Authors Posts by Janet Hefler

Janet Hefler

Janet Hefler

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Pedestrian traffic was one of the topics discussed at the meeting. The street fair, shown above, is one of Tisbury's main summer events drawing pedestrians. —Photo by Michael Cummo

Main Street in Tisbury topped a list of town treasures named by participants in a comprehensive planning effort led by the Tisbury planning board that was designed to set a path forward into the future.

The planning board held workshops last Wednesday at the Tisbury Senior Center and on Friday morning at the American Legion Hall to report the findings from a series of three community vision planning workshops held in September.

“We had a good turnout at both workshops, probably around 40 people at each,” said planning board member Cheryl Doble, who initiated the vision planning process, on Monday.

“Some were new, and a number of them had attended the first workshop,” she added. “So we’re getting this active group that’s growing, and we’re continuing to get a turnout that leads to really good conversations. That’s what we’re after, along with a better understanding on our part as we start to think about the responsibilities of the planning board and where we should be focusing.”

The goal of the vision planning workshops is to involve the community in town planning by identifying shared values, discussing concerns, and establishing a manageable set of goals and an action plan, according to Ms. Doble.

At the September workshop sessions, members of the Vision Planning Committee led groups seated at four large tables through a series of activities and recorded their responses on charts. Participants were asked to list Tisbury’s treasured places, opportunities the town has to make improvements, and the challenges it faces in doing so. For the last activity, participants were asked to describe their vision of what Tisbury should look like 10 years from now.

Over the past several weeks Ms. Doble and planning board member Ben Robinson pored through the charts and organized the information according to areas of consensus among the responses. Mr. Robinson said that what struck him while helping Ms. Doble with the data analysis was how important it is for people who live in Tisbury and other people who use the town to share their opinions and experiences.

“It’s a lot of work, but it’s nice to see that people are willing to put the time in,” Mr. Robinson said.

Community member Steve Zablotny, who participated in the first workshop, helped condense its findings into a PowerPoint presentation for last week’s workshops. In addition to Main Street, Tashmoo overlook and preserve, the harbor and waterfront, Owen Park, a working waterfront, and the Vineyard Haven Public Library received the most mentions, between 30 to 60.

Determining the findings about challenges and opportunities proved more difficult, Ms. Doble said. She and Mr. Robinson came up with eight themes for the challenges and six for the opportunities, and then narrowed them down to the four for each that had the greatest number of responses.

For challenges, the topic areas were financial, town government, condition of property, and community. For opportunities, the topic areas were government, infrastructure, downtown, and community.

Ms. Doble said there were a few surprises in the first workshop responses. For example, biking was listed as a bigger challenge than walking in Tisbury.

“And that’s because people think that the community is basically walkable but that the safety issue of biking is huge, and that it’s critical that we do something,” she said.

Ms. Doble did a narrative for the PowerPoint presentation, which she said will be added as text and the whole package put up online soon on the town’s website at At its conclusion, participants were asked to divide up into groups by choosing one of four topics they thought was most important to them.

The topics included parks, beaches, open space and neighborhood connections; a vibrant and connected downtown; waterfront and harbor; and pedestrian and bike networks.

After a 40- to 50-minute discussion, the workshop participants changed tables to discuss their second choice of topic. The information from those discussions will be incorporated into the next phase of the vision planning process.

“I think we’ll come out of this with some good information to present and be able to say, this is what you want, and here’s a way to achieve that,” planning board chairman Dan Seidman told The Times in a phone call Monday. “Now we need to put our shoulders into it and prioritize.”

Mr. Seidman said the workshop participants had a lot of ideas about opportunities for improving the town, but found it more difficult to figure out planning challenges and how to meet them.

“For example, people said they want more open space, but the challenge is how do you get it; where does it come from,” he said.

Mr. Seidman also pointed out that town planning is not just a matter of making decisions about building new facilities.

“What do you do with the Katharine Cornell Theatre, if town hall goes away? And if we build a new school, what do we do with the old one?” he said. “All of these things are interconnected and some people don’t take into account that when you increase infrastructure, you also have to plan for the costs.”

Mr. Seidman said the planning board would try to start with the goals easiest to achieve, and then move up from there.

“The vision plan helps guide the process, but turning the process into reality is going to be the toughest part of the problem,” he said. “If people have given their input, though, we think they will be more willing to handle the changes required to get to what ultimately will make this a more self-sustaining, viable town.”

Ms. Doble said the planning board is looking at hosting a public forum in January to present a summary of the workshops to date and to discuss what comes next.

“We’re thinking that there should continue to be some presentations followed by workshops over the winter, on topics such as climate change, sea level rise, environment, traffic, and parking, because these are things we need to talk about,” Ms. Doble said. “And we also may need to bring in people who either worked on these kinds of projects in their communities or are from a community that has tackled some of them, to share their experience.”

Future workshop and presentation dates will be announced.

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The U.S. Coast Guard Station Menemsha color guard, flanked by Island veterans, leads the parade to Ocean Park.

Flags waved in a crisp breeze under a cloudy sky Tuesday morning as Island veterans marched down Lake Avenue, to the applause of Islanders who lined the street, to Ocean Park for a ceremony that began at the 11th hour, on the 11th day of the 11th month, in commemoration of the time and date of the signing of the Armistice with Germany that ended World War I in 1918.

From left: Judy Williamson, Emma Williamson, Maggie Moffet and Peter Williamson lent their support.
From left: Judy Williamson, Emma Williamson, Maggie Moffet and Peter Williamson lent their support.

The marchers included Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, color guards from Coast Guard Station Menemsha and the Dukes County Sheriff’s Office, Oak Bluffs selectmen, a contingent of first responders from Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, State Police, and a representative from the Martha’s Vineyard Harley Riders. Family members and well-wishers gathered at the start of the short parade route at the head of Oak Bluffs harbor in front of Nancy’s restaurant for the start of the annual Veterans Day parade, one of hundreds of remembrances large and small across the country, to honor those who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces.

At the end the short march, Peter Herrmann, a member of Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 9261 and long-time parade organizer and host, called upon Lt. Col. David Berube, USAF, a chaplain in the National Guard Reserves and Oak Bluffs police officer, for an opening prayer.

“As we gather today, we remember our comrades who have been deployed throughout our country and around the world on behalf of our nation and our freedom,” Colonel Berube said. “Give to them and their families a sense of your peace, be with those who are prisoners or missing in action, and be with the families of the fallen, Lord.”

Emily Hewson, a student at Martha's Vineyard Regional High School, sang the National Anthem during the Veterans Day ceremony, as veteran Peter Herrmann saluted the flag.
Emily Hewson, a student at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, sang the National Anthem during the Veterans Day ceremony, as veteran Peter Herrmann saluted the flag.

Mr. Herrmann led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance. Emily Hewson, a freshman at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, performed a solo of the National Anthem. Mr. Herrmann noted in his remarks that for the fourth year in a row, Oak Bluffs was designated a regional site for the observance of Veterans Day by the Veterans Day National Committee. He and Dukes County director of veterans services Jo Ann Murphy were responsible for submitting the application that led to Oak Bluffs being selected as one of 67 regional sites this year, and the only one in Massachusetts.

Mr. Herrmann introduced Ms. Murphy and noted her recent selection as the Massachusetts Veteran Service Officer of the Year by state Secretary of Veterans’ Services Coleman Nee, which brought applause from the crowd.

Dukes County director of Veterans Services Jo Ann Murphy delivered a Veterans Day message sent from U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald.
Dukes County director of Veterans Services Jo Ann Murphy delivered a Veterans Day message sent from U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert McDonald.

Ms. Murphy read a message from U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Robert A. McDonald sent for inclusion in the ceremony: “On Veterans’ Day, we pause to express our gratitude to those who have served our country, and to remember the sacrifices, large and small, physical and emotional, they have made. These individuals prioritized our country over themselves.

“We must continue to honor and provide them the benefits and services they have earned and deserve, no matter if those who wore a uniform never saw combat or never left U.S. soil. Each one is a veteran, and deserves to be honored, not only on Veterans Day but every day.”

Secretary McDonald also expressed appreciation for the support shown to the Veterans Administration by so many Americans, and offered special thanks to the Oak Bluffs Veterans Day regional site organizers.

“You recognize the bravery veterans have shown, and the many sacrifices they have made,” Mr. McDonald said. “We know we can rely on you to continue being an example of how all Americans should honor those who have defended our everyday freedom.”

Kristin Pucino-Gibson and her son, Aden ,laid a wreath at the Oak Bluffs World War I memorial in memory of her cousin, Staff Sergeant Matthew A. Pucino, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2009.
Kristin Pucino-Gibson and her son, Aden ,laid a wreath at the Oak Bluffs World War I memorial in memory of her cousin, Staff Sergeant Matthew A. Pucino, who was killed in action in Afghanistan in 2009.

Mr. Hermann invited Kristin Pucino-Gibson of Tisbury and her son Aden, 11, to place a wreath in front of the World War I memorial in memory of her cousin, Staff Sergeant (SSG) Matthew A. Pucino.

A member of the U.S. Army Special Forces’ Green Berets, SSG Pucino was killed in action on November 23, 2009, in Pashay Kala, Afghanistan. A gun salute followed the wreath-laying, in honor of soldiers who lost their lives during their service.

The ceremony concluded with “Taps,” played on the trumpet by American Legion Post 257 member Edson Rodgers, followed by a solo of “Amazing Grace” sung by Ms. Hewson.

Veteran Edson Rodgers played "Taps" at the conclusion of the Veterans Day ceremony.
Veteran Edson Rodgers played “Taps” at the conclusion of the Veterans Day ceremony.

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The Chilmark School. —Photo by Susan Safford

The Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) school committee has resumed debate (SRO) in recent fiscal year 2015 (FY15) budget discussions about adding a full-time school resource officer. About one year ago, the school committee decided not to fund a full-time SRO in the FY14 budget, in order to continue its discussion and look at all of the options.

The subject came up again at a meeting two weeks ago, however, as the school committee began its initial review of the UIRSD’s draft $10.7 million FY15 budget. Superintendent of schools James Weiss noted that staffing costs are the driving factor in the proposed $10.7 million budget, an 8.49 percent increase over last year’s budget, including $80,000 for a proposed new full-time SRO.

The SRO debate took on new relevance last August, when Governor Deval Patrick signed, “An Act Relative to the Reduction of Gun Violence.” In addition to strengthening gun laws, the legislation also requires that every chief of police, in consultation with the superintendent and subject to funding, will assign at least one school resource officer to serve the city, town, or regional school district.

Mr. Weiss explained that the SRO position does not have to be full time, but it does require training. The budget includes an amount of $20,000 as a placeholder for the cost of sending possibly two officers off Island for training, depending on how the position is structured. Currently, police officers from the UIRSD’s member towns of Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury make random visits to the Chilmark and West Tisbury Schools, according to West Tisbury School principal Donna Lowell-Bettencourt.

After a lengthy discussion, the committee members decided they needed more information on the subject of school resource officers before voting on certifying the budget on November 17.

Mr. Weiss said he will meet with both school principals and the three up-Island police chiefs on Friday to gather information for more discussion at the upcoming UIRSD school committee meeting on Monday, November 10.

“I believe that we will discuss who pays for the salary and benefits, how much time does it take for the SRO to really be part of the school community, and how would we divide up the position if it is one person for both schools,” he said in an email to The Times.

Careful consideration

The UIRSD school committee has been wrestling with the idea of adding a school resource officer since December 2012. Committee member Michael Marcus of West Tisbury first suggested it in the wake of shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.

The school committee continued to discuss it over several months in 2013, in consultation with up-Island police departments. During the committee’s FY14 budget discussions last October, Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt and Chilmark head of school Susan Stevens reported on comments they received from their school communities in regard to possibly adding a full-time SRO.

Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt said she conducted surveys among students in grades 6 through 8 and parents. Based on the many comments and questions she received, she said she would like more time to discuss and consider all the options. Ms. Stevens said the consensus in her school community was that a full-time school resource officer was not necessary at that time.

The school committee decided not to add the position to the FY14 budget and to continue the discussion.

Since then, Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt told The Times in a phone conversation yesterday, she has talked with police officers in other towns, particularly Edgartown, and has concluded that she would be in favor of the daily presence of a police officer in the up-Island schools.

“If a school resource officer only works for a couple of hours a day, dividing time between West Tisbury and Chilmark, and is not actively involved in the schools, I think it would be hard to maintain the momentum of building relationships with the students,” she said. “I’m looking at recommending that we have someone assigned at least half-time.”

Ms. Lowell-Bettencourt emphasized that discussions about what the SRO position would entail are still in the initial phases. “I think if the school committee decides to dedicate funding to it and it’s moving forward, designing a plan for the position and refining it through community input is probably more efficient and useful for coming up with a program that people feel comfortable with and will benefit our schools, as well,” she said.

No Island-wide standard

Law enforcement presence varies from school to school on Martha’s Vineyard. In a previous interview on the subject, Mr. Weiss said each school and police department has tried to develop the best possible solution for their situation.

The Island’s other elementary schools utilize part-time SROs. Edgartown police officers Joel DeRoche, David Rossi, and Stephanie Immelt share part-time SRO duties at Edgartown School. They split the week, working at the school while it is in session and then finishing up their shifts doing community police work.

At Tisbury School, Tisbury police officer Scott Ogden serves as an SRO for four hours a day, three days a week.

Last year, Oak Bluffs police officers began a simple, cost-effective plan to increase their presence at Oak Bluffs School by assigning a day shift officer to complete arrest reports or other clerical work in a small office near the gym and cafeteria.

The only full-time SRO in Island schools is Sergeant Michael Marchand at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS), who was appointed through a memorandum of understanding between the Oak Bluffs Police Department, the town of Oak Bluffs, and MVRHS.

The MVRHS school committee approved $100,000 for salary and benefits for an SRO in the high school’s FY15 budget, approved by town meeting voters Island-wide last spring. The school committee voted unanimously in 2012 to explore creating the position of a full-time SRO. Plans for funding the position in the FY14 budget, however, were put on hold with news of unexpected increases in fixed costs that had to be covered.

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— File photo by Susan Safford

The Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) committee approved the addition of a new intervention coordinator position for the remainder of the current school year at a meeting Monday night. Principal Gil Traverso said the position is necessary to deal with a new state law that mandates changes in discipline and attendance policies that places a greater — and unfunded — burden on schools.

The new law, Chapter 222 of the Acts of 2012, requires school districts to provide alternative educational services for students who are suspended from school for more than 10 consecutive days or expelled from school, and to pay for the associated costs. MVRHS has opted to offer them access to assignments through Edline or the guidance department, tutoring provided in a neutral setting, online course work, or night school if established at MVRHS.

The new law also requires that schools notify parents if a child is absent from school and they have not received notification of the absence from a parent within three days. In addition, public schools are required to meet with parents of a student with five or more unexcused absences in a year to develop an action plan to improve his or her attendance.

A student is counted as absent if not present for two consecutive class periods, which constitutes a half-day at MVRHS, or the whole day, according to state law.

Absences and poor grades

In discussing the need for an intervention coordinator, Mr. Traverso provided a handout to the school committee with data regarding students with five or more unexcused absences and their grades.

In the 2013-2014 school year, Mr. Traverso said 463 students, or 68 percent of the total enrollment of 681, had five or more unexcused absences. Of those, 149 had overall scores resulting in a grade of D- or F, which was 22 percent of the total student body. Seventy-four students had F grades, which amounted to 11 percent of the total student body.

“Those are pretty staggering numbers,” Mr. Traverso said. “So you had students who received an F, and with a little bit of an intervention, those students could have been put over the top into a passing grade area average,” he said.

Mr. Traverso also noted that the high school’s average daily attendance last year was 94.13 percent.

“And I think that can seriously be improved if we do have an intervention coordinator that will work closely with students that pop up on the radar in the process that we’re going to be putting into place for addressing students that have these excessive absences,” he said.

Mr. Traverso followed up by raising the big question: “How are we going to pay for all this?”

MVRHS account manager Mark Friedman was ready with the numbers. He said there is about $113,000 available in the FY14 school budget due to savings in salaries for newly hired personnel that came in under budget and two vacant special education assistant positions that will not be filled this year. Mr. Friedman estimated that the salary for an intervention coordinator, prorated for six months, would be about $45,000.

“There are monies available in this year’s budget to do this, if that is the will of this committee,” Mr. Friedman said. “For the FY16 budget process, we’ll have to go back and take another look.”

Assistant principal Elliott Bennett told the school committee that the new coordinator’s duties would include developing behavioral support plans for students with five or more unexcused absences, and meeting with students, parents, guidance counselors, teachers, and special education staff to create a proactive program to keep the attendance rates up. The intervention coordinator would also help students with deficits in organizational skills that contribute to absences and create a relationship with them and their families. The job would also involve some home visits.

In addition, the intervention coordinator would be available to provide online support or to help administer online classes for students trying to make up credits.

The school committee voted unanimously to support the new position for the current fiscal year.

Off parents’ radar

The new law took effect on July 1. In an interview with The Times on Monday afternoon, Ms. Bennett and Andrew Berry, also an MVRHS assistant principal, said it has become very apparent that many parents are unaware of what it entails by the growing number of students with more than five unexcused absences.

“The law has changed; parents are going to be hearing from us if their child misses five days in a year, unexcused,” Mr. Berry said. “The same is true for all students Island-wide, in all grades.”

Parents are required to call the attendance office before school, if their child is going to be absent. However, that phone call does not automatically qualify the absence as excused.

The new law allows students only two parent-excused absences per academic quarter. The school nurse may grant up to two exemptions per academic quarter, with medical proof.

The list of reasons for excused absences is narrowly defined: prolonged or continuing illness or quarantine certified by a doctor that are serious enough to require more than five days’ absence; bereavement or serious illness in the family; weather inclement enough to endanger a child’s health; up to three documented college visits for juniors and seniors; school-sponsored trips or activities; a pre-planned, approved individual program; and observance of major religious holidays.

Students must bring a note from their parents or guardians on their return to school. Parents or guardians must submit a written or emailed explanation to the school within three days of the absence. Medical excuses must be given to the school nurse. All other excuses must be submitted to the attendance secretary.

“For the most part, we don’t have kids exceeding the number of unexcused absences because of sickness,” Mr. Berry said. “Usually if they are out three days or more, their parents would want to take them to a doctor.”

There is no limit on medically-excused absences, he added. However, a call and a note from a parent isn’t enough; a note from a medical professional is required.

“We really need parents to provide that written excuse so we can do this the right way and help them out,” Mr. Berry said. Otherwise, he added, once a student has five unexcused absences, the assistant principals will be sending out a letter to parents asking them to call the school.

Unfunded mandate burdensome

Ms. Bennett, who oversees grades 11 and 12, said she has 27 students currently on her list. She had meetings last week with seven of them and their parents to come up with a behavioral support plan, as the law requires. Mr. Berry, who oversees grades 9 and 10, said he had five meetings last week.

Ms. Bennett said the meetings involve not only the student but also parents and a guidance counselor. “We talk about the consequences of being absent and why it’s important to be in school, and how staying in school affects your goals,” she said. “We’re coming at it from the standpoint of this is why you need to be in school. We want to help you reach those goals and be as successful as you can.”

The behavioral modification plan includes finding solutions to the underlying causes for repeated absences, Ms. Bennett added.

“You can’t wake up to make it to the bus? A parent may have to get more involved by dropping the student off at the stop on the way work,” she said.

Both Ms. Bennett and Mr. Berry said parents have been very receptive at the meetings, as they are oftentimes frustrated by their children’s absences from school, too.

While the two assistant principals spoke highly of the intent of the stricter attendance requirements, they said the process is tremendously time-consuming for them. As Mr. Berry pointed out, “Over the last five to ten years, expectations from the state for assistant principals have really expanded, but the number of hours hasn’t.”

The school committee’s approval of the intervention coordinator’s position will definitely be a welcome change for them. In the meantime, however, they said they are hoping that more parents will become aware of the new law’s requirements.

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—Photo by Michael Cummo

The Tisbury selectmen held an eight-minute meeting Tuesday night before they voted unanimously to go into executive session to hear four grievances from Department of Public Works (DPW) employees.

“There just seems to be a plethora of this going on and some disconnect in communication happening here, and I just think we need to look at the bigger picture here, “selectman Tristan Israel commented before the vote.

Selectman chairman Jon Snyder said a representative present from the employees’ union had asked that the selectmen hold the hearings in executive session.

Ten or so people who came to discuss items on the agenda were irked by the news that they would have to leave and come back when the selectmen resumed their regular meeting. Many of them, including Tashmoo Spring Building management committee chairman Patricia Carlet, had given up the wait and gone home when the executive session ended an hour and 15 minutes later and missed the additional hour-long regular session.

In a phone conversation with The Times on Wednesday, Ms. Carlet said she was told the agenda was changed to accommodate the DPW employee union representative so that he could make the last ferry to Woods Hole.

“My question was, why didn’t they know ahead of time this was going to be the case and rearrange things, or why didn’t the union provide the rep with an overnight stay at a local hotel?” Ms. Carlet said. “If in fact someone has to make a boat, the people bringing the person before the selectmen should make arrangements so they don’t inconvenience everyone else.”

“It was a matter of trying to balance inconveniencing one group versus inconveniencing another,” Mr. Snyder said in a phone call Wednesday. “It was my judgment call, and perhaps there was another way it could have been handled.”

When asked about the nature of the DPW grievances, Mr. Snyder said, “We now have a DPW where communication is not as smooth as I’d like to see it. That’s the underlying cause.”

Mr. Snyder said the selectmen would seek a discussion with the Board of Public Works, which oversees the DPW autonomously. “I will be reaching out to several of the DPW commissioners over the next couple of weeks,” he said.

The Times emailed DPW director Glenn Mauk on Wednesday regarding the nature of the grievances discussed and the outcome of the executive session.

“It would be inappropriate for me to comment on personnel matters discussed in a Board of Selectmen executive session meeting,” Mr. Mauk replied in an email. “I suggest that you contact the Town Administrator, Jay Grande, for further information on the matters.”

Mr. Mauk did not respond when asked about the root of the DPW employees’ unhappiness.

In other business, the selectmen approved hiring Gary D. Robinson as an energy manager, a grant-funded position that will be shared with the towns of Edgartown and Oak Bluffs. Among his duties the energy manager will oversee implementation of the towns’ energy plans, and develop and manage energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.

The selectmen also voted to appoint Donald McGillivray as a seasonal part-time shellfish assistant and Dan Seidman to the traffic committee. In addition, they approved a $7,520 formula grant application for the Council on Aging Motion. They also agreed to pursue the idea of using goats to control vegetation near the Tashmoo overlook and under power lines, subject to discussions with the DPW, Tisbury Water Works, and NSTAR.

The next regular selectmen’s meeting will be at 5:30 pm on November 18.

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File photo by Janet Hefler

Call it the only race in town. With no local electoral contests, the six-way race for five seats on the Up-Island Regional School District (UIRSD) school committee is shaping up as the only contest.

Voters in Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury will elect five people to four-year terms. There are two names on the official ballot and four declared write-in candidates. The three candidates, one from each town, who receive the highest vote totals in Tuesday’s balloting will each represent his or her town. The two candidates who receive the next highest vote totals will be elected as at-large members regardless of where they live.

The race is complicated by the fact that no Aquinnah or Chilmark resident is on the ballot. Those races will need to be decided by write-in votes.

The person who receives the highest total of write-in votes will be considered the winner. If that person declines to serve, the position is declared vacant and the selectmen and school committee meet to select someone to fill the seat.

Town clerks will not only need to decipher names, but they will need to track down a candidate’s town, if voters fail to provide that critical information.

Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter and Michael Marcus are running for reelection from West Tisbury and appear on the ballot.

Mr. Manter, a police sergeant, has served on the UIRSD school committee since 1998. He has also served on the West Tisbury board of selectman since 2003. Over the years Mr. Manter has served on numerous town boards and committees, including the finance committee where he has carved out a role as a fiscal conservative. He currently is a member of the town’s Parks and Recreation Board, Council on Aging, and Dukes County Advisory Board.

Mr. Marcus is a real estate and tax specialist who works in the institutional real estate arena. His three children attend West Tisbury School. Mr. Marcus was elected to the UIRSD school committee in 2010 and currently serves as its chairman. He is on an interview and search committee to choose a new school superintendent.

There are four declared write-in candidates.

Roxanne Ackerman is running for reelection as a write-in candidate from Aquinnah. Ms. Ackerman, a librarian and commercial fisherman, has been a UIRSD school committee member since 1983. She is Aquinnah’s representative on the regional high school committee, serves on the budget subcommittee and school library improvement plan committee and is also is a member of the superintendent’s office building committee.

Kate DeVane is running as a write-in candidate from West Tisbury. Ms. DeVane, the mother of nine-year-old twins, works as a landscape coordinator for Donaroma’s Nursery and Landscaping Services. A former elementary school teacher, Ms. DeVane is a member of the West Tisbury School Advisory Council. She is also the co-chairman of the Parent Advisory Council on Special Education and the president and co-founder of the Island Autism Group.

Robert Lionette is running for reelection as a write-in candidate from Chilmark. Mr. Lionette, a chef at Morning Glory Farm, was appointed to the UIRSD school committee in 2012 by the Chilmark selectmen. He currently serves as its vice-chairman and also on the personnel subcommittees of the regional high school and all-Island school committees. Mr. Lionette’s son attends Chilmark School.

Theresa Manning, a write-in candidate from Aquinnah, is a co-coordinator for the Dukes County Youth Task Force, a coalition of over 50 community members that promotes community-wide health and wellness for youth and families to reduce substance use and other risky behaviors. Ms. Manning has a son who attends West Tisbury School, and two step-children, now adults, who attended Island schools.

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The Dukes County Court House. —Photo by Michael Cummo

A group of Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School students appeared before Superior Court Chief Justice Barbara J. Rouse at the Dukes County Courthouse Thursday. However, unlike many of the citizens that appear before Judge Rouse, they were invited, not summonsed.

Last week, Chief Justice Rouse hosted a forum to provide students with a firsthand account of her life as a judge and a lesson in civics and the state’s judicial system. Her visit to the Dukes County Courthouse was part of her farewell tour of Massachusetts courthouses before she retires in December, at the mandatory age of 70.

Former Oak Bluffs School principal Gerry Moriarty made the arrangements for the forum, attended by 20 Island students. They were accompanied by history teacher Olsen Houghton, who is also the student government faculty advisor, and joined by school superintendent James Weiss and high school committee member Lisa Reagan of Oak Bluffs.

Superior Court Clerk Joe Sollitto introduced Judge Rouse, noting that he first met her in 1981 when she appeared as defense counsel for a case in the Dukes County Superior Court. At that time she was a partner in the law firm Csaplar & Bok.

“I’m sad about letting Judge Rouse go,” Mr. Sollitto said. “She has been a great judge and a superior leader.”

Governor Michael S. Dukakis appointed Ms. Rouse to the bench in 1985 as an associate justice in the Massachusetts Superior Courts, Mr. Sollitto said. She returned to Edgartown in her new role in 2002 to preside over a session of Superior Court. Judge Rouse was named Chief Justice of the Superior Court in 2004 and reappointed to another five-year term in 2009.

Before turning the forum over to Judge Rouse, Mr. Sollitto welcomed Edgartown Attorney Martin Tomassian, the Dukes County Bar Association president, and about a dozen of the association’s attorneys seated on the jury benches. Mr. Sollitto also introduced District Court clerk magistrate Liza Williamson and Cape and Islands assistant district attorneys Laura Marshard and Brian Glenny.

“It’s a true pleasure to be back on Martha’s Vineyard,” Judge Rouse said.

Jury service highly recommended

Superior Court Chief Justice Barbara Rouse, right,  Dukes County Superior Court Associate Justice Richard Chin and Dukes County Superior Court clerk of court Joe Sollitto hosted a group of students. — Photo by Michael Cummo
Superior Court Chief Justice Barbara Rouse, right, Dukes County Superior Court Associate Justice Richard Chin and Dukes County Superior Court clerk of court Joe Sollitto hosted a group of students. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Ms. Rouse showed students a video that is viewed by all prospective jurors statewide. She said jury duty and voting are two of the most important services a citizen can perform.

“I have found over the years that no matter how reluctant a juror is to serve, I have never encountered one that was disappointed or resentful about serving on a jury afterwards,” Judge Rouse said following the video. “Many have said they find the experience empowering, and that it made them feel a part of democracy.”

She asked Dukes County Superior Court Associate Justice Richard J. Chin, who is now presiding over the fall session of Superior Court, whether he had served on a jury. He said he was impaneled on a jury shortly after he was first appointed to the bench in 1989, for one of the state’s first cases involving domestic abuse and violence.

“As a new judge, it was the best experience I could have had,” Judge Chin said. “It renewed my confidence in the jury system and the responsibility of my fellow jurors.”

Ms. Rouse noted that jury duty has changed for the better over the years. “When I started as a lawyer 30 years ago, judges asked jurors to sit for the duration of the trial and keep their mouths shut, and then listen to the judge tell them about the relevant law,” she said.

Now, she added, more and more judges are allowing jurors to take notes, to ask questions of witnesses in civil cases, and to receive written or taped instructions to involve them in the decision-making process.

“I hope you will get the experience to serve as a juror someday,” she told the students. “I think you will enjoy it and take away a lot from it.”

Judge Rouse explained that the Superior Court handles both criminal and civil actions with a value over $25,000. There are 82 judges in the Superior Court who circulate around the state’s 24 courthouses.

She pointed out that Massachusetts judges are appointed for life, rather than elected as in most states, which gives them the advantage of making decisions without fear of losing favor with campaign contributors or being ousted for unpopular rulings.

Questions for the judges

After discussing juror service and how the court system works, Chief Justice Rouse handed out brochures that included a student’s guide to jury duty.

Ms. Williamson invited the students to observe a session of District Court anytime, particularly small claims court, which is held on Wednesday afternoons. “We deal with some Judge Judy type cases I think you might find very interesting,” she said.

Judge Rouse allowed time near the forum’s end for questions from students.

“What is the hardest aspect of being a judge?” Josie Iadicicco asked.

The chief justice deferred to Judge Chin.

“The hardest part is sentencing,” he said. “When you have to deprive someone of their liberty, that’s one of the most important things we do, and we take it very seriously. It’s always a difficult task.”

Ms. Rouse agreed. “Judges have responsibilities that only they can discharge, and sentencing is one of them,” she said.

Molly Houghton asked whether a judge can overrule a jury verdict.

“Yes, but we exercise that very sparingly,” Chief Justice Rouse said. “In 30 years, I may have done that two to three times.”

Justine Cassel asked if she ever overruled her own opinion.

“We rarely exercise that authority,” Ms. Rouse said. “We have appellate courts that just look at all of the records of a case to see if legal errors have been made.”

Edgartown attorney Martin Tomassian wrapped up the forum by inviting the students to participate in the Massachusetts Bar Association’s High School Mock Trial Program next spring.

“I hope I can encourage you to go on and participate in our democracy,” Judge Rouse said in closing. “And for all of you who want to become lawyers, I hope your dream comes true.”

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The public fishing pier in Oak Bluffs is a popular destination that is enjoyed by fishermen and non-fishermen alike. —File photo by Nelson Sigelman

Acting on a request from the state Division of Marine Fisheries, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) last month approved modifications to the Oak Bluffs public fishing pier that will include bait-cutting surfaces on the railing and a hand-operated water pump. But the MVC scaled back a request to place solar powered lights along the length of the pier, which has become a popular stroll.

The MVC review sparked some sharp exchanges among the commissioners. Several commission members disagreed on whether the improvements were significant enough to require a public hearing, and whether the addition of lights is necessary.

Funded and built by the state’s Office of Fishing and Boating Access (FBA), the pier is the largest public saltwater pier in the state. The MVC approved the pier as a development of regional impact over the objections of abutters on November 18, 2010. A grand opening attended by town and state officials was held on June 19, 2014.

In a recap of the project at the MVC’s September 18 meeting, staff coastal planner Jo-Ann Taylor reminded the commissioners that the DRI decision included two conditions relevant to the proposed modifications: that the pier would not be lighted, and that it would not be equipped with amenities such as running water and electricity, according to a televised recording of the meeting.

Public hearing or not?

The MVC’s first battle line was over the need for a public hearing.

“The land use planning committee [LUPC] did recommend that because the subject of lights on the pier was a concern during the original approval, and it seemed if we were going to change something of concern where we had written ‘there shall be none,’ there should be a public hearing,” LUPC chairman Linda Sibley of West Tisbury said.

West Tisbury member Erik Hammarlund and Chilmark member Doug Sederholm agreed. “I think it’s important we give the fishing community the opportunity to comment, and the neighbors,” Mr. Sederholm said.

“I completely disagree,” Tisbury member Josh Goldstein said. “I think this is a safety issue. These are tiny lights.

“Doesn’t this commission have better things to do? This is an outrageous waste of our time, and this is why people think the commission is such a waste.”

Chilmark member Joan Malkin said that although she understood Mr. Goldstein’s position, she thought a hearing was needed and it would be helpful for the commissioners and public to see a couple of sample solar lights installed at the pier in advance.

“I would like to expedite it, but it seems ridiculous but necessary to go through the process,” Ms. Malkin said.

Ross Kessler, Public Access Coordinator for the Division of Marine Fisheries, had installed some sample solar lights on a post in the MVC’s driveway before the meeting. On a suggestion by Kathy Newman of Aquinnah, commissioners went outside to look at the lights. On their return, MVC chairman Fred Hancock called for a vote on a motion that the proposed modifications would require a public hearing. It was defeated 7 to 6.

Lights for safety — or not?

After the public hearing vote, Mr. Hancock said the next question was whether the commissioners wanted to see some sample lights installed on the pier before making a decision.

Mr. Kessler suggested the downward-facing lights be placed low on the inside of the pier posts to illuminate the walkway, and spaced about 20 feet apart, with five along the end of the “L.” He said that DMF would like to take the lights down on November 30 and reinstall them on April 1, to avoid the wear and tear of winter weather.

Mr. Goldstein made a motion to approve the pier modifications as submitted by the applicant. Mr. Hammarlund took the lead when Mr. Hancock asked if there was further discussion.

“I think that putting lights on is ridiculous,” said Mr. Hammarlund, who practices law in Vineyard Haven. “Yes, of course, it is safer — well, it is and it isn’t — lights, when you make things safer, it tempts people to use them.

“You’re more likely to go out there on a slippery night if there are lights than you would if it’s dark,” he added, noting they were also “ugly.”

Ms. Newman said she agreed with Ms. Malkin and would like Mr. Kessler to install a few lights on the pier first to see what it would look like.

“We’re going to ask the state to put them up, and then if we say no, they’ll have to pay to take them down?” Mr. Goldstein questioned.

“We’d be very willing to put them up at the end in the L, so where people are fishing at night there would be some illumination to tie a knot or unhook a fish,” Mr. Kessler said.

“Can I ask how did the need for lights come up; is there a safety issue?” Ms. Newman continued.

“Jesus, yes,” commissioner Clarence “Trip” Barnes of Tisbury exclaimed.

“How many people have been hurt on the dock?” Mr. Hammarlund asked.

“We had a visit over here this spring before the ribbon-cutting, and some of our administrators came,” Mr. Kessler explained. “One of first things our director brought up was, why aren’t there any lights on the pier? We were a major funder to the pier, but we were not the engineers and didn’t deal with any of the permitting.”

Differences of opinion among fishermen about the need for lighting at the pier also came up.

“It may appear to be a no-brainer to put lights on for safety. However, I was approached by two different members of the fishing community in the past week, both of whom thought it was absurd to put lights out there,” Mr. Sederholm said. Mr. Hancock asked if they said why.

“For one thing, they said fishermen always have their own lights; that was their main reason,” Mr. Sederholm said, adding, “But of course there are other people who would use it, too.”

“Doug found a couple of fishermen who don’t like lights; I can tell you myself as a fishermen in the Derby, I wouldn’t mind having lights there,” Edgartown commissioner Jim Joyce said. “You’ll find fishermen on either side.”

Expressing concern that the commission would reach a stalemate, Ms. Malkin asked Mr. Kessler, “If the decision was to be only with lights on the L, would that make you happy or not?”

“Right now, yes,” Mr. Kessler said.

Ms. Malkin asked to amend Mr. Goldstein’s motion to approve the pump, bait stations, and lighting at the end of the L, from April 1 to Nov. 30. Mr. Goldstein agreed, “with reluctance.”

In a vote taken by roll call, nine commissioners voted yes. Mr. Hammarlund and Mr. Hancock voted no. Christina Brown of Edgartown, Mr. Sederholm, and Ms. Sibley abstained.

“God, that was painful,” Ms. Malkin exclaimed once the issue had been resolved.

The IHT plans to replace this dilapidated house with a six bedroom affordable apartment building. —File photo by Michael Cummo

The Tisbury zoning board of appeals (ZBA) unanimously approved a six-unit affordable rental apartment building on Water Street at a hearing on Friday. The written decision on a comprehensive permit for the Island Housing Trust’s (IHT) project, with conditions, is expected to be finalized this week.

The initial design proposal included no onsite parking, other than a temporary parking spot for deliveries, pickups, and drop-offs. After an almost two-hour discussion, the ZBA agreed to require two additional parking spaces, and require that IHT ensure parking be available for every apartment unit off-site, whether at the Park and Ride lot or downtown.

Tisbury offers permits for residents on William Street and Main Street in Vineyard Haven to park on side streets overnight. IHT executive director Philippe Jordi said he would ask the selectmen to extend that privilege to the Water Street apartment tenants.

If that is not an option, the cost of an annual Park and Ride lot permit, which is $50 for year-round Tisbury residents, would be included in the rent. Tenants that do not own cars would be given a credit on their lease for the cost of the permit.

In addition, the ZBA agreed to require IHT to incorporate noise and vibration mitigation measures such as triple-paned windows; design a minimum of one unit according to universal design principles to enhance accessibility; prohibit delivery of modular construction materials between Memorial Day and Labor Day; and submit a landscaping plan to the board for approval.

No rubber-stamp process

IHT began planning the Water Street project after it received a donation of an uninhabitable house and property in 2012 from Cronig’s Market owner Steve Bernier, with a deed restricting all or part of its use to affordable housing.

IHT applied for a comprehensive permit from the ZBA through Chapter 40B, a state statute that enables local Zoning Boards of Appeals to approve affordable housing developments under flexible rules if at least 20 to 25 percent of the units have long-term affordability restrictions.

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) reviewed IHT’s proposed Water Street affordable housing as a development of regional impact and approved it last July. Tisbury’s ZBA opened its public hearing on the project on August 14 and closed it on September 11.

The board reopened the hearing on September 23 in order to obtain new information from IHT executive director Philippe Jordi, particularly in regard to a proposed condition, that IHT downsize the project from six units to four units and how that would impact costs.

On Friday, Mr. Jordi explained that four units would make the project ineligible for state funding because a minimum of five is required for rental housing. The lack of onsite parking, however, proved to be the ZBA’s main point of contention.

ZBA chairman Jeff Kristal started the discussion by taking critics of the ZBA’s process to task. He said two people who attended the previous hearing session who were not present Friday had accosted two ZBA members afterwards about taking so long to make a decision.

“For anybody to say we don’t want affordable housing and we don’t want this project, we’re not a rubber stamp of the MVC, and if we were, we wouldn’t be here,” Mr. Kristal said. “We’ll look at it, we’ll make it better, just like the MVC does when they look over their projects, and we’ll all walk away hopefully happy, especially with a 40B.”

Vineyard Conservation Society President Richard Toole, a former MVC member, told Mr. Kristal that the way the commission handled the Water Street project’s review was a compliment to the ZBA, an acknowledgement that a local board could deal with the issues because it knows “the nitty-gritty” better than the commission.

“I think it was a unanimous vote by the commission; it went right through there,” Mr. Toole said. “The MVC said great, give it to you guys, and you’ll know what to do with it.”

The board’s ensuing discussion focused mainly on parking solutions.

“I’m okay with six [units], but I’m not okay with no parking,” Mr. Kristal said.

“I feel the same way,” board member Sue Fairbanks added.

Mr. Kristal argued that tenants would need a place to park temporarily after running errands, for example, to drop off groceries. He suggested that a planting area in front of the building could be reduced to gain space for parking.

Mr. Kristal, Ms. Fairbanks, and board members Mike Ciancio, Tony Holand, and Neal Stiller voted unanimously to close the public hearing and approve the decision with amendments as discussed, with the caveat that they would review the final language in another public session this week if required for clarification.

Public comments

Before the board’s deliberations, Mr. Kristal opened the floor to public comment. The hearing attracted some strong supporters who spoke in favor of the project, including Planning Board chairman Dan Seidman and board member Cheryl Doble, and Carl McLaurin, an Oak Bluffs resident who works for the state’s department of housing and community development.

“Even if there are any things you might not like about the lot, the greater good is we’re providing an excellent location that’s going to be easy for people to live in and meet their needs in all different ways,” Mr. Seidman said.

“Although I know some people think we’re against housing, we’re just against housing in the wrong place,” Mr. Toole said. “We think this project is in the right place. It’s smart growth. Keep new growth in town, and let rural areas stay as rural as possible.”

David Vigneault, executive director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, the agency that will manage the apartment building for IHT, spoke of the current need for affordable housing, especially for households with income below 60 percent of the area median income (AMI). Mr. Vigneault said the housing authority’s wait list has a total of 63 one-person households and 60 two-person households Island-wide that could make use of the apartments. Of those, 25 one-person households and 11 two-person households are in Tisbury.

Although he did not know how many on the waiting list own cars, Mr. Vigneault said, “People live where they can and they’re pretty happy to get the rents that IHT is offering here.”

Tisbury resident Mary McManama said she was fortunate enough to find a small studio apartment she can afford with the housing authority’s help, and would love to live in one of the Water Street apartments. “I have a car but could make arrangements to keep it somewhere other than where I live, if I needed to,” she said.

“Any more cars added to Five Corners, even three, is more traffic, and traffic and the number of cars there is already a problem,” IHT chairman Richard Leonard reminded everyone. “Plenty of people indicated they’d live there without parking, and there are solutions available for them.”

The IHT plans to replace this dilapidated house with a six bedroom affordable apartment building. —File photo by Michael Cummo

Following a two-year planning, financing, and permitting process and with the end in sight, what the Island Housing Trust (IHT) thought was the light at the end of the tunnel for their affordable rental apartment project on Water Street in Vineyard Haven may be a train. IHT executive director Philippe Jordi told The Times this week that the Tisbury Zoning Board of Appeals (ZBA) is contemplating conditions for the project that would render the project no longer financially viable.

“To do these types of projects we need to have equal sums of money invested locally as well as on the state level,” Mr. Jordi told The Times in a phone conversation on Tuesday. “To make this feasible from the state’s perspective, we need to have at least five or more units. That’s the threshold.”

The ZBA is scheduled to meet and render a decision on a comprehensive permit at a meeting at 10 am on Friday at the town hall annex off High Point Lane. ZBA officials said the meeting time, in the morning during working hours, best accommodates the board member’s schedules.

IHT proposes to build a six-unit, two-story, 3,600-square-foot building on the site of a decrepit house adjacent to the Stop & Shop. There would be no onsite parking, other than a temporary parking spot for deliveries, pickups, and drop-offs.

IHT received site eligibility approval for the project from the state Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) last May. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) unanimously approved the project on July 17.

IHT is seeking a comprehensive permit from the ZBA through Chapter 40B, a state statute that enables local Zoning Boards of Appeals to approve affordable housing developments under flexible rules if at least 20 to 25 percent of the units have long-term affordability restrictions.

Tisbury’s ZBA, the last stop on the permitting trail, opened its public hearing on August 14 and closed it on September 11. At its next meeting on September 23, on the advice of lawyer Ilana Quirk, the board voted to reopen the hearing in order to obtain new information from Mr. Jordi that included additional project financial analyses to show how the conditions would impact project costs.

Ms. Quirk cautioned that if a condition or set of conditions would render the project more uneconomic, the board would need to justify whatever it was imposing with evidence of local concerns that would outweigh the regional need for affordable housing.

The ZBA agreed on a set of possible conditions that included a reduction in the number of units from six to four; adding four on-site parking spaces; mitigating vibrations from street traffic; and working with the town and neighboring property owners to install a new sidewalk to the corner of Beach Street. The board asked Mr. Jordi to provide project pro formas to show how the conditions would impact costs, and scheduled the Friday hearing to review the new information and make a decision.

Costs rise

On September 29, Mr. Jordi submitted three financial statements to the ZBA. One described the project as submitted for the original six-unit rental project to the state Department of Housing and Community Development last May. Mr. Jordi noted that the application guidelines for state funding require a five-unit minimum for rental housing projects. Building six units would also work better for modular construction, which is less expensive.

The second financial analysis was based on the proposed ZBA conditions. “The revised pro forma shows a project shortfall of $291,590 that is mainly due to the loss of state DHCD grant funding resulting from the project’s ineligibility under the attached HSF [Housing Stabilization Funding] guidelines,” Mr. Jordi said in his submission. “This budget shortfall makes the project impossible to proceed and is ‘uneconomic.'”

The third statement includes the original six-unit project, with the addition of the cost of year-round parking for the tenants at Tisbury’s park and ride lot off High Point Lane.

“The $350 annual parking permit cost per car is included in the pro forma, resulting in a $30,000 budget shortfall,” Mr. Jordi said. In regard to noise and vibration mitigation, he added that IHT plans for the building to have 9 inches of insulated walls, floors and ceilings, and triple glazed windows.

Mr. Jordi followed up the submissions with an email dated October 3 to the ZBA. “After meeting with the Island Housing Trust’s Project Development Committee this week,” he wrote, “it was determined that fewer than six apartments renders the project uneconomic; parking for more than one car within the proposed site plan is not feasible; and adding more on-site parking to an already failed traffic area is not in our tenants or the public’s best interest.”

In a phone conversation Wednesday, Mr. Jordi said he will be accompanied at Friday’s hearing by an attorney from the Lawyers Clearinghouse, an organization that matches pro bono lawyers with nonprofits and the homeless. Mr. Jordi described IHT’s options.

“In the very unfortunate situation that this is either denied or conditioned in such a way that makes the project unworkable, we have the ability to appeal through what’s called the Housing Appeals Committee, something set up specifically for the 40B process, through the State Department of Housing and Community Development,” Mr. Jordi said. “We’ve never had to do this, and we hope we never will, but it is an option if we’re forced to.”

Collaborative effort

IHT began planning the Water Street project after it received a donation of an uninhabitable house and property in 2012 from Cronig’s Market owner Steve Bernier, with a deed restricting all or part of its use to affordable housing.

IHT invited several local architects to come up with conceptual designs and held public meetings for neighboring property owners and the public. IHT also worked closely with Tisbury’s Affordable Housing Committee, Planning Board, Historic Commission, and building department to come up with the preferred design.

To gauge the amount of interest in the Water Street apartments, IHT conducted a survey of nearly 100 one- and two-person households on the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority’s rental wait list.

“The overwhelming majority (66 percent) of those who responded were very interested in renting in downtown Vineyard Haven at the proposed Water Street apartments with no on-site parking, 5 percent were somewhat interested, and 29 percent were not interested,” Mr. Jordi said in an email dated October 3 responding to questions from the ZBA.