West Tisbury selectmen set pay rate for acting police chief

By Susan L. Silk

It was a battle of “fairer and more open process” against “splitting hairs” and “tweaking” at last week’s West Tisbury selectmen’s meeting. Fairness prevailed. The town’s zoning board of appeals (ZBA) had asked selectmen to allow Eric Whitman to step down from his board position to become an alternate or associate, as the selectmen called the position. The ZBA asked that Nancy Cole, currently an alternate, be moved into the full board member slot.

Executive secretary Jennifer Rand explained that Mr. Whitman did not wish to resign from the board but, after 30 years of service, wished to reduce his responsibilities. Selectman Richard Knabel said that moving Nancy Cole into a full board position required a vacancy on the board. Selectmen’s chairman Diane Powers said that was “splitting hairs,” and Mr. Manter said the selectmen would “just be tweaking” the ZBA board makeup.

Mr. Knabel insisted that there needed to be a vacancy to move an associate/alternate into a full board position.

Selectman Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter asked Mr. Knabel, “if Eric was to resign and Nancy was to move up, how would we fill that vacancy?”

“By advertising it,” Mr. Knabel said, adding. “All I am asking for is consistency in the way that we do things. We need a fairer, much more open process.”

Mr. Manter said it was too much trouble.

Mr. Knabel said, “We, as the appointing authority, should have a consistent approach.”

Mr. Manter made the motion to accede to the planning board’s request, thus moving Nancy Cole into Eric Whitman’s position. And then citizen participation began.

Joanie Ames said tweakiing created a precedent. Barbara Day said, “If I were looking for a seat on the ZBA, I would be very upset if this arrangement happened. It would make me feel very badly.” Mr. Knabel said the process must be fair to townspeople.

Ultimately, Ms. Powers changed her position, saying she was inclined to agree with Mr. Knabel that without a resignation or a vacancy, an alternate could not be moved into a full board position. The ZBA request was denied in a 2-1 vote, and Ms. Powers asked that the ZBA see if Mr. Whitman would be interested in resigning officially. Then, she said, the vacancy on the ZBA would be posted for any applicant to apply.

In other business last Wednesday, the selectmen reviewed the warrant for the annual town meeting on April 13 with town moderator Patrick Gregory. They also signed a six-month contract with acting police chief Dan Rossi, effective April 14, through October 12, while the search is undertaken for the permanent replacement for outgoing Chief Beth Toomey. As acting chief, Sgt. Rossi’s pay will be $42.93 an hour for a 40-hour week, according to Ms. Rand.

The selectmen also discussed the responses received to the advertisement for volunteers to serve on the police department study committee. Mr. Manter said he wanted five committee members. According to Ms. Rand, four letters of interest have been received, four of them under the deadline. The discussion that followed focused on whether the four volunteers were sufficient (the selectmen want to leave a seat open for the incoming new police chief), if the late applicant should be included as a fifth or alternate member of the committee, or whether all five interested volunteers should be seated.

Treasurer Kathy Logue, reflecting on her service on the town hall building committee, said people in town did not want the committee to include people who worked in the town hall on the committee. Three of the five letters of interest on the police study committee come from workers in the department, Ms. Logue said, including Chief Toomey and Sgt. Rossi. Ms. Logue recommended extending the deadline for letters of interest and “cast the net wider.” The selectmen agreed and ordered the committee vacancies be re-advertised.

The selectmen also conducted a brief public hearing regarding the request of NSTAR to bury cable along a section of Old County Road. Mr. Manter wanted assurances that the road surface would be protected. The selectmen did not approve the request. They want stronger assurances from NSTAR that the construction efforts would avoid costly problems for the town.

Mr. Manter also asked the NSTAR representative, Karen Corriveau, to explain the “monstrosity antenna” on State Road that “sticks up like a sore thumb on two pieces of property that the town has tried to protect.” He asked if the whip-style antenna could be relocated to a spot along the road where the existing tree line would obscure it. Ms. Powers commented that the antenna “is not what we expected when we approved it.” And Mr. Knabel commented that the antenna is a wireless device and that perhaps the ZBA should have had jurisdiction and required NSTAR to obtain a special permit for the installation. Calling the legalities of the wireless situation “murky,” the selectmen agreed that they would talk to NSTAR.

NSTAR representative Mike Durand told The Times this week that the antenna is a remote switcher that receives information about an outage site and can be programmed to reroute service, restoring power more quickly than prior to its installation.

“It may be visually a little displeasing, but the benefits are remarkable,” Mr. Durand said. When there is an outage power will be restored before a repair truck reaches the problem site to make corrections. Mr. Durand added that if the selectmen make a request for a company representative to appear before them, the company is willing to talk about relocation of the antenna.

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