SHIRLEY -- As the sole candidate for town moderator, Enrico Cappucci, a retired police chief and former selectman, said that if townspeople elect him, he will "go by the book."

The book he plans to use like a college text is "Town Meeting Time," he said.

Co-authored in 1961 by a committee of town moderators and updated in 1983 and 2001, Cappucci brought the latest edition to a recent interview. The slim volume contains just about everything a moderator needs to know, he said, and he's been doing his homework.

"Basically, you have a lot of power but you need to be aware of what you can and cannot do," he said.

Points of order, for example. Someone seeking to stifle a Town Meeting motion might use the phrase, but not all such objections qualify.

A valid "point of order" can only be based on one of three things, Cappucci said. "If it's irrelevant, illegal or a nonvoter."

Neutral Voice

Given the last word, procedurally and hands-on oversight of the Town Meeting program, the moderator shouldn't be influenced by personal views or motivated by politics, Cappucci said.

"The ability to moderate is interesting. You can be and must be neutral," he said. "I think that's very important."

The moderator's duties also include appointing members to the Finance Committee and the Nashoba Valley Technical High School Committee.

But Cappucci said he has no intention of involving himself in the business of those bodies once the appointments are made. "I spent time with the Finance Committee and the School Committee and I told them I would not interfere," he said.

Cappucci also debunked the notion that as moderator he'd try to replace the current Finance Committee. There's no truth to such rumors, he said, adding that he has neither the time nor the inclination to recruit a new board. FinCom members are dedicated volunteers who do important work for the town, he said. "We're lucky to have them."

But he would like to see more people run for office. It's disheartening that there's no competition on this year's election ballot and nobody stepping up to fill vacant seats on town boards such as the Zoning Board of Appeals, Cappucci said.

As for Town Meeting, he'd like to up participation by making it "more pleasant" he said, adding that the process must be "inclusive." But he doesn't envision sweeping changes.

As moderator, his priorities will include sticking to business and getting it done in a reasonable time frame. "The moderator's job is to keep it moving," he said.

Role Models

After attending "over 60 town meetings," Cappucci said he's taken cues from "well respected" predecessors, Vernon Griffin, Liz Noyes and George Knittel and moderators in Stoneham and Duxbury, other towns where he has lived, worked and/or held office.

Their styles might differ, he said, but their actions as he observed them were mostly based on the same book he's been studying, Cappucci said.

Although he won't continue the "three minute rule" Mr. Knittel set for speakers, Cappucci seemed confident he could cut off long-winded speakers without imposing a time limit that might discourage discussion. "Everybody's opinion is important," he said.

Like Knittel and others before him, Cappucci favors a tight ship, procedurally, with the warrant as agenda and with presentations pre-approved by the moderator.

The ATM line-up he envisions this year begins with FinCom presenting the budget, he said, with input from the Board of Selectmen via the Town Administrator.

Then, the Ayer Shirley Regional School District makes its presentation.

Additionally this year, with the high school building project underway, School Committee member Joyce Reischutz has said the district would like to have the contractors give an update on work in progress. He favors the idea.

"The more knowledge, the better," he said, adding that the Assessors have also indicated they want to make a presentation.

Asked if he anticipates any controversy, perhaps over the gap between the current ASRSD assessment, 8.4 percent over last year, and the 4.88 percent hike the town budgeted for, Cappucci said no, but he conceded that some things would be different. 

For example, this will be the first year for the "omnibus budget," in which rather than taking up line items separately by department, expenses are listed in categories and the entire budget gets voted up or down, he said.

Cappucci said there are pros and cons to the new approach, which gives Town Meeting less scrutiny at the line item level. But it "moves things along," he said, which is a plus. He acknowledged, there was ample opportunity for public input during the budget-building process, which wraps up with a pre-Town Meeting public hearing.

Asked why he wants to be moderator rather than a selectman again, Cappucci basically said it's a better fit for him now.

But no matter what else he's done or continues to do, Cappucci said his most important commitment and proudest accomplishment is his family. He and his wife Carol raised two successful sons and now have grandchildren. "That's my legacy,' he said.