AYER -- Former Selectmen Pauline Conley has won support of the Finance Committee to join the four-member board.

Sitting before the committee at its meeting Wednesday night, Conley described it as her first love in all her areas of town service.

"It's a very important committee and reports directly to the taxpayers," she said.

She explained her history with the board, which she said she served on for about five years before becoming selectman in 2005.

When she was not re-elected in 2008, she said, she did not come back to the committee because the board was full and working well.

"To continue to be active, I went back in the ZBA (Zoning Board of Appeals) at their request and did that until I was re-elected again in 2011," she said. "And here I am again unelected."

Chairman Scott Houde thanked Conley for her service, but made clear he was looking for long-term commitment.

"The big question is, do you have desires for the Board of Selectmen or can you make a longer-term commitment to the Finance Committee?" he asked.

Next year, Selectman Gary Luca's seat will be open in accordance with the transition from a five-member board to three.

Conley said she'd commit to the committee, but said no one knows how things might turn out in a year.

"I'm not going to say I'm not going to run again, but I can tell you right now I'm not planning to," she said.

"This can't be a campaign stop," said committee member John Kilcommins. "We have a lot of work to do.



Conley reassured him she would never do that.

"I don't do this lightly," she said. "I don't do this for me and I certainly don't do it for campaigning."

Conley said she came with what some might call "baggage."

"But I'm a strong-willed, opinionated person and there's nothing wrong with that," she said.

At the selectmen's meeting Tuesday night, Selectmen Chairman Christopher Hillman called Conley out on TV over a text message he said Conley sent him during the meeting.

After the meeting, Hillman said the text read that the board looked stupid in its discussion with Gabe Vellante, the town's building commissioner.

Before the open portion of the Finance Committee meeting Wednesday, Conley said she was addressing the board's question of Vellante's position as a commissioner.

At Tuesday's meeting, Luca had asked whether Vellante was formally the building commissioner. That position, he argued, isn't in the union, but Vellante is.

Conley argued Vellante is appointed every year and questioned why Luca did not know this. She also argued Hillman was on the board when it re-negotiated the DPW contract.

"These are elected officials with more than six weeks experience," she said.

Houde acknowledged the "baggage," but said he's known her long enough that he thought she'd do the right thing.

"As long as you handle yourself in a professional manner at the meetings," he said.

The committee voted unanimously to forward Conley as a candidate to the Finance Committee to Town Moderator Tom Horgan.

The committee also approved extra funding for the legal counsel after hearing of two lawsuits drawing on the legal bill for fiscal 2014, which ends July 1.

One lawsuit, Town Administrator Robert Pontbriand explained, is the ongoing Bolduc v. Town of Ayer case.

The town's deputy collector is suing the town over an alleged breach of contract.

The other lawsuit, Pontbriand said, has occurred within the last month and has already cost about $7,000 in defense preparation.

"In this case the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) is seeking legal action against the Boston and Maine Railroad citing environmental contamination of Plow Shop and Grove Pond," he said.

The railroad has named the town as a third-party defendant, alleging the town owns both ponds and has contributed to that contamination, he said.

Pontbriand said town counsel is confident the town will resolve the matter, but argued it was unforeseen.

The Bolduc case, Pontbriand said, is moving toward a resolution. Both matters will continue into 2015.

"It is what it is, unfortunately," Houde said. 

The committee approved $15,479,47 reserve-fund transfer for town counsel costs.

More money will be coming out of the reserve fund to pay for vacation buy-back time for Susan Sullivan, administrator for the Zoning Board of Appeals and Planning Board.

Sullivan's salary was cut at Town Meeting when residents voted to zero out the budget for both boards.

Pontbriand argued that those costs were unforeseen because the decision at Town Meeting was unforeseen.

Pontbriand said he and the town accountant have done their best to estimate the costs, but believe both estimates are on the high side.

"We're currently reviewing the time cards and the time approvals for the position to determine the accurate exact amount," he said.

The estimates err on the side of caution, Pontbriand said.

The board approved a total of $5,095 to be transferred to both boards to cover any costs for Sullivan's unused vacation time.

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