HARVARD -- It was Harvard selectmen's turn to chair the Joint Boards of Selectmen. But the advisory board, whose commitment to sustain itself has waxed and waned almost as often as it has produced memos of understanding to re-define its job description, bypassed policy and protocol to seat Ayer Selectman Gary Luca instead.
Reporting back to her own board last week after attending a recent JBOS meeting, Harvard Selectmen Chairwoman Lucy Wallace seemed somewhat flustered by the experience as she described how the chairmanship was handed to Luca, not because she had declined it, per se, but presumably because nobody objected and she didn't step up.
It was the first JBOS meeting she'd sat in on for some time.
Other JBOS members kept looking her way, Wallace said of the meeting, but it wasn't clear what they expected and she didn't have a response.
When the selectmen backed off on participation in JBOS last year, there was no confusion of purpose on their part, but the move caused consternation among their peers.
The Harvard board stated its representative wouldn't attend monthly JBOS meetings as a matter of course, but would show up if there was a reason to do so. For example, an issue of mutual concern that the three stakeholder towns -- Ayer, Harvard and Shirley -- and the Devens community needed to discuss.
In their view, JBOS shouldn't continue as a standing committee anyway. At that time, Wallace proposed convening JBOS only when important matters came up. It was unclear how that determination would be made, however, or what entity would notify the boards.
Those were not the only points Harvard held out on.
For example, with diminishing JBOS participation at issue, a new policy was concocted to allow selectmen and the Devens Committee to appoint representatives -- one voting member and an alternate -- to represent them.
But Harvard selectmen at their recent meeting harkened back to the earlier setup, in which only routine matters such as approving minutes would be voted on at JBOS meetings. All other agenda items calling for a vote were to be taken back to the respective boards first.
Devens police contract
Harvard selectmen's return to the JBOS table was sparked by an issue they are keenly interested in: bidding for Devens service contracts, specifically the police contract.
Selectman Ron Ricci said Harvard's town administrator and police chief devised a plan for responding to MassDevelopment's request for proposals when it's issued in June.
The town already provides education to Devens kids via a contract with the state agency, Ricci pointed out. "I think we can do a great job" policing the Devens community as well, he said. And for a lower price. Ricci said MassDevelopment pays $1.2 million to Massachusetts State Police for the service now.
"Our chief is working hard to ensure we're competitive," Ricci said. But the state police won't submit a bid. As one state agency serving another, they are not required to, he said.
Another item of interest that Wallace brought back from the JBOS meeting was that MassDevelopment recently sent out a request for inquiries seeking a contractor to build houses on Grant Road, the one remaining area of Devens designated for residential development. Under state legislation, Chapter 498, and the Reuse Plan, the housing cap allows 146 new residential units in Devens, the number razed on Grant Road.
UMass Lowell at Vicksburg Square
Two attempts to rezone historic Vicksburg Square for residential and/or commercial development failed, leaving a quartet of big old brick buildings previously slated for rehab and reuse continuing to deteriorate and the area in limbo. Now, the town of Ayer has come up with an alternative idea and has asked the town of Harvard for backup.
Wallace said Ayer selectmen drafted a letter to UMass Lowell Chancellor Marty Meehan, asking if he'd be interested in siting a satellite college campus at Vicksburg Square. "Do we want to sign it?" she asked. She didn't have a copy at hand, however.
JBOS has produced yet another MOU, Wallace said. What did the board think about signing it? The selectmen's response, basically, was that the MOU says nothing new and isn't needed. They agreed to take no action and did not sign it.
Finally, selectmen sought to pin down consensus on the JBOS chairmanship issue.
Clark asked whether they support the move to appoint a chairman out of turn.
"I say we all attend the next (JBOS) meeting," Marie Sobalvarro suggested.
In the end, they didn't take a stand on the chairman issue. But when Clark made a motion to support Ayer selectmen's letter to UMass Lowell, it passed unanimously.