SHIRLEY -- It might seem unusual, even unwise, to have the same legal eye looking out for the interests of two parties in the same contract, but that's what attorney William Solomon reportedly did when drawing up a new 10-year agreement between the town and Shirley Public Access Corporation, with input from the Cable Advisory Committee.
CAC members include Enrico Cappucci, ASRSD Superintendent Carl Mock and SPACO trustee Rich Dill. When the CAC was formed, SPACO program director Lou Carreras agreed to serve in an advisory capacity, but he is not a voting member of the group.
Despite some blurring between the lines, Dill has never made a secret of his parallel roles. The dual-client arrangement with the attorney, however, is another matter, but after its recent meeting, the Board of Selectmen said it sees no problem with it.
In fact, selectmen said, it only makes sense. Noting the attorney's experience in the genre, they pointed out that Solomon, who serves as town counsel in another community, also represented the town of Shirley during recent contract negotiations with Comcast, which provides the town with cable TV and internet services.
At CAC's request, the town paid Solomon's bill then and is doing so now, but Selectman Andy Deveau said there's no redundancy, since town counsel is not being asked to provide the same services.
Given his involvement with the previous negotiations, they decided to contract with Solomon rather than turning
In addition, CAC, which was appointed to oversee the earlier process, is still representing the town in this case and won't disband until the new SPACO contract is signed.
Last week, the selectmen came one step closer to accomplishing that goal.
After reviewing the first draft of the new SPACO contract that Dill and CAC member Enrico Cappucci presented a couple of weeks ago, the selectmen raised some concerns about some of its provisions, sending the document back to the drawing board.
Most but not all of those issues had been resolved when the board reviewed an amended version of the contract Monday night. Dill read through the outstanding points.
First, he said, was the payment method, which the earlier document had specified would be issued directly to SPACO from Comcast "for services rendered."
The selectmen said no. They favored the setup as is, with the Comcast check coming to the town, which acts as a pass-through and records the transaction. SPACO, which needs the money in a timely manner to pay its expenses, had requested the change to avoid delays. But the contract addresses that by setting a deadline for the turnover time.
The next issue was membership fees, another point the selectmen objected to. In their view, the wording opens the door to charging residents for SPACO services, which is not acceptable. That was not the intent, Dill said, but he promised to get it fixed.
The amended version didn't make the second cut, either. New language must make it clear that SPACO could charge user fees, not memberships, for loaning out equipment. And that those fees would apply only to nonresidents.
Third, Deveau had posed the question of whether the proposed 10-year contract term calls for Town Meeting approval, as stated in town bylaws.
Dill said he thinks there are provisions that bypass the requirement under cable access law, but town counsel has been asked to weigh in. Solomon expects to hear back from the other attorney soon, he said. "We'll get confirmation."
Another bone of contention was studio space. The earlier contract specified it would be provided by the town in a designated area of Town Hall's basement. That proviso was carried over into the new document as a mandate. Deveau and Selectman David Swain strongly objected to that.
Existing editing and storage space can stay where it is, Deveau said, but the former space set aside for a studio was put to other uses once the SPACO studio moved to the middle school, where it links with educational programs and student volunteers.
Some of the space is rented to a firm contracted by the Sewer Commission, which recently expanded its office there. "I don't want to uproot them," Deveau said.
"In my view, I don't want to dedicate a particular space in the new contract," Swain said. Instead, he favored wording that states studio space will be provided as available and when it's needed, presumably in a town-owned building, but not necessarily Town Hall.
"I'm okay with that," Dill responded.
But Deveau didn't want the mandate at all. In future, "we may not have space here or elsewhere," he said. He favored stating that studio space "may" -- not "shall" -- be provided, and only if available.
Swain doubted it would be a problem for the next 10 years. "We'd find someplace," he said.
But Deveau stuck to his point. The problem, he said, was the mandate. Although he considers SPACO a "community lifeline," it is a "private entity," he said.
"If we had to pay rent, we'd be out of business," Dill countered.
Other amendments included an insurance-waiver option that was hashed out at the last session without coming to an understanding. This time, apparently, the confusion was cleared up such that the attorney can now write it up to the selectmen's satisfaction.
One more section the selectmen questioned this time was an exit clause that allows SPACO to cancel its agreement with the town if the other party breaches the contract. There, too, it's likely a wording issue, they agreed.
Anyway, with the rest of its wrinkles ironed out, the selectmen said the contract was "very close" to done. They plan to review the final draft and sign it at the next meeting in two weeks.
Dill cautioned against further delays. SPACO is coming close to the wire on launching the education channel, he explained, and the startup requires new equipment to be up and running before school starts.
Swain had one more question. "When do we see (SPACO's) annual fiscal report? he asked.
"You should have it," Dill replied.
Apparently, they do not.
Swain asked Chief Administrative Officer Dave Berry to send a formal request to SPACO for the document.