Tisbury town administrator Jay Grande was caught unaware when he received a telephone call in January from a staffer in the the office of Congressman Bill Keating about a town request to name the channel under the new Lagoon Pond drawbridge “Wilbur Channel.” Mr. Grande told the staffer the town had not made the request, and did not know anything about it.
In fact, Tisbury harbormaster John “Jay” Wilbur had made the request in an undated letter on town stationery in his official capacity as harbormaster. The letter, addressed, “Dear Bill,” recalled a tour of the harbor to survey damage from Hurricane Sandy. “It’s the Bridge Channel that I am bringing to your attention,” Mr. Wilbur said. “I would like to have it named for my father and his family.”
Mr. Wilbur cited long use of the channel by his family, which has owned a home on its shores for almost 50 years. “I’m convinced that our extended family has made more trips through this channel than any other in the last 50 years, especially when you include all my patrol trips as harbormaster for 23 years,” he said.
He bolstered his case by pointing to his work to relocate the channel: “In my capacity as harbormaster in conjunction with the bridge committee and MassDOT I instigated having the channel moved to a better location. The intended purpose is to straighten out the approach and make it possible to see boats coming from the opposite direction. This is a significant improvement in safety.”
Citing his father and brother, both of whom had died within view of the Lagoon, Mr. Wilbur asked Congressman Keating to bring his request to name the “Wilbur Channel” to Congress.
Speaking to The Times by phone Monday, Mr. Wilbur said the response from the congressman’s office was not encouraging. “I must say I was very disappointed in that,” he said. Unless the name change gains traction at some point, he won’t continue to pursue it right now.
Mr. Wilbur said town officials were not completely unaware of his idea to name the channel. He said he proposed it at a bridge committee meeting, where he spoke to Tisbury selectmen Tristan Israel and Melinda Loberg and to Martha’s Vineyard Commission executive director Adam Turner. He sent the letter in November following that meeting.
“I debated it, but I didn’t see the harm in it,” he said. “In retrospect, I wouldn’t use the town stationery. It seemed like a good idea at the time.”
He said he wanted to use the town stationery so that it would be clear that he was the town harbormaster. “Federal and state officials listen to harbormasters about the waterways that are under their jurisdiction,” he said.
He added that he wasn’t convinced the letter was a personal matter.
“I believe it’s not totally personal,” he said. “The only reason I had the capacity to move the channel is because I was harbormaster, and this is really that same topic.”
He said it was his understanding that sending a letter to the congressman’s office was the first step, and the town would be queried later in the process.
“I wasn’t speaking on behalf of the town, I was speaking on behalf of the town’s harbormaster, with a personal angle,” he said.
On his own time
Mr. Grande said he was unaware of Mr. Wilbur’s request until Congressman Keating’s office called him directly to ask about the letter. He said the use of town stationery made it appear as a request on behalf of the town.
“It was received by Congressman Keating’s office as official, and I had to make it clear that it was not officially coming from the town as a request,” he said. The selectmen are aware of the request, and have not expressed interest in pursuing the name change.
Mr. Grande spoke to Mr. Wilbur about his use of stationary.
“I have spoken to Mr. Wilbur about it, and he understands that it was misinterpreted and a little confusing by the use of town stationery, and that clearly is only for town business,” he said. Mr. Grande chalked it up to an error in judgement.
He said Mr. Wilbur could still pursue naming the channel on his own letterhead. “If there’s a request coming from a person to a congressman, they can continue to pursue it on their own,” he said. “It can’t be done in the official capacity, within the town or on town stationary, unless they have some sense that this is what the chief elected officials want to do.”