DEVENS -- There's been a chilly reception from Ayer, Harvard and Shirley to a suggestion that each town's selectmen gather to discuss potential changes to the Super Town Meeting procedure for altering the Devens Reuse Plan.
Changes require yes votes from each town's Town Meeting. Any one town may veto a proposal to amend the Devens Reuse Plan. It's happened three times in a row -- Ayer and Harvard voted no to the incorporation of Devens as a town in 2006, Ayer rejected a MassDevelopment housing proposal for the Vicksburg Square technology campus in 2009, and Ayer and Harvard voted against a similar Vicksburg Square housing proposal in March.
Meanwhile, Shirley has voted yes on all three initiatives. The last Super Town Meeting to unite the three towns was in 1994, when the Devens Reuse Plan was approved.
Tom Kinch of Devens chairs the Joint Boards of Selectmen for the three towns and Devens. Kinch has urged a change to a total, blended vote tally across town lines. On April 26, Kinch asked JBOS representatives to return to their respective boards to gauge interest in a special JBOS meeting to hash out the Super Town Meeting issue.
Rico Cappucci said his Shirley selectmen would meet collectively only after seeing proposals in writing. "They want to see what they're going to come here and look at...so that when the boards come here, they're prepared."
JBOS Vice Chairman Frank Maxant said his Ayer Board of Selectmen has telegraphed mixed interest
"Again, our chairman, in some kind of mood, said 'I'm through with JBOS," said Maxant. Fay supported both the 2009 and 2012 failed MassDevelopment efforts to rezone the Vicksburg Square innovation and technology campus on Devens into a multi-family housing development.
Fay vented at the end of the May 22 Ayer Board of Selectmen meeting, "I'll say this once more and hopefully not again. I've spent the better part of my political career at JBOS," said Fay. "I'm not going back again. I'm done."
But Maxant was hopeful that Fay would come around. "We know he is nothing if not flexible. Depending on who can sweet talk him, I think we can change his mind." Maxant said the other Ayer selectmen indicated that they'd try to make themselves available for an all-selectmen meeting.
"How about the Devens Committee?" Kinch asked. "Good question," said Devens Committee member Phil Crosby. Crosby said he'd advise his peers about a potential all-boards meeting.
There was no Harvard selectman present for the May 24 JBOS meeting.
Cappucci again explained that his Shirley selectmen wanted a draft in writing before committing. Maxant liked the idea, too. "If we'd be discussing something concrete, people would be more likely to come under those circumstances."
Kinch sighed and said "We really don't have the resources" to reduce the issues to writing. Cappucci suggested MassDevelopment draft suggested Super Town Meeting changes. "Let's have a small committee work with MassDevelopment to come up with changes that they might be amenable to ... We need them to be a partner to sit at the table and say 'this is a reasonable idea ... This might work."
"I think that there's value to the spirit of what Rico is talking about," answered MassDevelopment's Devens administrator George Ramirez. "However, MassDevelopment has led and spearheaded a number of initiatives and they just don't go anywhere. The jury's out."
"I'm happy to go and say to (MassDevelopment President and CEO Marty Jones) that the JBOS is kicking this around and they'd like us to be helpful and part of it," said Ramirez. "The other half of me says you all have city solicitors. We'd sort of be the city solicitor for the Devens Committee."
Ramirez feared any perception that "MassDevelopment's looking to do it. We just spent a lot of time and energy on Vicksburg Square ... MassDevelopment would be happy to participate as a stakeholder, but I don't know if that's the answer. I just don't know."
"It doesn't mean it will be the plan -- it will be a blueprint," said Cappucci. "Then pull in the full boards of selectmen with paperwork a week or two before the meeting."
Cappucci said using town counsel isn't likely due to the expense. "George is an attorney. You know how far $25,000 is going to go if something major happens?"
Ramirez suggested JBOS "enlist Sen. (Jamie) Eldridge or other state officials" since "they have legislative directors who write legislation."
Ramirez said it may help to get "buy-in from that at the initial meeting" versus "walking into their office when it's all said and done" and asking the lawmaker to file legislation to change the Super Town Meeting voting process.
Crosby said he originally proposed the all-selectmen meeting as a way to see if there was a "commonality" of sentiment and whether "there is a problem that needs to be fixed."
"I think there is a problem with the current voting process," said Crosby. "We felt it was a problem ... We might be the only four people who say there's a problem."
"It's an obvious problem for Shirley," said Cappucci. "They don't even want to come to JBOS."
"I wonder why," Kinch deadpanned.
"Because nothing gets done," answered Cappucci. "Either one or two towns knock it out of the box ... If you consider that a problem. Some may not."
The Vicksburg Square vote irked Cappucci. "The buildings are rotting. Nothing's getting done. And the animosity between the towns -- one sticks up for it. The (2009) popular vote seems to indicate it should have been done."
"We've been to bat three times," said Cappucci.
"There are some who'll say that's the way the system works," said Kinch.
Maxant said the work needed to come from local residents, not Boston bureaucracy. "I agree with you, Frank," said Crosby. "This has to organically come through the consensus of all the parties."
But MassDevelopment should be involved, too, agreed Maxant.
"I'd consider sitting in. I'm going to attend all these meetings and monitor them," said Ramirez. He'd report on progress to Jones, but "I'm just sort of going to let it develop on it's own."
In related news, Ayer annual Town Meeting occurred on May 14 and 15. A motion to adjourn Town Meeting thwarted consideration of Maxant's citizen petitions to seek the return of municipal jurisdiction of Devens lands to Ayer and the other towns.
"What happened to your petition?" Kinch asked Maxant.
"He got out-gamed," suggested Crosby.
Maxant explained that he's gathering signatures now to convene a Special Town Meeting to deliberate and possibly vote on his two petitions.
In other news, the JBOS voted to increase the hours for their administrative assistant Liz Garner from eight hours per week up to a maximum of 90 hours a month. Kinch called Garner's assistance "invaluable."
Follow Mary Arata at twitter.com/maryearata.