DEVENS -- Extremely high tensions over the jurisdiction of Devens abruptly ended Thursday night's Joint Boards of Selectmen meeting.
The board was set to vote on two questions regarding an overlay governance of the Devens Regional Enterprise Zone that would give Ayer, Shirley and Harvard joint jurisdiction over the former Army base.
In previous meetings, the board had discussed presenting a non-binding referendum at the three Town Meetings. The second vote asked whether Devens residents should be polled on the matter even before the non-binding referendum.
But not all of the town representatives took the issue back to their selectmen for discussion.
Harvard Selectman Leo Blair came out against polling Devens residents, arguing that it could "super-enfranchise" them. Devens residents living in the traditional Harvard boundaries are also Harvard residents who vote in Harvard, Blair argued. Allowing the poll would give them an extra say in a matter that would also affect the rest of the town.
"I'm not going to be put in a situation where we have a straw man here, and the straw man is there's an automatic edit from the Devens residents," Blair said. "I feel very sensitive to the needs and wants and desires of Devens residents, but that's not how we run local government."
Vice Chairman and Devens Rep. Tom Kinch suggested the towns go back and again present the questions to the boards of selectmen, but Kinch said there was never any vote on whether to present it to them.
The meeting swirled in a downward spiral from there, beginning an argument mainly dominated by Kinch and Blair over whether the towns' true jurisdiction was over the future of Devens.
Blair claimed Kinch brought the Devens poll to the table, although Kinch maintains he is personally against polling Devens residents.
"You've done a masterful job of dividing this board, Tom," Blair said.
Kinch said the issue was not between himself and Blair, but rather between the town of Shirley, whose selectmen seemed to agree Devens residents should be polled.
Kinch argued Mass Development governs Devens residents such as himself. This assertion led to the question of the existence of the Joint Boards.
"If this is some sort of an unwelcome and pointless exercise, what are we doing here?" Blair asked.
After about 40 minutes of argument, Kinch asked to adjourn the meeting. The board approved and walked out hurriedly.
"His issue's not with me, but then he started making it personal, which I'm offended by, and he started telling me three of us are legally intended to be at this table," Kinch said of Blair in a phone call after the meeting. "What he was saying is, 'Devens, what are you doing here, you're not supposed to be here because you're not a town.' "
Kinch said he's opposed to the idea of polling Devens residents, simply because all that does is split the community. Devens has been polled for its opinion before, and the exact opposite ends up happening.
"All it does is pit neighbor against neighbor, husband against wife," Kinch said. "It's bizarre. We're not a test bed for political games -- we're human beings that live in a home, that have children just like everybody else in these communities."
Blair claims Kinch came up with the idea for polling Devens residents, although Kinch said he only did so because Ayer and Shirley wanted to.
After the meeting, Blair said he did not know where Kinch was coming from with his belief that towns do not have a say over Devens.
"If you believe their premise is correct, any part by the towns and any dialogue about Devens is completely pointless because we have no say," Blair said in a phone interview. "Why would we send elected officials there to participate in dialogue about its future when we actually, according to them, have no standing to do so?"
Blair also offered up his role as chairman at the beginning of the committee, although no other members volunteered. The board agreed to discuss it at the end of the meeting, which ended in the midst of the jurisdiction argument.
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