Israel ends public comment on selectmen’s agenda

Chairman says he’ll encourage people to get on agenda to talk about town issues.

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The Tisbury board of selectmen proposed changes to the Katharine Cornell Theater rental fees. — Gabrielle Mannino

While Tristan Israel was over in Edgartown performing music on the porch of the Harbor View Hotel, the chairman of the Tisbury board of selectmen was still making waves at his board’s meeting.

Tuesday night was the first meeting without a public comment section on the agenda in recent memory.

“It’s Tristan’s prerogative as chairman,” selectman Melinda Loberg, who was acting chair in his absence, told The Times after the meeting.

Israel has gotten into some heated exchanges since taking over the gavel in April, when Jim Rogers was elected and the board reorganized. In a phone conversation Wednesday morning, Israel said his move is not about stifling public debate.

The public comment section, which limited speakers to three minutes, was instituted by Jon Snyder when he was a selectman, Israel said. Last year’s chairman, Larry Gomez continued it, he said.

“If somebody wants to get on the agenda, as long as they get it in before noon on Friday, I’m not denying anyone access,” Israel said. “They’ll actually get more time, and we’ll know what it is they want to talk about. That’s the way I want to handle it.”

In an email to The Times, copied to board members, Dorothy Packer objected to the decision to pull public comment off the agenda.

“Today, July 23, 2018, we learned that the three-minute public comment section has been eliminated; not just for this one meeting but for meetings in the future as well,” Packer wrote. “How can this be? When a citizen has something to bring before the Town of Tisbury Board of Selectmen for consideration, they may or may not be placed on the agenda, depending on the decision of the board of selectmen. Then if they are not successful being placed on the agenda, they used to have the opportunity to speak for three minutes on a subject not listed on the agenda. Now that possibility has been eliminated. What is the citizen to do?”

Packer said a letter, to the newspaper or to board members, is not a viable option because it can go unnoticed by the intended board members. “Have we entirely lost our ability to speak about a subject we feel is important to be brought before the Town of Tisbury Board of Selectmen?”

Israel said he responded to Packer. He said while other chairmen were picky about what subjects they would allow on the selectmen’s agenda, he will be liberal in what topics can be discussed, “unless it’s something distasteful.”

 

Staging fee changes

The board, minus Israel, did hold a public hearing on proposed changes to the fees charged for Katharine Cornell Theater, the meeting room used by selectmen and rented to community groups for meetings, lectures, and performances.

The main change in the proposed regulations is the addition of a $500 deposit charged for the use of the theater’s newly installed lighting and sound system, Alex Kral, executive assistant to town administrator Jay Grande, said. The proposed regulations will also require that a technician be trained on the use of the system.

“It’s a big investment on the part of the town, and we want to protect it,” Loberg said.

Grande said the project cost $70,000.

The proposed regulations prompted a lengthy discussion about how to determine if a technician is suitable. Ultimately, that’s one of the reasons a vote was delayed on the regulations.

Niki Patton, an Island artist who has used the facility through the years, asked selectmen to also consider a price for individuals like her who aren’t technically nonprofits, but aren’t using the theater to make a buck either. It would allow “those of us who love and use this space” to continue to use it, Patton said. “You might get more use out of the space.”

After a second public hearing, Loberg and Rogers approved a parking regulation that sets aside seven spots at Owen Park for boaters and shellfishermen who purchase $50 annual permits.

Rogers suggested setting a 96-hour limit for parking in those spaces, a period long enough for a boater to set sail for a weekend.

Someone wanting to go out for a longer period could either use the park and ride or make other arrangements, Loberg said before supporting the 96-hour limit.

Harbormaster John Crocker will manage the parking, and has the authority to extend parking beyond 96 hours.

Crocker said he wants to continue the practice of issuing parking stickers because someone could pass a piece of paper that’s placed in a windshield to a friend or neighbor.

In other business, the board was asked to consider appointing Kindia Roman as a special police officer. Roman had been a sergeant, but left the department for an off-Island job.

Selectmen appeared to support the idea of appointing Roman, but delayed action until next Tuesday because of the town’s procedure for hiring special police officers, Loberg said. “I’m happy to see you back,” Loberg said.

The board appointed a four-member dredge committee through Dec. 31. That’s shorter than is typical, because Rogers has asked to consider if a single committee could handle all waterfront issues.

Dredging has been a big topic since the town’s permit to dredge Lake Tashmoo expired. The town did not get a new permit issued in time to get the channel dredged, which has caused some issues for navigation in the popular spot this summer.

“I would like to see some consistency while we get this Tashmoo project going,” Loberg said.

Selectmen delayed giving abatements for nine mooring owners who voluntarily have given up their moorings and yet were charged by the town.

“It’s really just a formality to keep the billing straight,” finance director Jon Snyder said.

Loberg said she had questions about the abatements, but Crocker wasn’t there when the issue came up.

Asked by Rogers what her question was, Loberg said she didn’t want to say without the person in the room.