Oak Bluffs officials tussle over beaches, assessor
Oak Bluffs selectman Kerry Scott took aim at several town officials during a contentious meeting Tuesday evening that included ongoing political skirmishing over the town's public beaches and flex-time working hours for the town's principal assessor.
The regular Tuesday night selectmen's meeting included a brief discussion with two of the three parks commissioners - Richard Combra Jr., who is also the highway superintendent, and newly elected parks commissioner Nancy Phillips. Ongoing repairs to the town's beaches and coastal banks along Sea View Avenue provided a flash point, one of several that sparked clashes among town officials Tuesday night.
Selectmen Kerry Scott, who has clashed with Ms. Phillips in the past over beach restoration plans, said she was not happy about a ramp installed to allow disabled access to the beach. "I am so bitterly disappointed," she said. "I don't know how to apologize to people. It isn't usable, it's too little, it's too late."
Ms. Scott at first blamed a town board she did not name. "This is what happens when people work at loggerheads," she said. "Because of one board in town, that beach is pretty much off limits" for the disabled.
Following the meeting, in response to a question, Ms. Scott told The Times the board she was referring to is the parks commission, and she pointed a finger at Ms. Phillips for delays.
The two have disagreed over numerous beach issues. Ms. Scott blames Ms. Phillips for delays in construction, tied to Ms. Phillips' urging that public hearings be held by the parks commission prior to construction of the ramp.
It was the conservation commission (ConCom), a board that Ms. Scott is closely allied to politically, that issued the permit for the ramp. Ms. Scott said the ConCom has held four public hearings on beach repairs and rejuvenation. Ms. Scott said the ramp does not comply with federal disability laws.
Asked after the meeting why the ramp that got built did not comply with those laws, Ms. Scott said she did not know. "There's supposed to be a landing at the top, the walkway was supposed to hug the wall, and be able to walk with a certain slope required. So the work that I expected would be done was that they would reshoot the elevation, spread the sand, according to the design that was approved, and that was compliant."
The ongoing dispute over which board has jurisdiction over the beach, which is classified as a public park, will be among several issues discussed in a meeting with town counsel, scheduled for today.
Ms. Scott was also central in another tense exchange over the work schedule of principal assessor Diane Wilson. Ms. Wilson moved off-Island after several years in the position. In order to retain her services, a flexible work arrangement was structured, so Ms. Wilson commutes to the Island and works her required weekly hours over a period of three extended work days.
Ms. Scott said she had received complaints from both inside and outside town hall that Ms. Wilson was not available during scheduled hours and that there was no monitoring of time worked.
"The other comment that I get," said Ms. Scott, "is that the town of Oak Bluffs has been working for the past several years toward treating everyone the same. They (flex-time arrangements) shouldn't be used to allow someone to leave the Island and still work for us."
Ms. Wilson, who was at the meeting, received strong backing from the assessors, who were also in attendance. They said Ms. Wilson was working the required hours, getting the work done, and running the office efficiently, noting that Oak Bluffs is the first Island town to set tax rates.
"I wish, if there were some complaints, I would get them," said Jack Law, chairman of the assessors. "It's all news to me. I've never received a complaint."
"I do have a problem that the board of assessors hasn't had a single complaint," said selectman Greg Coogan. "I do object to hearing that some people complain without stepping up. It's really unfair that these unnamed sources are spreading; whether it's idle gossip or jealousy, we have a few tongues wag, so we're gridlocked."
Town administrator Michael Dutton, who supervises Ms. Wilson directly, recommended that her flex-time working hours be continued until December 31. He is evaluating several positions in the town's finance department and plans some reorganization. After the selectmen rejected Ms. Scott's motion to table the recommendation, selectmen approved extending Ms. Wilson's schedule.
In other action, the board noted several complaints to the police department and the selectmen's office about Ben David Auto Refinishing on Naushon Avenue. Mr. Dutton said he could not find a valid state license, or a valid Oak Bluffs business license for the garage. "We are looking to see if we can revoke his state license, if he in fact has one," said Mr. Dutton.
Chairman Ron DiOrio said he received a complaint involving a $7,000 transaction. "I was kind of shocked to find the police had a whole folder of complaints."
Also Tuesday, the selectmen were informed that the state Department of Environmental Protection will be examining issues of soggy ground in Ocean Park.
"We are fairly certain we have some issues associated with leaching beds percolating to the top," said Mr. Dutton. "Those issues do not involve any danger. It's basically drinking water percolating to the top."