Summer residents air gripes in Oak Bluffs
Seasonal residents of Oak Bluffs stepped into the political spotlight this past Tuesday in the first of two selectmen meetings arranged to allow summer visitors a voice in town government.
Board chairman Ron DiOrio welcomed a group of about 30 people to the Sailing Camp on Lagoon Pond with an invitation to rent the town-owned building for family events. Selectmen have held their regular meetings at the Sailing Camp during the summer months to show off the newly renovated facility.
Most town department heads were on hand to answer questions. Richard Combra, Jr., highway superintendent and chairman of the parks commission, Sgt. George Fisher of the police department, and finance director Paul Manzi made short presentations. Each offered a rosy view of their departments' contributions to Oak Bluffs, outlining improvements in infrastructure, services, and finances made since last summer, and previewing projects and policies to come.
Then the seasonal residents let loose with a barrage of complaints and grievances. This was their chance to bend the ears of town officials, and bend they did. Often. Loudly.
Janet Zeller of Cedar Avenue was first at bat, and she got her money's worth.
Ms. Zeller wanted to know what was being done about the "prevalence of dangerous and aesthetically disgusting private dumps all over the city," and the "slowness and lack of response by the town in cleaning them up."
Mr. DiOrio assured the assembly that the health department is aggressively addressing such issues.
Ms. Zeller pressed on with increasing animation, while careful not to dump her pet Dachshund out of her lap. "The health department has been so slow," she said. "Something immediate needs to be done about the issue. This would never be allowed off-Island."
Mr. DiOrio asked town administrator Michael Dutton to document the process of taking legal action on health violations, so that it is clear to all involved. Ms. Zeller did not appear entirely satisfied.
Yvonne Gordon of Rowland Avenue took her swings next. She insisted that she called police weeks ago, about two boats parked on trailers near her home. She said they have been parked there since this past winter.
"One humongous boat," said Ms. Gordon, "is almost as big as my house. It's hazardous. It's awful."
Sgt. Fisher told Ms. Gordon that he would look into it immediately, and said if the boats were parked on streets owned by the town, they could be removed. Mr. DiOrio promised a response within 48 hours.
Linda Giles took exception to the end of lifeguard patrols on town beaches. The lifeguards were cut from the town budget this spring, but town meeting voters approved a motion to reinstate the $57,000 program. The amount pushed town spending beyond the limits of Proposition 2.5, so the expenditure was sent to voters in the form of an override question. They voted it down.
"I'm very distressed," said Ms. Giles. "I sit on that beach. I see risky behavior. I do hope we make it a priority. We want families here."
"We've learned it's much more important than we realized," said selectman Kerry Scott.
Mr. Combra said he has heard similar protests from other summer residents. He promised to take a new look at funding for next year, but indicated lifeguards will not likely be back at the beach this summer.
Others stepped up with various grievances, including a request to arrest people who throw cigarette butts on the street, the availability of free Internet access, enforcement of the pooper-scooper ordinance, and late-night noise from motorcycles one resident described as "crotch rockets."
Though it was not completely clear that the complainants were finished, Mr. DiOrio called for a motion to adjourn, and the town officials joined the summer residents for civilized and cordial cocktails. Which, Mr. DiOrio was eager to point out, were donated for the occasion, not purchased with town funds.