SHIRLEY -- When the Joint Boards of Selectmen, or JBOS, met at Ayer Town Hall last month, all three member boards -- Ayer, Harvard and Shirley -- attended in full.

Attendance was more modest when JBOS met in Shirley Town Offices on Thursday, Dec. 19, but the agenda was basically the same: Discussion of a proposal by Harvard Selectman Leo Blair to create an overlay district in the Devens Redevelopment Enterprise Zone (DREZ) that would take back local control via collective municipal government while allowing MassDevelopment, the state agency now in charge of the former military base, to stay on and continue redeveloping the area.

At the table Thursday night were Harvard selectmen Ron Ricci, Stu Sklar and Blair; Shirley Selectman Bob Prescott and Vice Chairman Tom Kinch, who presided in the absence of Chairman and Ayer Selectman Gary Luca.

Two MassDevelopment representatives -- Land Entitlements Director Ed Starzek and Counsel Lee Smith -- were also present but did not participate in the discussion.

In the scenario Blair envisions, the "host" towns whose historic boundaries exist within Devens would provide public services and governance in the designated sector instead of MassDevelopment, which would continue to redevelop Devens until 2033, when its oversight is set to expire.

The agency's tenure and terms under which it operates Devens are spelled out in state law, Chapter 498, which would need amendment to adopt the nascent restructuring plan.

Devens residents, concerned about their community's uncertain future beyond the 2033 deadline, have petitioned the state legislature more than once to make their small but growing community a town, but to no avail. A broad-based effort (Scenario 2B) to settle the disposition question early also failed.

The concept JBOS is mulling now would move the question in a different direction.

JBOS discussed pros and cons of airing the new concept at annual Town Meetings in the spring via nonbinding referenda in the three towns.

At the December meeting, members agreed to go back to their respective boards for an official, full house read on the issue with an eye to drafting a common article for the Town Meetings. Although the boards have been supportive so far, Blair said if even one board holds out, the referendum initiative would be dead, in his view.

Kinch said the question would be posed to Devens residents via the Devens Committee, which would notify everyone by mail and provide a meeting venue for the vote.