NOTE: This is the fourth in a series of profiles of the four Ayer Board of Selectmen candidates, published in order of each securing a ballot spot in the April 30 Town Election. - Ed.
AYER - Ayer native Frank Maxant is seeking election to a fourth term on the Ayer Board of Selectmen on April 30. He's also served as a member of the Advisory Committee (now known as the Finance Committee), chaired the Ayer Historical Commission for more than 20 years, and has served on both the Long Range Planning and Master Plan Committees.
Of the four candidates in the race, only Maxant has held elected office before.
"You saw what happened when someone without any experience gets on the board," said Maxant, in reference to selectmen Christopher Hillman's April 2012 election. "The board was in chaos. That person has no idea how government works. If we have somebody else come on, we're setting ourselves up for a similar experience."
Maxant has butt heads with Hillman in particular among the board over the condition of several properties which many decry as eyesores. One is owned by Maxant's friend and landlord, Hugh Ernisse. Maxant said his focus is to stop others from "trampling on people's rights."
Maxant disagreed with selectman Chair Jim Fay's assessment that the board does have the authority to force the cleanup of allegedly troubled properties. "That's a very telling answer when it's a government's duty to protect and defend people's rights," said Maxant. "He feels it's within the board's power to determine what people's rights are, not what the state or federal constitution is all about.
"They're starting to perceive easy targets - the elderly and the infirmed - the ones who don't have the resources to hire a lawyer to defend themselves against actions by the town whose lawyers are paid for by taxes," said Maxant. "I'd say it's the characteristic of human nature since we've been walking upright to impose your will on someone else. I've always said people want to be kings, but the Constitution is written very deliberately to make that more difficult to be realized."
Last month the board refused to meet in executive session with Maxant. Hillman alleged that Maxant's friendship and renter status with one property owner should bar Maxant's participation on ethics and Conflict of Interest grounds. Maxant said the resulting open door discussion was a win in terms of process, "It's a huge step in the right direction that the executive session we were going to have was in open session so the public can see exactly what our legal authority is."
Maxant has challenged the board's authority with a June 15 complaint to the Attorney General's Office, alleging the board illegally entered closed door discussion on June 5, 2012 over targeted properties. Selectman Pauline Conley agreed that, after sitting through the meeting, she also believed the meeting wasn't appropriate. The AG's Office has yet to rule on Maxant's complaint.
The rest of the board united, however, on Jan. 22, denying Maxant's claim that an attorney advised in executive session that the town's 2012 sex offender residency restrictive bylaw sits on shaky constitutional grounds. The bylaw bars Level 2 and 3 sex offenders, as categorized by the state Sex Offender Registry Board (SORB), from establishing residence within 1,000 feet of parks, schools, and senior living complexes.
Maxant maintains the warning came from Leonard Kesten, who defended the town and Ayer Police Chief William Murray on a suit filed by sex offender John King. In December, a U.S. District Court judge ordered, on purely procedural grounds, that King be permitted to live in his wife's Ayer residence which is located within 1,000 feet of a park and senior housing project.
Since judgment entered on the procedural grounds, the court dismissed as moot King's constitutional challenge of the Ayer bylaw. Maxant notes that dismissal does not mean the Ayer bylaw is inoculated from other costly constitutional challenges.
Maxant said the selectmen "should be like a tick on a hound" in suggesting amendments to the bylaw at Town Meeting to prevent costly suits and judgments against the town, and to protect the bylaw from being knocked off the books entirely.
Maxant said the lawyer recommended dropping reliance on the SORB labeling of offenders as Level 2 (at moderate risk of re-offense) and Level 3 (at high risk of re-offense), which has been the subject of legal challenge. Rather Maxant said locally it could be determined to apply the bylaw against those convicted of "intentional, harmful" and sexual contact, but not for those convicted of non-contact misdemeanors (i.e. open and gross lewdness).
Maxant said the attorney warned that the ACLU has the bylaw targeted "prominently on their radar screen."
What happened in executive session is not clear. Fay asked Nashoba Publishing to accurately report on what Kesten did advise to the board. However the selectmen have not released the pertinent closed door meeting minutes, despite Nashoba Publishing's February request for the release of the record.
If returned to the board, Maxant said he'd continue to work to "put a stop to that use of executive session which is aimed to bluff people out of their rights."
Otherwise, Maxant disagrees that the board has difficulties working together, "Interpersonally, I don't think it's a real problem. We were too busy establishing a pecking order. I think people have finally settled into their roles. That would be upset by having a new person come aboard."
Maxant defends his Feb. 5 public protest when he ripped-up a certificate of appreciation given to each board member by the Ayer American Legion Post 139. Maxant maintains the group denied membership to his friend, former housemate and Level 3 sex offender Benjamin Franklin Pierce, who is also an honorably discharged Marine veteran.
"I represent the people who value the golden rule - live and let live," said Maxant. "I really love Ayer. Like most bullies, the ones doing this sort of things are cowards."
Regarding the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone, Maxant said the "best way to take care of our future is to resume jurisdiction of our land." At the October 2012 Fall Town Meeting, Ayer voters rejected Maxant's legislative petition for Ayer to resume governmental control over its Devens lands.
As Ayer's representative to the Joints Boards of Selectmen, Maxant said the panel is investigating ways to provide Devens residents a greater power of self-determination over the disposition of the former Fort Devens lands now managed by the state.
Also on the regional front, Maxant maintains the 2011 regionalization of the Ayer and Shirley schools was a "terrible idea." Maxant said Ayer would have been better off by continuing to collect tuition for educating Shirley students in a stand-alone Ayer system.
Had the towns retained separate districts, "it might have been at lot less strain on their budget and ours," said Maxant.
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.