DEVENS -- The Joint Boards of Selectmen has changed more than its title since it was formed.
Once consisting of selectmen from Ayer, Harvard and Shirley, whose historic borders include areas of the former Fort Devens, JBOS membership now includes one or more representatives from each member town -- either selectmen or their appointed designees -- plus representatives of the Devens community and a seat for MassDevelopment, occupied these days by the agency's vice president for Devens Operations, George Ramirez.
Historically, JBOS was most active when there was a hot-button issue, from choosing a disposition scenario to redevelopment of Vicksburg Square.
Rising with the tide, JBOS has disappeared and resurfaced more than once over the last 15 years or so.
In its current incarnation, members still on board are questioning the future of JBOS.
When the topic came up at the monthly meeting on Thursday, July 26, only Chairman Tom Kinch and fellow Devens resident Phil Crosby, Shirley representative Enrico Cappucci and Ramirez were present.
"There's always a rumor that Harvard or Ayer or Shirley wants out," said Cappucci, a former Shirley selectman who is that board's chosen JBOS voice. "Maybe it's time to decide ... in or out."
As it is, representatives simply don't show up, he said.
Kinch seemed frustrated with that approach, even moreso when officials state their case in a newspaper instead of in person, as one Ayer selectmen
In Kinch's view, that didn't count for much.
"There's a proper way to work," he said. "Come to a meeting, voice your opinion, do it professionally, officially."
Each town is responsible for telling JBOS who its representative is and whether or not that person will come to each scheduled meeting, he continued, calling it common courtesy.
But there are more pressing reasons to do the right thing, such as living up to the MOU that created this entity and stated its purpose, Kinch said -- or perhaps changing it, since few if any of the originators still serve on the boards.
Reading from the list she has on file, JBOS administrative assistant Liz Garner cited Ayer Selectman Frank Maxant as that town's representative, with Jim Fay as backup. Harvard's JBOS rep was former Selectman Peter Warren, who did not run for re-election this term. Cappucci represents Shirley. Kinch and Phil Crosby represent the Devens community, while Ramirez's stand-in is MassDevelopment's Ed Starzek.
"We need to contact each board to verify the status of current representation," Kinch said.
Cappucci favored a more proactive move. "I think you need to get all the members here," he said.
But he said their reluctance to serve might be understandable, given that not all of the boards they represent welcome their input.
"My board (Shirley Selectmen) has been gracious, but others have to go back and face" a board that may be split about JBOS participation or "dead set" against it, he said.
Kinch said it must be handled procedurally. "If someone doesn't want to be part of JBOS, there needs to be formal notification," he said. "I suggest we contact each board, set a deadline and decide where we go from there."
But Cappucci wasn't willing to let the matter go. With JBOS dwindling to sporadic attendance at best, he wanted to take action. "The problem we run into is the members that are not here," he said.
He proposed taking JBOS meetings to them instead.
"What if we meet every month before those other boards" of selectmen, he suggested, making the rounds each month at one of their meetings.
In his view, it's no different than one in-town board going to another to present a report or make a case. In this case, JBOS could scope out the other boards on issues, "get them to vote," he said.
Crosby said interest waxes and wanes with the issues. "I think involvement will come when there's clear self-interest," he said, such as the disposition process and Vicksburg Square.
He wondered aloud what the next "pressing issue" might be -- the police contract, Grant Road housing. Harvard has indicated it wants to take a stand on Devens disposition in its master plan process, he said.
Some have said JBOS is a foundering ship that never makes any headway. But these members saw it differently.
For example, JBOS discussions about sharing resources resulted in the Regional E-911 Dispatch Center now being built on Devens, with Harvard as one of the communities on board.
True, some towns turtled back into "protectionist mode" when that effort was afoot, but something good came of it, they said.
Another example is the household hazmat disposal facility now operating on Devens that several area towns, including Shirley, belong to.
Crosby said there are other questions pending that might spark attendance at monthly JBOS meetings, such as rethinking Vicksburg Square or the vacancy rate for Devens properties.
"Let's put real estate on our agenda next time, stir up some interest," he suggested.
The next JBOS meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 23, at MassDevelopment Headquarters, Andrews Parkway, Devens.