Authors Posts by Steve Myrick

Steve Myrick

Steve Myrick
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More than two feet of snow in some spots left emergency responders and road crews stretched to the limit.

Seven-year-old Henry Wansiewicz launches his sled off a man-made ramp at Tashmoo overlook on Wednesday afternoon. — Photo by Michael Cummo

After two days and nights of howling winds, driving snow, and way too much time watching snow live shots on Boston TV stations, Islanders began the massive job of digging out from an epic blizzard that dropped a blanket of snow over Martha’s Vineyard.

The cleanup begins: snowblowing on Main Street in Vineyard Haven. – Photo by Steve Myrick
The cleanup begins: snowblowing on Main Street in Vineyard Haven. – Photo by Steve Myrick

According to National Weather Service observers, the storm dumped 27 inches of snow in Oak Bluffs, and 20 inches of snow in Edgartown. The wind carved out random aberrations. Ocean Park in Oak Bluffs was blown nearly bare, down to the frozen grass. Six short blocks away, on Nantucket Avenue, police reported drifts topping eight feet at the height of the storm.

At 9 pm Monday night, northeast winds picked up to a steady 32 mph on the Island, lashing the shoreline with gusts of 44 mph. In the early-morning hours of Tuesday, winds peaked at a sustained 44 mph, with gusts recorded at 67 mph, a bit less than hurricane force. Martha’s Vineyard experienced blizzard conditions, sustained winds exceeding 35 mph and visibility frequently less than a quarter-mile, for 24 consecutive hours.

The temperature at the beginning of the storm was 31 degrees, but fell steadily to 15 degrees before the storm wound down. Driving winds forced the wind-chill factor to dangerous levels.

Aidan Zeigenhorn sleds down a hill in Lagoon Pond on Wednesday. – Photo by Michael Cummo
Aidan Zeigenhorn sleds down a hill in Lagoon Pond on Wednesday. – Photo by Michael Cummo

Coastal flooding was not as severe as feared, with salt spray washing over the seawalls near Farm Pond in Oak Bluffs, the causeway near the Lagoon Pond drawbridge in Vineyard Haven, and minor flooding on Dock Street in Edgartown, all spots frequently vulnerable to less severe ocean storms.

Colder than forecast temperatures made for lighter than expected snow, which helped keep power outages to a minimum. NSTAR positioned additional utility repair crews on the Island before the storm, but there were only a handful of outages. NSTAR reported seven customers without power in West Tisbury, and eight customers without power in Oak Bluffs, midway through the storm. Only two customers remained without power Wednesday morning.

Cleanup

Vasska Fondren, of Brickmans, plows the sidewalk on Main Street in Vineyard Haven on Wednesday morning. — Photo by Michael Cummo
Vasska Fondren, of Brickmans, plows the sidewalk on Main Street in Vineyard Haven on Wednesday morning. — Photo by Michael Cummo

On Wednesday morning, most main roads were plowed and sanded, but town highway crews struggled to clear secondary roads. Police scanners cackled with several calls for help from police and emergency medical personnel trying to check on elderly residents, who could not get through on unplowed roads.

In Vineyard Haven Wednesday morning, a three-foot ridge of snow divided Main Street into two barely passable lanes. At least two vehicles got stuck, blocking traffic for a short time. A Dukes County Communications Center dispatcher issued an advisory, asking fire trucks and ambulances to avoid Main Street.

“We have to contain the snow, so we can shovel it out of there,” said Tisbury department of public works director Glenn Mauk. “There is a lot of snow, and people driving makes it a lot harder for us.” A parking ban for Tisbury streets, which began at 6 pm Monday evening, was still in effect Wednesday morning.

First responders

Most drivers heeded a driving ban imposed as part of a state of emergency declared by Governor Charlie Baker, in effect from 6 pm Monday evening to midnight Tuesday. Even with few vehicles on the road, conditions still made it very difficult for road crews to work, and very difficult for first responders to get to people who needed help during the storm.

On Tuesday, firefighters were alerted to a call of a carbon monoxide alarm at a house on North Neck Road on Chappaquiddick. The 911 dispatcher reported that the responding firefighter had found the road impassable, “so he’s going to walk in.”

About one-half hour later, the firefighter reported back, “Nothing showing at that residence.”

Also Tuesday, an anxious husband called 911 to report that his wife had left her vehicle and was on skis in the Long Point section of West Tisbury, intending to ski to the caretaker’s cottage at the Trustees property, but had texted him to say she felt like going to sleep. Rescue personnel responded, battling deep snow, and later reported that the woman had arrived.

An ambulance got stuck in the snow on a call to a residence on West Chop, and needed help from another emergency medical vehicle to get the patient to the hospital.

Quiet shelter

Unlike past weather emergencies, the Island’s emergency management directors coordinated resources to open one shelter at the Tisbury School, instead of separate shelters in each town. The shelter was mostly dark and empty early Tuesday morning, with only a few of the 30 cots used overnight. Two people sought shelter Monday evening, according to volunteer Brian Kennedy of Oak Bluffs. “We have 11 volunteers from the Island and four Red Cross staff on hand,” Mr. Kennedy told The Times on Tuesday morning. “We fed eight off-Island utility crews earlier in the morning.”

Cancellations

The storm prompted school superintendent James Weiss to cancel all Island schools on Tuesday, Wednesday and again on Thursday. Mr. Weiss said roads remained very slipper prompting him to cancel school a third day.

The Steamship Authority stopped running boats at 6 pm Monday evening as the weather worsened, and did not resume service until Wednesday morning.

Most businesses closed Tuesday. The few stalwarts included the Stop and Shop and Cumberland Farms.

The Dukes County courthouse was closed Tuesday and Wednesday, as were most Island town offices.

The popular Vineyard Haven boutique will make its final sale on Saturday.

Daisy Kimberly is closing Alley Cat, after 25 years selling women's clothing and shoes on Main Street in Vineyard Haven. – Photos by Michael Cummo

After 25 years on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, countless women sent home with stylish new outfits, and many lifelong friendships made, Daisy Kimberly will close the doors of Alley Cat on Saturday, Jan. 31. She calls her upscale women’s clothing and shoe store a “destination boutique,” because so many of her customers make special trips, including many from off-Island, to shop at the 66 Main Street location.

Her secret for keeping a successful business going in a highly seasonal economy, through economic boom and bust, for a quarter of a century?

“Dogged determination, and denial,” Ms. Kimberly said this week as she prepared for her final few days open for business. While she won’t be retiring, she hasn’t settled on the next chapter of her life yet.

“Nobody can do anything forever. I have put, for 25 years, all of my creative energies, all of my thought, all of my efforts into this store. I’m kind of curious to see what might emerge from that.”

Ms. Kimberly said there was a collision of coincidences large and small that caused her to step back and evaluate the business climate.

“It has been a dodgy couple of years in terms of sales,” she said. “I think the Internet may have been a factor. I just found that when I thought about going back to New York and buying again, it was with a sigh of resignation, and when I thought, what if I just didn’t do it, I got really elated. A lot of possibilities emerged from that.”

She took other coincidences as a signal that it was time to close the shop. She rented a parking space from Beadniks on Church Street for 30 years, but when that business closed last spring, she lost her spot. Her building needed a new heat pump, and the installation behind the store took the space of a small courtyard where she and her employees took breaks. She made a mental list of the pluses and minuses of another year in business.

“What I won’t miss is a little bit longer than what I will miss,” she said.

Customers had an unusually close bond with the store and its owner. Ms. Kimberly said several longtime patrons came to the store in tears when they heard the news that she would close the doors for good.

Alley-Cat-Closing-2.JPG“I have a really solid corps of really loyal customers,” she said. “I like to make it a cross between a personal dressing room and a clubhouse. One of my friends called it a combination of psychology and show biz. We’ve been therapists in here, we’ve been medical advisors at times. We’ve heard many super-personal stories from people. It’s pretty great.”

Many customers looked forward to the annual Alley Cat “yard sale” in March. She and her friends bring in some of their “gently used” clothing for resale, along with marked-down merchandise left over from the previous season. This year, she is moving the yard sale up to the final two days she is open, Friday, Jan. 30, and Saturday, Jan. 31.

“It’s usually a madhouse for two days in March,” she said. “But I won’t be here, so why not move it up?”

After a successful start, the business operator said, he was unable to negotiate a workable lease agreement.

Bob's Pizza, on Main Street in Vineyard Haven, is closing. –Photo by Michael Cummo

James Goff and Tanya Chipperfield, who began operating Bob’s Pizza on Main Street in Vineyard Haven in midsummer, closed the popular eatery this week. Mr. Goff said he was unable to come to a lease agreement with the building owner, Chris Sze LLC.

Soon after Mr. Goff and Ms. Chipperfield began serving pizza and sandwiches, word spread through word of mouth and social media that the fare was much improved.

“The response from the Island and Main Street was incredible,” Mr. Goff said. “That showed me how desperate the town is for quality. It was like wildfire; we were popular right away.”

Mr. Goff said the building owner asked for rent that began at $60,000, with incremental increases to $78,000 over an eight-year period. Mr. Goff said the owner also wanted a $25,000 lease fee for each of the first two years of the lease.

“The more we crunched the numbers, the more out of whack the reality seemed to me,” Mr. Goff said. “When I plugged them into a model for running a responsible business, they didn’t match up. Call me crazy, but those numbers don’t match up to me.”

Mr. Goff said he is actively looking for a new location, and hopes to be back in business soon.

“We have an army of Islanders ready to follow us to our next location,” he said. “I’ve got a storage unit full of stuff. The company is formed — we need a roof.”

Contacted by phone Wednesday, Mr. Sze said said he is working with other potential tenants for next season.

“We can’t get a deal, so we’re waiting for next year,” Mr. Sze said. He declined to confirm the terms of the proposed lease with Mr. Goff.

“That’s between me and him, I don’t have any comment on that,” Mr. Sze said. But he added, “$60,000 a year is not a lot, with taxes and everything included, it’s not much.”

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Not need to seek shelter at Island Alpaca farm in Oak Bluffs. Why does this alpaca appear to be smiling?

As the wind howled outside, the Tisbury School gymnasium was eerily dark and empty early Tuesday morning, and only a few of the 30 cots looked like they had been slept in last night. In the school cafeteria, the volunteers outnumbered the evacuees. Only two people sought shelter last night, according to volunteer Brian Kennedy of Oak Bluffs. “We have 11 volunteers from the Island and four Red Cross staff on hand,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We fed eight off-Island utility crews earlier in the morning. The crews were notified that conditions were too dangerous to go out, and went back to their hotel until further instructions.”

Mr. Kennedy said the volunteers had just completed a call with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), and were told all of Nantucket had lost power and it would be days before power is restored: “We’ve been very lucky that the power has stayed on for the most part. We’re in a lot better shape than Nantucket, that’s for sure.”

Mr. Kennedy said the shelter will remain open until further notice.

On Monday, emergency management directors in the six Island towns finalized plans to provide emergency shelter Monday at the Tisbury School.

Island emergency management directors met Monday to plan for the approaching storm.
Island emergency management directors met Monday to plan for the approaching storm.

The Tisbury School at 40 West William Street was used to service all Island residents who needed shelter. Emergency officials decided it would be best to consolidate staff and services in one shelter, rather than open a shelter in each Island town, as they have done in the past.

The Tisbury School opened at 6 pm, Monday night, and was ready to handle a limited number of house pets. Emergency management directors had a plan to open a second shelter if needed.

Emergency officials advised those in need of shelter who cannot travel to call 9-1-1, or their local police department.

Red Cross officials stressed that anyone coming to the shelter should bring medications, and any emergency medical equipment, such as oxygen cylinders. They also encouraged people to bring a change of clothing, any special foods they will need, toiletries, pillows, and blankets.

If bringing a pet, also bring pet food, bowls, medical records including rabies certification, leashes, collars and ID tags.

Emergency officials were more concerned with the probability of high winds and frigid temperatures, than the amount of snow expected.

“There will be drifting snow, and with the extended period of snow it’s going to be tough to keep up with it,” Edgartown emergency management director Peter Shemeth said Monday. “My concern is more with the velocity of the wind, wires coming down, and extended power outages.”

Emergency officials sent at least one message through the Code Red emergency notification system, which automatically dials home phone numbers. They caution people not to be alarmed by the recorded message, but to pay attention to the latest emergency information. Some residents reported receiving multiple messages

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Roger Armstrong was in his Beach Road office Thursday following his guilty plea to three counts of tax fraud in federal court.

Roger A. Armstrong, 61, of Vineyard Haven pleaded guilty to tax fraud in U.S. District Court in Boston January 21. Mr. Armstrong was accused of underreporting more than $800,000 in income on his personal tax returns, over a three-year period, according to a press release from the office of United States Attorney Carmen M. Ortiz.

Mr. Armstrong, a certified public accountant, has an office at 31 Beach Road. He has handled tax preparation and accounting for clients on Martha’s Vineyard for more than 20 years, according to his business profile on the social media business site LinkedIn.

The U.S. attorney’s office said Mr. Armstrong failed to report income from his accounting business, and from rental property in Massachusetts and Florida.

“As a sole proprietor, Mr. Armstrong was required to accurately report his gross receipts and his business profit or loss on his individual income tax returns and also was to report any rental income he received,” the U.S. Attorney’s office said in a press release. “For tax years 2009 through 2011, Mr. Armstrong filed tax returns in which he significantly underreported both his business gross receipts and his rental income. For these three tax years, Mr. Armstrong did not report a total of approximately $790,000 in gross receipts and approximately $47,000 in rental income. As a result of the underreporting, Mr. Armstrong did not pay $200,000 in taxes.”

Mr. Armstrong was released on personal recognizance, after posting an unsecured $10,000 bond. He was ordered to surrender his passport, to refrain from possessing firearms, and to refrain from any use of alcohol.

The maximum sentence is three years in prison, and a $250,000 fine for each offense, though actual sentences are based on federal sentencing guidelines, and are typically less than the maximum penalty.

Sentencing is scheduled for April 28, before U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani.

“There’s a process where there’s a presentence investigation,” Amy Hosner, public information officer for the U.S. Attorney, said. “Each side will prepare a sentencing memorandum to present to the court.”

According to the plea agreement, the U.S. attorney will recommend to the judge that Mr. Armstrong make restitution to the IRS in the amount of $389,365, which includes interest and penalties. They will also recommend a jail sentence on the low end of the federal sentencing guidelines. As part of the plea agreement, the U.S. attorney will not seek additional criminal charges for crimes underlying the tax fraud charges.

According to the Massachusetts Division of Public Licensure, Mr. Armstrong still holds a valid license and certification as a CPA, and has not faced any previous disciplinary action.

On the day after changing his plea to guilty in federal court, Mr. Armstrong was in his Beach Road office. Mr. Armstrong, through an assistant, told The Times he had nothing to say at this time.

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Todd Rebello, an Oak Bluffs businessman and former selectmen, makes his case to audience members for repeal of recent Steamship Authority rate hikes. – Photo by Steve Myrick

The Steamship Authority (SSA) met Tuesday, and took no action in response to an online petition signed by nearly 3,000 people that called on the boatline members to rescind or suspend rate hikes for passenger tickets, Islander excursion rates, and mainland parking that went into effect Jan. 1. About 10 people traveled from the Vineyard to attend the authority’s regular monthly meeting in Woods Hole and make the case for rollbacks in the face of falling fuel prices.

Steamship Authority board members fielded questions from ferry riders Tuesday morning in Woods Hole.
Steamship Authority board members fielded questions from ferry riders Tuesday morning in Woods Hole.

The SSA approved the 2015 operating budget, which included rate hikes, using an estimated cost of $95 per barrel for oil. The price of oil has since plunged to about half that cost.

“This is now creating a multimillion-dollar surplus, and thus should be reason enough to suspend or repeal the current rate increase,” said the petition launched by Todd Rebello, a former Oak Bluffs selectman and businessman.

SSA chairman Marc Hanover of Oak Bluffs, the Martha’s Vineyard member, called for a discussion of the petition as the first item of business, in order to provide ample opportunity for those in attendance to discuss the issue.

SSA general manager Wayne Lamson presented the members with a management report that outlined staff arguments against any rate change. Mr. Lamson said the SSA staff had reviewed current oil-price forecasts. He cited the Wall Street Journal, which predicts prices ranging from $47.15 to $70 per barrel, and the Kiplinger Letter, which forecasts oil will be trading at $70 to $75 by spring.

“Assuming crude oil prices average $65 per barrel in 2015, the authority will effectively spend an estimated $2,600,000 less in vessel fuel costs this year than the amount originally projected,” he said.

He said any fuel savings would be used for other projects, including work at the Vineyard Haven facility, repair of the Oak Bluffs dock, and dry-dock maintenance of the Island Home, which would cost more than previously estimated. Unbudgeted cost increases totaled $1,335,000, he said.

“Given the current uncertainty of fuel prices through the remainder of 2015 and the need to cover additional unbudgeted vessel and terminal repair costs of $1,335,000 from contracts awarded at the end of 2014, the staff is not recommending any changes to the rate increases previously approved by the board in October,” Mr. Lamson said in his recommendation to the members, which he read aloud at the meeting.

Petition politics

Mr. Rebello spoke to the issue at the meeting. He said about 1,700 people from Martha’s Vineyard, about 400 people from Nantucket, and about 300 people who don’t live here year-round but have ties to the Island signed the petition.

“I noticed a name that showed up on the petition yesterday,” Mr. Rebello said. “Tristan Israel, chairman of the all-Island board of selectmen, and a selectman in Tisbury. Greg Coogan, a selectman in Oak Bluffs, and Richard Knabel, a selectman in West Tisbury — they see validity in this petition.”

He said the Steamship Authority board and staff distorted and mislead Vineyard residents about fuel-cost projections. He addressed Mr. Hanover directly, referring to comments Mr. Hanover made during a meeting of the Dukes County Commission on Jan. 14.

“You made statements that the SSA hasn’t raised rates in four years,” Mr. Rebello said. “I’m not going to say that’s a lie, I’m going to say you misspoke. You don’t realize that in all the spin, you’ve raised the same rates.”

“I don’t buy your argument,” Mr. Hanover responded. “You’re framing it wrong again. The only people that benefit from anything that’s done here are the ratepayers.”

“You have dug in your heels,” Mr. Rebello said. “We will yell louder from here forward. If you take the savings on the fuel, it’s more than enough to cover the shortfall.”

Mr. Rebello took aim at $100 million worth of capital costs over the next five years, to include purchase of a new ferry, a new terminal, and office buildings in Woods Hole.

“If you build an office building in Falmouth, that’s not going to affect the way I travel on this boat,” Mr. Rebello said. “Be straightforward with people. Public trust is everything.”

Among several people speaking at the meeting was Tom Hodgson of West Tisbury.

“People on the Vineyard are increasingly stressed by the high cost of travel back and forth,” Mr. Hodgson said. “If they want to go to their child’s off-Island games, it’s costing them upwards of $100 just to get from here to there. It’s a real expense that has a serious impact on people.”

Marie Laursen of Tisbury questioned why the SSA spends money on advertising.

“The reason for all this expansion is the Steamship Authority is simply responding to demand,” Ms. Laursen said. “You are creating the demand, and using that as a basis on which to build business. You’re adding car rentals; that’s got nothing to do with running a ferry.”

Mr. Lamson said the SSA will receive income from renting counter space to rental-car companies, which may help hold down future rate increases.

At the beginning, and at the end of the meeting, SSA board members thanked Vineyard residents for coming to the meeting.

“I want to thank you all very much,” Mr. Hanover said.

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The Dukes County commissioners are headed back to court to fight a battle a judge previously said they are unlikely to win.

The Dukes County Commission building. — Marthas Vineyard Times File Photo

Dukes County commissioners, defendants in a lawsuit brought by the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission, voted in executive session on Jan. 14 to actively defend the county’s position. The vote was a reversal of course for the county commissioners, who on Nov. 12, 2014, faced with a cutoff in funding, voted not to further defend against the lawsuit, the latest chapter in the contentious struggle between the county and its appointed commission over airport authority.

Newly elected county commission Chairman Leon Brathwaite of West Tisbury confirmed Tuesday that the county will be back in court next month.

“I can’t talk about a lot of this that happened, because it was dealt with in executive session,” Mr. Brathwaite said. “We’re not going to be suing anybody. Will the county defend itself? Yeah, we’ll probably defend ourselves.”

The county commission decision to move forward comes after several months of inaction, and a request by the county’s lawyer, Robert Troy of Troy Wall Associates in Bourne, to withdraw from the case because the county advisory board told commissioners it would not authorize any more funds for legal costs. The advisory board is made up of one selectman from each Island town, and has oversight authority over the county budget.

When asked how the county intended to pay for additional legal costs, Mr. Brathwaite said, “That will be an issue that we’ll have to deal with when the time comes.”

County treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders and county manager Martina Thornton are also named as defendants.

The airport commission lawsuit, filed May 5, 2014, asked the Dukes County Superior Court to prevent the county manager from sitting as an ex-officio member of the appointed airport commission; prevent Ms. Mavro Flanders from refusing to pay invoices approved by the airport, and from releasing to the public privileged communications; and prevent the county commission from expanding the airport commission from seven to nine members.

In response, the county filed a counterclaim against the airport commission on May 27, 2014, in which it asked the court to declare the airport commission is under the jurisdiction of Dukes County and that the airport commission is a subdivision and department of Dukes County.

Mr. Brathwaite said he was unaware of the counterclaim, and could not comment on whether the county will vigorously pursue that legal avenue as well.

In a ruling dated August 7, 2014, and another ruling dated Nov. 5, 2014, Dukes County Superior Court Associate Justice Richard J. Chin issued preliminary injunctions against the county on all five major points in the airport commission lawsuit, and said that the county is “unlikely to prevail in the lawsuit.”

Legal developments  

The most recent legal volley in the county-airport standoff came on Dec. 10, when the airport commission served the county commission with a motion for summary judgement, in effect asking Judge Chin to rule in favor of the airport commission before trial, ending the case.

On Tuesday, Jan. 13, attorney David Mackey of the Cambridge firm Anderson & Kreiger, who represents the airport commission, and Mr. Troy appeared before Judge Chin, sitting in Brockton Superior Court.

Mr. Troy asked to withdraw from the case, noting the county advisory board’s unwillingness to continue funding the lawsuit. “On Nov. 13, the county manager notified Robert S. Troy that the Dukes County defendants could not continue defense of the case without additional funds from the Dukes County advisory board,” Mr. Troy said in his motion to withdraw.

Following the hearing, Judge Chin denied Mr. Troy’s motion to withdraw from the case.

Judge Chin gave Mr. Troy until Feb. 9 to answer the motion for summary judgement, and scheduled a hearing on that motion for Feb. 12 in Brockton.

Mr. Troy, the county’s attorney, did not respond to a request for comment on the latest developments. Mr. Mackey declined to comment to The Times.

CAB unaware

In a joint meeting with the county commission on Nov. 24, the county advisory board urged the county commission to quickly negotiate a settlement. They said they would not authorize any more funds for legal costs.

At that meeting, Ms. Thornton said the $16,500 appropriated for legal costs was depleted.

Art Smadbeck, acting chairman of the county advisory board, said Tuesday in a phone interview he was not informed of the county’s decision to reverse its legal strategy.

“The county hasn’t told me anything about it, and the county advisory board hasn’t been asked to authorize any expenditures,” Mr. Smadbeck said.

Open-meeting complaint

In a separate matter, the Massachusetts Attorney General Division of Open Government ruled on Jan. 15 that the county commissioners did not violate the open-meeting law when they met in executive session on August 19 and August 27. In those meetings, the commissioners cited an exception to the open-meeting requirement which allows them to discuss litigation.

The attorney general’s ruling came after county commissioner John Alley of West Tisbury filed a complaint charging the commission’s closed-door discussions about expanding the size of the airport commission from seven to nine members violated the law, and that the matter should have been discussed in open session.

“The discussion was not about the litigation but about how to change the structure of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission (MVAC) in order to exercise control over it,” Mr. Alley wrote in his complaint. “I believe the violation was intentional and preplanned.”

In an answer to Mr. Alley’s complaints, attorney Michael Goldsmith of the Edgartown firm Reynolds, Rappaport, Kaplan, and Hackney, wrote that all discussions were part of the county’s legal strategy.

“The commission raised a strategic concern that the county had limited financial means to continue with the litigation and, therefore, needed to look at alternative strategies to resolve the dispute,” Mr. Goldsmith wrote.

In his ruling, Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Selarsic ruled in favor of the county.

“Although the commission’s discussions included proposing legislation and changing the composition of the airport commission’s membership, these discussions were part of a discussion about resolving the pending litigation,” Mr. Selarsic wrote in his ruling.

The county paid $3,000 to its attorney, Mr. Goldsmith, for his work researching and responding to Mr. Alley’s open-meeting complaint.

At its Sept. 24 meeting, the county voted to expand the airport commission, and appointed two new members. The Dukes County Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction on Nov. 5, preventing the county’s expansion of the airport commission.

Open-records violation

Requests for public records related to the open-meeting complaint were met with rejections and delays by county manager Martina Thornton.

On Sept. 5, 2014, The Times requested a copy of Mr. Alley’s open-meeting complaint, and minutes of relevant minutes of the executive sessions.

On Sept. 13, Ms. Thornton responded, saying she would not provide the records. In an email statement Tuesday, she said she was advised by counsel not to release any documents.

The Times appealed that rejection to the Massachusetts Secretary of State Public Records Division. On Dec. 16, Supervisor of Records Shawn Williams ruled that the county did violate the open-records law, and ordered Ms. Thornton to provide the requested records within 10 days of the order.

On Jan. 9, 2015, Ms. Thornton emailed to The Times the minutes of the August 19 and August 27 executive sessions that were the subject of the complaint. According to the attorney general, those minutes were approved and released to the public by the county commission on Dec. 3, more than a month earlier, but were not forwarded to The Times as requested. County commissioners have still not released minutes of the Sept. 24 executive session where the open-meeting complaint was discussed.

On Jan. 16, two months and 11 days after the public records request, Ms. Thornton’s assistant faxed to The Times, the open-meeting complaint filed by Mr. Alley. Printed prominently on the first page of the complaint form, under the heading “Disclosure of your complaint,” is a declaration that the complaint is a public record.

Ms. Thornton wrote in the email statement that because of vacation time and a personal issue, she did not provide minutes requested until Jan. 9. She said she did not provide the original open-meeting complaint because she assumed The Times got the public record somewhere else.

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Mr. Collins will oversee the department and the search to replace retiring police chief Tony Bettencourt.

Soon to retire Edgartown Police Chief Antone Bettencourt advised selectmen Wednesday morning to appoint Jack Collins as acting police chief while they begin a search for his replacement. – Photo by Michael Cummo

In a special Wednesday morning meeting, Edgartown selectmen voted to appoint labor counsel Jack Collins acting police chief, effective on a date to be determined later. Mr. Collins will take over the reins from police chief Antone (Tony) Bettencourt, who last week announced his plan to retire in May.

Selectmen, acting on the advice of Chief Bettencourt, will ask Mr. Collins, who was not present Wednesday morning, to help guide the search and make a recommendation on Chief Bettencourt’s replacement. Mr. Collins is a seasonal resident of Chilmark, where he is also a special police officer. He has served as special labor counsel for Edgartown and Oak Bluffs, and is the president of the Massachusetts Association of Chiefs of Police.

“My recommendation is that you hire Jack Collins to be acting police chief,” Mr. Bettencourt told the board at the Wednesday-morning meeting continued from the previous evening. “He’ll be able to make a more educated decision, because he’ll be working with the officers. He won’t be a threat to the officers; he’s not looking for a police chief’s job.”

Selectman Michael Donaroma said the appointment will help the board make a decision.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Mr. Donaroma said. “He doesn’t want the chief’s job. I know it will definitely help me with the interview process, having someone like that looking over the process.”

The chief said he had discussed the matter with Mr. Collins, and he is agreeable to the appointment as acting chief.

In a phone interview Wednesday afternoon, Mr. Collins said he was looking forward to the assignment.

“I’m flattered and happy to have the opportunity to provide that service to the town,” Mr. Collins said. “I’ve enjoyed working with the people of the Edgartown police department, usually as a trainer. This will be different. I’m very happy the initiative came from the officers.”

The appointment will become effective when Chief Bettencourt leaves the department. While his retirement is effective May 2, he expects to finish his tenure as chief some time in March by taking accrued vacation time. He said he has not yet determined that date.

Chairman Art Smadbeck said he was surprised after reading Chief Bettencourt’s resignation letter.

“I truly understand that for you, it is the right time,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “Congratulations on your 32 years of dedicated service to the town; that’s more than most people give to their community.”

Selectman Margaret Serpa recused herself from Wednesday’s meeting because of a conflict of interest. Chief Bettencourt is her nephew.

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Marc Hanover told the Dukes County commissioners there will be no rollback of recent rate hikes.

On January 14, County clerk Joseph Sollitto (foreground) administered the oath of office to county commissioners (left to right) John Alley, Christine Todd, Leon Brathwaite, David Holway, and Gretchen Tucker Underwood. Commissioners Leonard Jason, Jr., and Tristan Israel are hidden from view. – Photo by Steve Myrick

Martha’s Vineyard Steamship Authority member Marc Hanover defended the authority’s business operations and capital improvement plans at a meeting of the Dukes County commission, his appointing authority, last week. Mr. Hanover, an Oak Bluffs businessman, also soundly rejected a call for the boatline to roll back or suspend rate hikes that took effect on Jan. 1.

Mr. Hanover offered an annual report and responded to questions from members of the audience who presented signatures gathered on an online petition signed by more than 3,000 people, calling for repeal of recent price increases.

Referring to a Letter to the Editor published in The Times on Dec. 3, signed by Oak Bluffs businessman and former selectman Todd Rebello, Mr. Hanover said, “Statements were made that net operating income disappears, plugs holes, and there are millions in surpluses. These statements are irresponsible, ridiculous. It angers me that somebody can go out and make false statements like this; it’s ridiculous.”

Mr. Hanover dismissed some of the SSA critics as uninformed. “The petition, I would have signed it myself, if I wasn’t aware of the reality of the situation,” Mr. Hanover said. “A lot of people have signed it. A lot of people that have signed it have no idea what the Steamship Authority is. I disagree with them.”

County commissioner Tristan Israel, a Tisbury selectman, asked Mr. Hanover to consider the effect of capital projects on ticket prices.

“The Steamship Authority makes a value judgement to build a $38 million boat, and on the heels of that, they make a value judgement to build a $60 million terminal in Woods Hole,” he said. “Our rates have been going up and up over the past decade. The petition is showing people’s frustration.”

Marie Laursen of Tisbury told Mr. Hanover ratepayers need a break from increased costs.

“The point of the petition is to address the rate increases,” Ms. Laursen said. “Is there any possibility that those rate increases could be put on hold temporarily, until $100 million worth of projects in the pipeline get discussed, and how that affects our rates in the future?”

“We need a break. We travel much more often than summer visitors. We’re going back and forth a lot more,” she said.

Mr. Hanover pointed to poor Island attendance at SSA public meetings. He said he is disappointed that few people attend the two SSA monthly business meetings held each year on Martha’s Vineyard. County commissioners agreed to facilitate an informational meeting on the Island, at a time and place yet to be determined.

Other business

The first county commission meeting of the new year began with a swearing-in ceremony. County clerk Joseph Sollitto gave the oath of office to county treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders, to begin a new six-year term. Then he swore in re-elected county commissioners Leonard Jason Jr. of Chilmark, Leon Brathwaite and John Alley of West Tisbury, Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs, Mr. Israel of Tisbury, and David Holway of Edgartown. Also sworn in was newly elected commissioner Gretchen Tucker Underwood of Oak Bluffs.

Commissioners elected Mr. Brathwaite chairman, and Ms. Todd vice-chairman.
Mr. Sollitto also thanked retiring Martha’s Vineyard parking clerk Carol Grant for her public service. “I want to compliment, and let the commissioners know, she’s the best parking clerk I’ve worked with in my 34 years,” Mr. Sollitto said. Mr. Sollitto is the hearing officer for disputed tickets.

The commission offered its gratitude. “We’re going to miss you, and I want to thank you on behalf of the commissioners for the work you’ve done over the years,” Mr. Brathwaite said.

Ms. Grant said there will be no interruption in services, as senior financial clerk Donna Michalski assumes the duties of parking clerk.

“Thank you for your support,” Ms. Grant said. “Donna will pick up where I’m leaving off. It should be a nice smooth transition.”

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After more than four years at the helm of the Edgartown police department, Chief Antone “Tony” Bettencourt announced Wednesday in a letter to selectmen that he will retire, effective May 2.

“I am excited about my impending retirement, but wanted to take this opportunity to thank you for all of the opportunities that I have experienced working for the town of Edgartown,” Chief Bettencourt said in a letter to selectmen dated Jan. 14. “I have made the decision to leave because I believe it is both the right time for me, and more importantly, the right time for my family.”

Art Smadbeck, chairman of the board of selectmen, said the news came as somewhat of a surprise.

“The chief has done a wonderful job for the town of Edgartown, not just the years he has been chief, but his entire career on the Edgartown police department,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “Although it is a well-deserved retirement, I’m sorry to see the chief leave. The good news is, he’s continued to build a great department that will be a credit to his tenure.”

Edgartown Police Chief Tony Bettencourt and Edgartown police officer Dayce Moore (right) shown participating in a training exercise in April 2014.
Edgartown Police Chief Tony Bettencourt and Edgartown police officer Dayce Moore (right) shown participating in a training exercise in April 2014.

Chief Bettencourt, 49, and his wife have three daughters. He said he had always hoped to retire at a relatively young age.

“My family and I have been talking about it for a while,” he said in a phone interview Thursday afternoon. “It’s maybe a year earlier than I expected, but I’m leaving a great department that’s in great shape. I want to go out happy. I took this job just a couple weeks after I turned 18 years old. I feel like I lost out a bit in the beginning part of my life, when all my friends were traveling, going to college. I’m going to make it up on the other end; that was always my goal.”

Chief Bettencourt said he is not leaving the position because of any specific incident or single reason. But the 24/7 nature of the position entered his thoughts as he considered retirement.

“I’m not sour, I could still keep doing this job,” Mr. Bettencourt said. “It’s not something I’m running away from. I love the job, it’s just, 32 years of doing this job wears on you. You’re always thinking about it. It’s time for me to do something else.”

He pointed to changes in the command staff, an increase in the number of police officers on the force, and efforts to update training and technology, as some of the highlights of his tenure.

“I immediately put an officer in the school, I’m really proud of that program,” Chief Bettencourt said. “We’re getting good stuff done. I think it comes from good morale.”

Selectmen appointed Mr. Bettencourt acting chief in June 2010 following the retirement of Chief Paul Condlin after 15 years in the top post. Selectmen made the appointment official in August of that year.

In October 2013, Edgartown selectmen expressed confidence in their chief, and renewed his contract for another three years at a salary of $167,000. The contract, which changed little over the years, pegged the chief’s salary to the salary of the highest-paid patrolman on the veteran police force, and included longevity pay tied to Mr. Bettencourt’s years on the force.

He oversees a $3 million department budget, and a force of 18 full-time officers, two special officers, and five traffic officers who work mostly during the busy summer months.

Edgartown selectmen will now turn their attention to appointing a new chief. Chief Bettencourt said he will not make a recommendation, though he said there are many capable candidates within the department.

“It’s a tough decision, but I don’t think it’s a decision I should make,” he said. “I’m not going to be there. The officers should have input, and the people that have been around a long time should have some sort of priority, because experience goes a long way.”

Selectmen plan to enlist the help of labor counsel Jack Collins to guide the process of choosing a successor for Chief Bettencourt. Mr. Collins, a former police officer, worked closely with town officials during the transition from Chief Condlin to Chief Bettencourt.

Chief Bettencourt is a native and lifelong resident of Edgartown; he rose through the department ranks to the top job in the Island’s largest police force. He began his career as a summer police officer a few weeks after he graduated from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School.

Over the years, Chief Bettencourt said he has seen many changes in his town and his department, including requirements for more specialized training, enormous advances in technology, and a more community-based approach to law enforcement.

“Back in the day, when the bars closed, it kind of wrapped up the street,” he said. “That doesn’t happen now. There was no community policing back then. Now we’re involved in the schools, the senior centers, we’re spread out all over the place being proactive, not just answering calls.”

He expects to devote much of his time to his family business, working with his wife and three daughters.

“You’ll see me making ice cream at the Dairy Queen,” he said. “I’ll be hands-on. I plan on doing as much fishing as I possibly can, and hunting in the fall, and probably visiting my father in Florida more in the winter.”

Chief Bettencourt said he will leave active management of the department earlier than May 2, by taking accrued vacation time, but that date has not yet been determined.