SHIRLEY -- Reporting to the selectmen Monday night on recent activities of the Joint Boards of Selectmen, or JBOS, the advisory group representing Ayer, Harvard, Shirley and the Devens community on which he sits as their representative, Enrico Cappucci said a pressing question concerning the other board had been answered.

"First off, you've asked what are we doing here," said Cappucci. "We concluded as a board that it might be time to determine if we have any real authority."

To find out, JBOS sought legal counsel, hiring Attorney Ernest Hyde, of Shirley. As far as Chapter 498 goes - that is, state legislation that created Devens as an entity after the military base closed and under which MassDevelopment now holds the reins - the answer is that JBOS has no power, Cappucci said. "In the Reuse Plan... it didn't exist.

But JBOS was a creation of memoranda of understanding, or MOUs, he said, and those documents are "contracts, backed by case law," according to counsel.

Apparently, Hyde has opined that the MOUs Ayer, Harvard and Shirley selectmen and representatives of Devens agreed to established JBOS as a legitimate entity and set the stage for its range of motion.

As an advisory board to the state agency charged with redevelopment and governance of Devens until disposition is decided, JBOS has the authority to bring Devens issues to the table, Cappucci said. Contracts, for example.

"We were surprised to learn that MassDevelopment contracted with the Mass State Police and with the Harvard schools," renewing existing agreements without input from JBOS, Cappucci continued. "But we do have power" via the MOUs to demand that contract issues be aired in public. "Everything should be on the table, transparent," he said.

The towns and the Ayer-Shirley Regional School District should have had the opportunity to bid on those contracts, he said. The school district apparently wants to let bygones be and JBOS won't pursue the matter now. But there's concern for the future.

Adding to the vertigo, interest in participating waxes and wanes and lately has been low. Harvard selectmen have said they won't attend monthly JBOS meetings unless there's a crucial issue to discuss, and Ayer selectmen followed suit, voting four to one to limit attendance to times when something important comes up. Subjective realities, perhaps, but those who do attend are adamantly opposed to letting JBOS founder.

"George Ramirez comes to all our meetings," Cappucci said, citing a positive change. Ramirez is MassDevelopment's Executive Vice President for Devens Operations. While JBOS can't tell him what the state agency can or can't do, it can make recommendations, act as town crier, alerting municipal stakeholders when contracts to provide Devens services come due. JBOS can also facilitate a public process. JBOS can "demand" that "it's all on the table," Cappucci said.

JBOS Chairman Tom Kinch, of Devens, accompanied Cappucci. "Our real objective is to make JBOS a working body," he said. But first, the board needed to know what its purpose and authority was.

JBOS has taken decisive actions in the past, he went on, such as the formation of the Disposition Executive Board several years ago, when MassDevelopment began a process to consider early release from its long term but still temporary commitment to Devens. More recently, JBOS formed a sub group to help steer the public information process when redevelopment of historic Vicksburg Square came up for a vote in the three towns. Both initiatives failed.

"Our duty now seems clear," Kinch continued. JBOS is to be the advisor on all operations in the Devens redevelopment enterprise zone, and to serve as an information conduit between MassDevelopment and the towns. No behind the scenes deals, in other words, and no other such "regional body" exists, he said.

Balancing Act

Without JBOS, he said, each of the host towns would pursue its own concerns and the state agency would follow its own internal agenda. It is the opinion of legal counsel that "these are our duties and responsibilities," Kinch said, noting that all three towns signed the MOUs. "We want to be sure that's clear," he said. And that JBOS meetings are well organized and regularly attended by representatives of Ayer, Harvard and Shirley selectmen. "We see that as your responsibility," he said.

In an attempt to get JBOS back on track, a survey was sent out, and based on that information, a document was put together, Kinch told the selectmen, but "a couple of the towns refused to sign it." It was a frustrating experience and a waste of time. "Life's too short to go on like this," he concluded.

Chairman Andy Deveau acknowledged that Shirley selectmen were "discouraged" and saw JBOS as reactive versus proactive.

Cappucci said that's the point. Without JBOS, "we'll only find out about contracts after the fact," he said. "If we sit and partake in the process," the town gets a shot when they come up for renewal.

The hope now is that all the towns will come back to the JBOS table. To that end, JBOS must do a better job communicating, Kinch posited. He agreed to send advance agendas to town offices for posting on the town web sites.

The pair planned to make the same pitch to Ayer selectmen.