To the Editor:
There were some disturbingly undemocratic elements last night at the April 10 West Tisbury town meeting. I wasn’t able to clearly articulate them as the hour grew late, so I didn’t speak.
This morning, I’m able to organize my thoughts and write to call attention to issues raised at the meeting. The first of these distressing elements was evident as citizens questioned the budget and scope of road repairs. It was troubling to have an elected official question our expertise on roads. We are the caretakers of our town, and the collective whole body is the expert on both the budget and the scope of work. We use professionals to advise us, but the beauty of our town meeting system is that we get to debate and to decide together.
The more profound assault on our system was the compromise offered by the advocates of dog walking at Lambert’s Cove Beach. While I believe a fair solution can be reached, the use of a private police force hired by a few (“We have money. We have lawyers.”) goes against principles of government and the rule of law. We have now voted to allow dogs to be walked on the beach in the mornings in the summer. That’s fair. Let’s see if that helps resolve the problems. The idea that we would allow a group of people to hire someone to enforce the rules that they like (poop scooping, proper disposal) and not enforce the ones they don’t like (leash laws) leads us down the road of citizen watches and an untrained police force. When the town makes a set of rules, we need to determine how they will be enforced.
I believe the dog advocates were well intentioned. This just isn’t the solution. Some of the issues are bigger than West Tisbury. They include population growth and limited beach access. When the town was smaller, I used to be able to bring my dog to the beach during the day in the summer. There were only 30 or so people there at a time, even on weekends in the summer, and no need to keep dogs out. As the population has grown and more and more beaches have been privatized, the parks and recreation committee has had to create rules to manage use of Lambert’s Cove. Solutions to these competing needs must be public and accountable to us all.