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.