maxant, "Please don't miss the next JBOS."
"I'll try not to," said Maxant.
Conley requested copies of any materials MassDevelopment Land Entitlements Director Edmund Starzec presented to the JBOS in conjunction with the Grant Road vote.
"He didn't present anything," said Luca. "He didn't present any plans. He sat in the audience and spoke (but) I will get the answer."
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.