Letter to the Editor: Jim Shea – Bedford Cable TV and Depot Park Pioneer

November 2, 2020

Submitted by Joe Piantedosi

On Monday night October 26th the Bedford Select Board voted 4-1 not to reappoint Jim Shea to the Community Media Committee (formerly Bedford Cable TV Committee). That was a big disappointment for those of us who know Jim and have seen his enormous accomplishments over four decades for the Town’s cable TV system and Depot Park. Here is a brief history:

In the early 1980s, Jim wrote a letter to the Selectmen to advocate that Bedford license cable television, since it was available in neighboring towns but not here. The Selectmen subsequently appointed an ad-hoc Cable Television Committee (which Town Meeting voters later designated a committee in the Bedford Bylaws) to work on licensing a company to provide cable service in Bedford. The board appointed Jim with four other residents. He was then elected clerk. They began by conducting a door to door, town-wide survey of residents to ascertain their interest in cable TV service. They divided the town’s geography into five pieces, and each of them covered one of them.  Jim commented about a huge amount of walking he did on the Burlington side of town going door to door with a clipboard back in those days.

After much work, the committee drafted a request for proposals which yielded two proposals. One was from a company called Northeast Communications. The other proposal was from Adams-Russell, which was later subsumed into the company we now know as Comcast. Adams-Russell had the superior proposal, which the committee recommended to the Selectmen to receive the license. The committee did all the negotiations with A-R towards a Final License that was awarded in 1984.

A-R offered two options for a cable TV facility in Bedford. The first was for A-R to rent space somewhere in town, hire one full-time staff person, and provide a limited package of equipment. The second option was for the Town to provide the space. Under the latter proposal, A-R would increase the staffing to 1.5 people and provide a much better equipment package. The High School, which had an existing TV facility, offered to host the studio facility and merge the new equipment with what already existed there. Jim was chosen to design and lead the building of the new facility. And over time, Jim donated a lot of his own money to buy more equipment for it.

He left the committee by the late 1980s due to his own busy career in the TV broadcast industry. The committee kind of floundered after that and became inactive. Then in the 1990s, a new committee chair contacted him to help in getting the committee back on track, and he was recruited to rejoin the committee. Jim became an expert in cable TV contracts and worked relentlessly as chair of the Town’s Cable TV Committee for many years, assisting with the drafting of requests for proposals, negotiating cable TV contracts for the Town, and ensuring the cable providers were complying with the Town contracts. Over the years he received a lot of praise and recognition for all his work.

His accomplishments on the Town Cable TV Committee along with the work he has done over many years with Depot Park earned him Citizen of the Year in 2001. The write up mentioned how Jim was the youngest Citizen of The Year.   It went on to note that he was the founder of the Tele Media closed-circuit television system at Bedford High School. Tele Media and its programming became the model for similar programs across the country. At that time, he was still a volunteer in the program at BHS. It also mentioned how Jim authored a federal transportation enhancement grant through the Metropolitan Area Planning Council (MAPC) that established Depot Park. He later established the Friends of Bedford Depot Park, which he continues to serve as the president and also editor of its newsletter.

Over the years I have worked with Jim Shea while I was a Selectman, and in more recent years have seen firsthand his dedication and numerous accomplishments. In addition to his expert writing and publishing skills that helped secure well over $1.6 million in grants for the Town, I also witnessed Jim working days on end in the sweltering heat of summer assisting with the restoration of the rail car at Depot Park, which saved the Town thousands of dollars.  Overall, I don’t know any Bedford citizen who has accomplished as much as Jim Shea, with the thousands of hours of volunteer service he has put in over more than four decades.

Our Select Board should take notice about the way the reappointment process was handled on October 26th. The letter sent out to all committee members up for reappointment stated “you will be notified when your reappointment is up for consideration”. Jim was not notified and therefore was not present to respond to critical comments being made about him by the Select Board member who made the motion not to reappoint him.

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Brian O'Donnell
November 7, 2020 3:11 pm

Having read the Bedford Citizen’s coverage of the Bedford Select Board’s (BSB) decision not to reappoint Jim Shea to the Community Media Committee and Joe Piantedosi’s letter on that topic, I would like to add my sentiments that I am saddened and concerned by the actions of the BSB in this matter. Jim’s record of community service over several decades is known to many and is well summarized by former Selectman Piantedosi. Apparently twenty years of keeping a committee viable, being recognized as a Citizen of the Year, and generously giving thousands of hours of service are insufficient if one or more BSB members are dissatisfied with a response or two on a questionnaire (which notably citizens seeking reappointment have generally not been asked to make out). (It would have benefitted the Citizen’s original article to include either a comment from Mr. Shea or provide some indication that a comment was sought).

Perhaps when the Volunteer Coordinating Committee meets later this month its selectperson liaison can explain how the BSB’s actions of October 26th serve the purpose of encouraging citizens to come forward in offering their time and input. There are recent developments and reports suggesting the BSB wishes to purge the roster of town committees (e.g. it was not too long ago the elimination of the Capital Expenditures Committee was under consideration) and to a large extent that is its within its purview. It would be my minimal expectation that such matters would be handled with greater transparency, wisdom, and procedural integrity than the BSB demonstrated with regard to Mr. Shea’s application for reappointment based on the journalistic and public record that is available. I will readily acknowledge a personal bias in Jim Shea’s favor, having known him for many years and thereby knowing his integrity and devotion to community are unassailable. I encourage others who may find this move by the BSB unwise (or at least a little perplexing) to at least seek more information, consider the implications for your own volunteer service, and consider how, if at all, it will impact your evaluation of members of our BSB. Perhaps the issues of citizen committees and their role in our local governance will be significant topics in our future BSB elections (the next of which will be in March of 2021).

Brian O’Donnell
30 Fayette Road

Carol M Carlson
November 7, 2020 5:43 am

Were the reasons for not appointing Jim Shea given at the Select Board meeting? If so, are they available to read? I do not think the citizens of Bedford should be asked to speak about this issue without knowing the full story. I know Minutes will be published, but perhaps not for quite a while, and this “problem” needs to be solved as soon as possible for the integrity of the Board, the Town, and with good faith towards Mr. Shea. We need to encourage people to Volunteer their time and knowledge with our Committees and Commissions, not arbitrarily chase them away! Perhaps a paragraph or two of the Minutes of the Board discussing the appointment of Mr. Shea could be written in a Letter to The Bedford Citizen.

Stephen Kerwin
November 3, 2020 7:56 pm

I am very disappointed but not surprised by the treatment of Jim regarding the Select Board’s decision not to reappoint him to the Community Media Committee (CMC). Despite Jim’s many years of exemplary service and unmatched knowledge of the industry, it just seems the process followed was a convenient and intolerant way to silence differing thoughts and opinions on the role of the CMC.
During my time on this Committee, I had limited interaction with Select Board members. On those occasions, I found the experience to be frustrating and discouraging. Our job was to make recommendations and advise the Select Board on matters pertaining to the development and delivery of PEG access programming including the licensing and operation of cable television. Because members of the Select Board had different opinions on several CMC recommendations, I feel our Committee was not able to present them and therefore meet its responsibilities. This was a major reason that I did not seek reappointment when my term expired in June 2020.
I fully understand that Select Board members are elected by the town so they have the right to appoint committee members. I just wish the reappointment process for Jim was handled in a more respectful manner.

Angelo Colao
November 3, 2020 3:03 pm

I cannot believe that the Select Board did not reappoint Jim Shea after all the work he has done for Bedford and especially without his presence at the Select Board meeting to reply to any concerns.

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