Last month, Lynnfield Selectman Al Merritt announced that he would be leaving office December 31st, to continue his fight against cancer. Before stepping down, Merritt took some time to speak with local media about some of the accomplishments he is most proud of as he completes a decade of active public service in the town.
Merritt has lived in Lynnfield since 1974 with his wife, Beverly. The two have been married 41 years and have five grown children and 11 grandchildren. They are also both active members of St. Maria Goretti Parish in Lynnfield. Merritt is a certified public accountant by trade and is also a former insurance company executive who played a key role in the Liberty Mutual IPO.
In town, Merritt was first elected to the board of selectmen in 2008 and was re-elected to his current three year term in 2011. He also served a couple of terms as a finance committee member in the 1980s and 1990s, and chaired the town's school building committee in 2001 and its economic development and housing advisory committee in 2005.
"It's been a wonderful run here. I love the community," said Merritt.
Before sitting down to speak with the local reporters, Merritt showed the framed check on the wall of the selectmen's room at town hall from the state. The check provided about $41 million back in 2006 for the town's multi-phase school upgrades. "They were all in terrible shape," said Merritt, looking back at the time right before the wholesale renovations to the Lynnfield School District.
Merritt also recalled how the debt exclusion vote that cleared the way for the school project only passed by about 12 votes - and that some opponents were even calling it "Lynnfield's Big Dig."
"We never lost one day of school time, we never had one lawsuit, and we never had anyone get hurt," said Merritt, referring to the schools project.
Economic Development Committee And Affordable Housing
Not long after his work on the school building committee, Merritt would go on to chair the economic development and housing advisory committee. Around this time, the town was beginning to assess how it could come into compliance with state affordable housing requirements.
In time, the town's strategy on affordable housing would help bring Lynnfield Commons into existence on Route 1, which Merritt noted consists primarily of 1- and 2-bedroom apartments. With about 25% of the units at Lynnfield Commons qualified as affordable, the town was brought considerably closer to the state's requirement of having 10% of its housing as affordable.
"We really understood our strategy and what to do to minimize the effect on the town," said Merritt. Once the MarketStreet at Lynnfield project is complete within the coming year, the town expects to meet the state affordable housing requirement.
In general, Merritt said that there's little he regrets or would do differently. "I just can't imagine a better outcome. To me it's amazing. And on MarketStreet, I feel the same way."
"I just see this as neighborly work," said Merritt.
Dave Nelson To Become New Town GOP Committee Chair
Along with the previously mentioned service to the town, Merritt has also served as chairman of the town's Republican committee in recent years. He confirmed that he will also be stepping down from this position, and that fellow selectman Dave Nelson would replace him.
Merritt added that his work as a selectman has always been non-partisan, and that this has been the case for his colleagues on the board as well.
Other Volunteers Encouraged To Lend Some Time
With an eye on other committees in town that depend on volunteers, Merritt encouraged other civic-minded residents with good skills to offer some time and to get involved with some work that may particularly be of interest to them. In fact, Merritt noted that his own involvement with the town started largely because a couple of projects came up that just happened to be very suited to him.
Along with the town's volunteers, Merritt also had high praise for the town's employees and public safety personnel for the "seriousness of purpose they apply." He also called Town Administrator Bill Gustus "one of the major finds for our community for the last 8 to 10 years he's been here."
"We're all in this together. We're all just neighbors in a sense," said Merritt.