SHIRLEY -- Selectmen at their recent meeting signed a new 10-year contract with Shirley Public Access Corporation.
But they gave it quite a workout first.
Although in general terms a re-do of the previous contract, the document selectmen signed Monday night included amendments to address specific issues hashed out during earlier sessions. Eleventh-hour wrinkles Chairman Andy Deveau noted after checking the revised document Sunday night via email were also ironed out in the final draft.
This time, it passed muster.
SPACO Chairman Richard Dill, who also chairs the Cable Advisory Committee, and CAC member Enrico Cappucci presented the proposed contract to the board.
"Attorney (William) Solomon adjusted those sections" Deveau was concerned about, Dill said.
Some adjustments were simple typos, language corrections or updated references, such as changing "Shirley School Committee" to "Ayer-Shirley Regional School Committee."
Others were more substantial, including a clause related to contract talks and how long they can continue before SPACO has the option to pull out and call it quits. In the revised version, "reasonable negotiation time" is allowed for both sides.
A change related to insurance coverage was also tossed out. Town Counsel Gary Brackett and Chief Administrative Officer Dave Berry put their heads together on that point and decided against it, Dill said. That section will stand as it was in the original document.
Another revision to the status quo sought by SPACO also got a thumbs down from selectmen. Seeking to avoid delays in its receipt of quarterly payments from Comcast -- which is the town's contracted cable provider and the group's major funding source -- the proposal was to have the checks sent directly to SPACO rather than Town Hall.
But the selectmen said the pass-through is a must for records-keeping and besides, Comcast contracts with the town, not SPACO. That section, too, remains unchanged.
The board also objected to a provision calling for "membership fees" to cover out-of-town equipment loans. SPACO Program Director Lou Carreras previously explained that fees would not be charged to town residents. But Deveau wanted wording to make that clear. The section now reads "user fees" and states they apply only to "non-residents."
The selectmen said that with no issues remaining, they were ready to sign the contract.
The town hired Attorney Solomon, not SPACO.
But Dill had a bone to pick with the media. Citing an article about the previous selectmen's meeting in the Shirley Oracle, he said the story incorrectly stated that Solomon, who drafted the new SPACO contract for Shirley, was employed by both entities and thus "served two masters."
Solomon was hired by the town and was responsible only to the town, Dill said.
He went on to explain that CAC first asked the town to hire Solomon to assist them in contract negotiations with Comcast and later asked the selectmen to keep the experienced attorney on board to draw up the new SPACO contract.
"We arranged the hiring of Solomon (by the selectmen) and we stand by that," Cappucci later said, adding that three public hearings CAC was required by law to hold during its contract talks with Comcast were also included in the attorney's services.
But the Oracle article did not state that SPACO and the town split the cost of Solomon's services and in fact stated that the town paid his bill, both times. The story did imply, however, that the line separating who's working for whom might have been too narrow in this case, or at least perceived that way.
But the selectmen were satisfied that the town's best interests were served in the SPACO deal. Two of them, Deveau and David Swain, said so when asked about it after the previous meeting.
In their view, the arrangement could be compared to having the same lawyer represent a buyer and a seller in a real-estate transaction. People do it and it works, they said.
Besides, Solomon was experienced, savvy in cable law and did a good job for the town in the Comcast negotiation, they said.
But Dill was clearly irked at the newspaper story's suggestion that divisions might not be as sharply drawn as they should be among the various groups involved.
"If anyone has a potential conflict, it's me," he said, noting his dual chairmanships of CAC and SPACO.
Indeed, Dill has never made a secret of it, as the news story pointed out.
Dill said he'd contacted the state Ethics Commission and "took all of the appropriate actions" required, such as filing a disclosure statement. Having heard nothing more from the commission after that, he assumed all was well.
He also noted that neither of the volunteer positions pays him. "I get no salary, no stipend, nor does any member of my family," he said.
Dill said he also wanted to straighten out the studio space issue, another contract provision the selectmen discussed at some length. SPACO proposed to make it a "mandate" that the town provide studio space in the new contract, but they said no.
They pledged to find studio space for SPACO, when the need arises and if there's space available at the time, but they did not want to make it a must or be tied to a particular place, such as the basement of Town Hall, where the first contract placed it.
SPACO currently has storage and editing space down there and that won't change, the selectmen agreed. But with the cable group housed at the middle school, there's no need to make alternative arrangements now.
SPACO, however, is concerned that if the situation changes, they'd be out of business. Dill said rent would be too pricey and loss of a studio would be devastating to programming functions.
The selectmen, for their part, said SPACO provides valuable services and that shows staged in its studio are valued by the community. Deveau called SPACO a "lifeline."
But as Dill explained it, the studio space requirement SPACO sought to have included in the new contract was an attempt to pin down a moving target they missed out on before. Before SPACO even moved into the promised space downstairs at Town Hall, the previous town administrator rented it out, he said. "That's unfortunate."
"Maybe so," Deveau responded. "But we've stated pretty clearly that ... we'd help you find a space" for a studio if need be. "Maybe not there," but somewhere in town.
On Swain's motion, the selectmen unanimously voted to sign the contract.