Edgartown selectmen crack down on shellfisherman who fled a boat inspection

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—Sam Moore

Edgartown selectmen suspended the commercial license of Mark Morris of Edgartown for the duration of the season for disregarding the direct orders of the shellfish constable and his deputies on Dec. 5.

Shellfish constable Paul Bagnall began the Monday hearing by describing the nature of Mr. Morris’ violation. He said Mr. Morris refused to allow town officials to inspect his catch when he pulled into the dock, and that Mr. Morris then backed the boat away and drove around the harbor for a few minutes before returning to the dock. According to Mr. Bagnall, Mr. Morris’ actions were accompanied by “screaming profanities at the foot of Main Street.”

In a meeting punctuated by heated exchanges, Mr. Morris’s wife, Deirdre Morris, admitted her husband has a temper and is well known for being “hotheaded.” She contended that Mr. Morris had four bushels of scallops in his boat rather than the commercial limit of three because her son was on the boat with her husband and because they have a family permit, which has a limit of one bushel per week, making the fourth bushel legal.

“He was upset because they said they were checking every boat, but they weren’t,” she said. “Limits were checked, but not the boats.” She said that she and Mr. Morris called other fishermen and none reported having their boat searched that day.

Mr. Bagnall responded that it would not work very well to check every fisherman’s boat for hidden over-limit scallops on the same day, and the policy was to search different boats on different days. “Mark needs to understand that when you come to the dock, you are going to get checked,” he said.

Ms. Morris also said when she applied for her family permit, she was not asked if her husband was a commercial fisherman, and it did not say anywhere in the law that it was forbidden to have a commercial and a family permit in one family. Margaret Serpa, BOS chairman, told Ms. Morris that the purpose of the hearing had nothing to do with being over-limit.

“We are here to talk about a failure to display [his] catch,” Mr. Bagnall said. “And he was also verbally abusive. This has nothing to do with the size of his catch.” Mr. Bagnall added that a constable may inspect “everything but your domicile” without a warrant. “This is not a right,” he said. “It’s a license, a permit.”

“I told him he was a jerk and a few other things,” Mr. Morris said, “but I wasn’t verbally abusive.” Mr. Morris contended that it was impossible for him to hide scallops because the baskets do not fit under his seats. “I feel like I was singled out. I did nothing wrong, and they [the constable and his deputies] weren’t little angels either.”

Shellfish department deputy Rob Morrison said that Mr. Morris was not in their line of sight the entire time he was circling the harbor. Mr. Morrison reiterated Mr. Bagnall’s statement that the number of scallops on the boat was immaterial, and that Mr. Morris had not consented to a search at the time he was asked.

Mr. Bagnall praised his deputy for his composure in the face of Mr. Morris’ apoplexy. “Rob could have easily called the police, and it would have ended up in District Court,” he said.

“It’s a cut-and-dry, simple issue,” selectman Arthur Smadbeck said to Mr. Morris. “You took off when they wanted to check your boat; that is noncompliance, and this is an infraction under Section 2, paragraph C, of the law.”

Ms. Serpa recommended that the shellfish department immediately suspend Mr. Morris’ commercial license for the rest of the season, which ends April 1, 2017.

The Morrises tried to raise objections, but in a stern rebuke, Ms. Serpa said, “I don’t want to hear any more right now.”

The board voted unanimously to suspend Mr. Morris’ license, after which Mr. Morris threatened to sue the town.

“For a first offense, this is a little heavy-handed,” Ms. Morris said as she and her husband were leaving the hearing. An Edgartown police officer, who sat next to them during the hearing, followed them out.

Michael Hathaway of Edgartown was also cited for exceeding his limit on Nov. 22, his second violation in as many years, and his license will be suspended for a week in January. His brother Richard also exceeded his limit that day and had already paid his fine; it was his first violation.

Scallops are currently selling for $30 a pound, matching last year’s peak price. A bushel basket holds seven to eight pounds of scallops. Mr. Bagnall said that last year, his department issued six tickets and made three suspensions. At the halfway point this season, he has already issued five tickets and suspended two licenses.

Changes at the cemetery department

The town cemetery department has been reorganized in the wake of the resignation two weeks ago of its superintendent, Jennifer Morgan. Andrew Kelly, chairman of the cemetery commission, convened a meeting during the board of selectmen’s meeting in order to confer to make some joint decisions with the board and to vote. Three other members of the commission were present.

On Dec. 13, the cemetery commissioners sat down with highway superintendent Stuart Fuller for what Mr. Kelly described as “a good meeting,” during which many concerns were addressed to the commission’s satisfaction. Mr. Fuller assured them that two of his staff would be assigned to maintain the grounds of the town’s cemeteries during the busy May-through-October season. He also promised that extra workers would be available as needed.

Mr. Kelly told the selectmen that his commission was still working on the job description for an administrative assistant. “We will try [having them work] 15 hours [per week],” he said, “not 10 hours as we said previously. We can alter it later if it doesn’t work.”

Town administrator Pam Dolby noted that a special town meeting would be required to make all the changes being described go into effect.

Mr. Kelly said that members of the commission had taken on the responsibility of going through the cemetery records. Ms. Dolby offered them office space and support at the town hall, which was accepted.

Mr. Donaroma expressed confidence that the highway department was up to the task. “[Mr. Fuller] does this [maintenance] all over the town already,” he said, acknowledging the maintenance in the cemeteries would be different from their usual work.

Mr. Kelly made a motion to have the highway department take over maintenance duties, and the vote was unanimous. In addition to Mr. Kelly, commission members Debbie Manley-Smith, Susan Brown, and Liz Villard were present for the vote.

“The cemetery department is not changing,” said Ms. Dolby. “The highway department is just taking over the maintenance.”

“We’ve spent a lot of time thinking about this,” said Mr. Kelly.

“I can’t see this not working,” said Ms. Serpa.

New wastewater pumps

David Thompson, facilities manager at the wastewater department, updated the selectmen on a project on Dock Street that will require diversion of traffic through the public lot at the town wharf for about six weeks after Jan. 1. New wastewater pumps are being installed below street level in a waterproof container. In the event of flooding, the pumps will be activated from a control box near the town hall. During construction, a fence will be erected to close off the block of Dock Street between Main Street and Mayhew Lane.