By Bill Kirk
---- — After a 12-year run on the Board of Selectmen, Mary Lyman announced this week it’s time for her to move on.
Lyman, 53, of 50 School St., announced Monday night that she won’t be a candidate for re-election in March.
She had initially planned to seek another term, but said she had a change of heart over the weekend.
“I have a new boss, and I just realized, it’s going to be too much to juggle,” said Lyman, who has three sons with her husband, James. “I decided to try to make things a little simpler in my life and this is what had to go. I just can’t do this.”
She told selectmen at Monday night’s meeting, “It’s been a long run.”
As of Tuesday, no one had pulled papers for what is now an open, three-year seat on the board. A vacancy also exists on the School Committee, as Chairman Dennis Forgue announced recently that he, too, would not be seeking re-election. Candidates have until Feb. 4 to file nomination papers with the town clerk’s office.
Selectmen said they would miss Lyman’s service to the town.
“We’ve worked on many subcommittees, and tempers have been raised,” Chairman Alex Vispoli said.
“I’m not a pushover,” Lyman said, chuckling.
Vispoli went on to call Lyman’s service “unparalleled. The behind-the-scenes work, you’re always prepared for meetings. I’m just glad you’re here for the next budget cycle.”
Selectman Dan Kowalski said he was “truly disappointed” to hear Lyman was leaving. “We all bring unique perspectives to the board,” he said.
Selectman Brian Major echoed that sentiment, adding, “It’s been a pleasure working with you.”
In an interview with The Andover Townsman just prior to her formal announcement, Lyman said she will miss the work that she’s been able to do, especially with the elderly and disabled, but won’t miss the long meetings.
“It’s a huge time commitment,” she said. “I’ve tried very hard to make it work.”
She spoke with fellow selectmen and they all told her they understood the reasoning for her decision.
“They said they thought I did the job with integrity,” Lyman said.
Lyman was first elected to the board 12 years ago, when her youngest son was in kindergarten. Now, he’s 17 and graduating from high school. Her other two sons are 23 and 20 years old.
“When I started, I didn’t have a job, then I went part-time and now I’m full-time,” she said.
For the past year, she has been working in fundraising at Greater Lawrence Family Health Center. Before that, she worked at Family Services in Lawrence.
“It’s definitely going to be sad,” she said. “But I’ll be happy to be getting my nights back.”
Selectmen are assigned various areas within the town to focus on as members of the board, and Lyman said her favorite assignment was her role with the Commission on Disabilities.
“They are amazing to work with,” she said. But recently, she hasn’t made it to many of the commission’s meetings due to work or other conflicts.
“I felt like I was missing important things,” she said.
Prior to her work with the Commission on Disabilities, she said she was the board’s liaison to the Council on Aging.
“That brings new meaning to what the town does,” she said. “You are improving people’s lives. It’s the human side to the work.”
Before serving on the Board of Selectmen, Lyman spent one term on the School Committee, from 1992 to 1995. She then took a break from elected politics.
In October 2001, she was appointed to fill a vacancy on the Board of Selectmen and then was subsequently elected to the seat the following spring.
In 2008, she defeated challenger Peter Cotch by a 260-vote margin to retain her seat, receiving 1,446 votes to his 1,186. Lyman ran unopposed for her current three-year term on the board in 2011.
Prior to serving as an elected official, she worked as director of human resources for the town for five years, from 1985 to 1990. She said it was that work that prompted her to run for public office.
“I always felt like I could make a difference if I could change policies that I saw when I was working,” she said. “I felt like I was more effective because I knew what was going on.”
Lyman, who has a master’s degree in public administration, said that inside knowledge, along with her educational background, helped her push for changes on such things as the use of town cars by department heads.
For years, the town had been overly generous in the way it doled out take-home cars for town employees, Lyman said. She sought to create more structure with the program to reduce the cost to taxpayers.
She said she also sought to change some of the antiquated language in union contracts, and to strive for fairness in the way employees on both the town and school sides of the ledger were treated.
“A secretary in one department should be treated the same as a secretary in another department,” she said, noting that for years one side was paid at a higher rate than another side.
“I haven’t done everything I wanted to do, but I felt like I’ve made a difference,” she said.