AYER -- Former selectman Pauline Conley has won support of the Finance Committee to join the four-member board.

Sitting before the committee at its meeting last Wednesday night, Conley described it as her first love in all her areas of town service.

"It's a very important committee and reports directly to the taxpayers," she said.

She said she served on FinCom for about five years before becoming selectman in 2005. When she was not re-elected in 2008, she said, she did not come back to the committee because the board was full and working well.

"To continue to be active, I went back in the ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeals) at their request and did that until I was re-elected again in 2011," she said. "And here I am again unelected."

Chairman Scott Houde thanked Conley for her service, but made clear he was looking for long-term commitment.

"The big question is, do you have desires for the Board of Selectmen or can you make a longer-term commitment to the Finance Committee?" he asked.

Next year, Selectman Gary Luca's seat will be up for election in accordance with the transition from a five-member board to three.

"I'm not going to say I'm not going to run again, but I can tell you right now I'm not planning to," she said.

"This can't be a campaign stop," said committee member John Kilcommins. "We have a lot of work to do."

Conley reassured him. "I don't do this lightly," she said. "I don't do this for me and I certainly don't do it for campaigning."

Conley said she comes with what some might call "baggage. But I'm a strong-willed, opinionated person and there's nothing wrong with that," she said.

The text

At the selectmen's meeting last week, selectmen Chairman Christopher Hillman called Conley out on TV over a text message he said Conley sent him during the meeting. After the meeting, he said the text said the board looked stupid in its discussion with Gabe Vellante, the town's building commissioner.

Before the open portion of the Finance Committee meeting Wednesday, Conley explained that she had been addressing the board's question of Vellante's position as a commissioner.

At Tuesday's meeting, Luca had asked whether Vellante was formally the building commissioner. That position, he argued, isn't in the union, but Vellante is.

Conley explained that Vellante is appointed every year and questioned why Luca did not know that since Luca was on the Board of Selectmen when it put Vellante in the union. She also argued that Hillman and Luca were both on the board when it re-negotiated the contract.

"These are elected officials with more than six years' experience," she said.

Houde acknowledged the "baggage," but said he's known her long enough that he thought she'd do the right thing. "As long as you handle yourself in a professional manner at the meetings," he said.

The committee voted unanimously to forward Conley as a candidate to the Finance Committee to Town Moderator Tom Horgan.

More legal funding

The committee approved extra funding for the legal counsel after hearing of two lawsuits drawing on the legal bill for fiscal 2014.

One lawsuit, Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand explained, is the ongoing Bolduc v. Town of Ayer case.

The company that served as the town's deputy collector is suing the town over an alleged breach of contract.

The other lawsuit has occurred within the last month and has already cost about $7,000.

"In this case, the (Environmental Protection Agency) is seeking legal action against the Boston and Maine Railroad, citing environmental contamination of Plow Shop and Grove ponds," he said.

The railroad has named the town as a third-party defendant, alleging the town owns both ponds and has contributed to that contamination, he said.

Pontbriand said town counsel is confident the town will resolve the matter, but argued that the legal action was unforeseen.

The Bolduc case, Pontbriand said, is moving toward a resolution. Both matters will continue into 2015.

The reserve fund is to be used for unforeseen or emergency expenses. The committee approved a $15,479.47 reserve-fund transfer for legal costs.

More money will be coming out of the reserve fund to pay for vacation buy-back time for Susan Sullivan, administrator for the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board.

Sullivan's salary was cut at Town Meeting. Funding for her position ended on July 1, eliminating her job.

Pontbriand argued that those costs were unforeseen because the decision at Town Meeting was unforeseen.

"We're currently reviewing the time cards and the time approvals for the position to determine the accurate exact amount," he said.

The board approved a total of $5,095 to be transferred to both boards to cover any costs for Sullivan's unused vacation time.