Authors Posts by Steve Myrick

Steve Myrick

Steve Myrick
1279 POSTS 0 COMMENTS

by -
0
A small group gathered at an informal meeting of the Martha's Vineyard Fishermen's Preservation Trust at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury Tuesday. —Photo by Steve Myrick

Leaders of the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust (MVFPT) invited Island fishermen to a public meeting Tuesday night as part of a renewed effort to clear the air about the purpose of the organization and to listen to all voices while moving forward with plans to build an organization that can support the Vineyard fishing industry.

The effort to cast a wide net and attract fishermen from across the Island fell short Tuesday evening at the Agricultural Hall in West Tisbury. Only a small group of mostly up-Island fisherman attended what newly elected president John Keene of Chilmark described as a “clear the air” session. While disappointed in the turnout of just 11 people with ties to the fishing industry, Mr. Keene said he was encouraged that the Trust is moving in the right direction, after a period of inactivity.

Mr. Keene said there is no certainty the organization will succeed. “But I feel there’s a chance,” he said. “But it would have to be with everyone supporting it.”

Hard feelings are anchored in a lawsuit that the Dukes County Fishermen’s Association, the precursor to the MVFPT, filed to stop Cape Wind’s project on Horseshoe Shoals, prime fishing grounds for Island fishermen. In 2012, that group agreed to settle the lawsuit, for an amount later revealed to by $1.25 million, and promised to support the project, while working with Cape Wind to resolve issues that affect fishing.

Hammered out in secret, the agreement was roundly criticized by many local fishermen. In 2010, the MVFPT, an entirely separate legal entity, was formed to administer the proceeds from that settlement.

The group has not received any funds. The agreement called for a payment of $250,000 once Cape Wind completes its financing, and a $1 million payment when construction is complete, according to several sources familiar with the agreement.

A mistake

Mr. Keene made the lawsuit settlement the first item for discussion at Tuesday’s informal meeting.

“How could they sign off on that without the people who were involved even knowing about it,” asked Steve Larsen, a lobster fisherman from Menemsha. “If we don’t stick together, why be in a group? You may wonder why a lot more people aren’t here. They probably don’t trust us.”

Warren Doty, a Chilmark selectman and the founding president of the two fishermen’s organizations, said the settlement was a mistake.

“I take responsibility for not communicating enough of what happened with Cape Wind,” he said. “It was kind of a swirling thing happening. We had lawyers calling every day asking us if we were going to send more money. They suggested to try to see if they could get a settlement. That was a mistake.”

Fishermen at the meeting said that they hope Cape Wind does not get built, that they do not expect to see any of the settlement money, and that they are not making any future plans based on the settlement.

Fishing issues

After discussing the fallout from the Cape Wind settlement, Mr. Keene steered the discussion to the challenges facing local fishermen and how the Fishermen’s Preservation Trust might help.

Several fishermen expressed concerns about a new Ocean Management Plan released recently by state officials. It identified several areas near Martha’s Vineyard which might be used as pilot projects to mine sand for beach renourishment.

“Smaller boat fishing, more precisely Island smaller boat fishing, is under fire not just from sand mining projects, not just from losing access and quotas,” said MVFPT board member Wesley Brighton, a conch fisherman from Chilmark. “The entire front, walls are closing in. The reason I’m putting my time into this is because we want to protect our Island small boat fishery.”

The Trust is also exploring ways to facilitate financing for upgrading fishing equipment, and to secure fishing permits, among other issues.

“There are situations that I see an opportunity to get a permit, but financing just isn’t available,” Mr. Brighton said. “We don’t want to become a bank, but if we partner with a bank to help secure the loan, that’s more of a public relationship. Providing the opportunity is most important part.”

The group also discussed ways to set qualifications for financial help from MVFPT, including the possibility of setting up a separate panel to evaluate applications, in order to avoid any appearance of favoritism.

Reorganization

After a long period of dormancy, members of the Fishermen’s Preservation Trust began meeting regularly last spring. Board members said they have begun to correct some organizational issues, including the loss of their tax-exempt status.

As Mr. Doty steps away from a lead role in the group, the board is expanding to include a more diverse group. A new addition is David White, artistic and executive director of The Yard, a contemporary dance and performance center. Mr. Keene said that Mr. White will bring experience in fundraising and nonprofit administration to the group.

The board also includes fisherman Matthew Mayhew of Chilmark, Katherine Carroll of Chilmark, and Shelley Edmundson of Vineyard Haven, a fisheries scientist.

Mr. Keene asked Tuesday’s attendees to generate some momentum for a follow-up meeting, planned for Tuesday, December 16, at 5 pm. The location is yet to be determined.

“If you guys think it’s worthwhile coming, it would be great to spread the word,” Mr. Keene said. “If everyone could be ambassadors to spread the word, that it’s kind of a new energy, we’ll give it our best shot.”

Mr. Keene said he hopes to invite members of the Cape Cod Commercial Fishermen’s Alliance to the next meeting. The Cape group has advocated successfully on fisheries issues and is advising the MVFPT.

The original version of this online article was updated to reflect that Katherine Carroll also serves on the board of the Fishermen’s Preservation Trust.

by -
0
A change in the seasonal ferry schedule resulted in complaints about long standby lines in Vineyard Haven this week.—Photo by Steve Myrick

The Steamship Authority (SSA) board approved a slate of rate hikes at their regular monthly meeting held in Oak Bluffs Tuesday. Beginning January 1, the discounted vehicle excursion fare for Island residents, parking rates at Falmouth lots, and passenger fares for all travelers will increase.

The members also got an earful from residents dissatisfied with the cleanliness and condition of SSA ferries and terminals and heard complaints about boat scheduling that resulted in long standby lines and reduced availability for vehicle passage after Columbus Day.

Fuel costs raised

The board voted unanimously to approve rate hikes, which SSA general manager Wayne Lamson said are needed to cover increased operating costs projected for 2015, including fuel costs, vessel maintenance, employee salaries, health care benefits, and pension benefits.

In total, management needs $1,900,000 from anticipated rate increases to meet its projected net operating income next year of around $3,619,000. Based on a formula under which each route pays for its cost of service, $1,400,000 would need to come from the Vineyard side of the ledger and $500,000 from Nantucket.

Standard passenger fares on Martha’s Vineyard routes will increase from $8 to $8.50; senior and child fares will increase from $4 to $4.50. A book of 10 adult passenger fares will rise from $65 to $69. The discounted roundtrip excursion vehicle rate for Island residents will increase by $2, from $61 to $63 off-season and $92 to $94 in-season. The off-season parking rate for Falmouth satellite lots will remain at $10, but will increase to $13 for the shoulder seasons, and from $13 to $15 in-season.

Several members questioned the budget projection for fuel costs, given the current downward trend in wholesale oil prices.

“The market is correcting right now,” SSA treasurer Robert Davis said. “Talking with our consultant, he is still feeling the $90 range is a good range to be targeting.”

In public comment, Oak Bluffs businessman Todd Rebello, a former selectman, noted that the current price of oil is $82 per barrel. He said most business are enjoying unexpected savings this year, and projecting lower costs next year.

“I do believe there is a little fluff in the potential fuel budget that could be significant,” said Mr. Rebello. “You may see a million dollars plus [below projections]. The projection won’t come back to the ratepayers. You’ll find another place in the budget to plug a hole.”

Marc Hanover, SSA Vineyard member, said he thought the budget was lean, but he expressed concern at cost projections that may require more rate hikes in 2016. “I am terrified that you’re going to be looking for another $3.6 million next year,” Mr. Hanover, an Oak Bluffs businessman said. “You understand my concern. I’d like to be able to continue living on Martha’s Vineyard.”

Mr. Lamson said the SSA’s five-year plan projects cost increases that average less than 2 percent per year, in order to finance a new hybrid freight/passenger boat, and to build the new terminal in Woods Hole.

Service issues

The public also had concerns. During the period of the meeting reserved for public comment, Oak Bluffs selectman Greg Coogan said he and other public officials received many complaints from residents forced to wait in standby lines for six hours or more, following a change in the seasonal schedule after Columbus Day when a freight boat was taken out of service.

“I did hear from a lot of people who spent all morning, or were turned away and told to come back,” Mr. Coogan said.

Mr. Hanover said he also received numerous complaints. “We need to extend the schedule, or get some extra freight boats,” Mr. Hanover said. “It’s crazy. It’s very difficult to get off.”

Mr. Lamson said his staff was aware of the issues, and will evaluate the fall schedule to come up with a better solution.

Mr. Coogan said he has also fielded complaints from merchants and residents who questioned the number of Oak Bluffs boats shifted to Vineyard Haven because of weather conditions this fall.

“It does make an impact when they don’t run, not only for the merchants but also for the people rushing to try to catch a boat,” Mr. Coogan said. “Some days it seems like they ought to run. I’m sure there are issues the boat captains and the people working on the dock think are important, but sometimes it doesn’t seem fair.”

There were several complaints about the cleanliness of bathrooms on boats and in the terminals, as well as the general level of passenger services.

“I have been noticing the condition of the ferries that I have been on, both the Island Home and the freight boat, are really dirty,” said Jennifer Parkinson of Oak Bluffs. “I’m very disappointed. When we’re paying millions of dollars for personnel, I never see them. Where are they? We’re charging people more money, and giving them less.”

Sea change

In other business Tuesday, the board renewed the licensing agreement under which the Sea Streak fast passenger ferry operates between New Bedford and Martha’s Vineyard in the summer months with one significant change. In the past, Sea Streak made three daily trips to and from Oak Bluffs, and two daily trips to and from Vineyard Haven. Next summer, all trips will arrive and depart from Oak Bluffs, except for days when weather forces the boat to divert to Vineyard Haven.

The board also approved a new contract for the Island Queen, which carries passengers from Falmouth to Oak Bluffs. The new contract will allow the Island Queen to begin a full schedule of trips on June 12, 2015, one week earlier than previously allowed under the old contract.

In other action, the board approved refinancing of bonds to take advantage of lower interest rates. Mr. Davis estimates the refinancing will save the SSA $2.3 million over a seven year period.

The board also approved the purchase and construction of a modular building for the Palmer Avenue parking lot, and another for the Landers Road parking lot. The buildings will house rest room facilities, office space, and an employee break room. The SSA intends to rent space and provide parking spots for a rental car franchise in the new building at the Palmer Avenue lot.

by -
1

Highway crews are scheduled to begin extensive paving projects in the downtown area of Edgartown on Tuesday, with significant traffic detours and delays expected.

On Tuesday, crews will begin grinding pavement on School Street. There will be no through traffic, and no parking along the entire length of School Street while work is underway.

On Wednesday, work crews plan to reduce Pease’s Point Way between Main Street and the police station to one-way traffic, alternately shared in both directions.

On Thursday, Meshacket Way between  the entrance to the Island Grove development, (Marsh Hawk Circle), and the old town landfill, will be limited to one way traffic shared in both directions.

Heavy rain is forecast for those three days,  but the grinding work will go on rain or shine, according to highway superintendent Stuart Fuller.

Paving will continue next week, when the highway department will announce delays and detours for that work.

by -
6
The Drug Task Force displayed heroin, money, and paraphernalia following the arrest of a suspected drug dealer. —Photo courtesy of Martha's Vineyard Drug Task Force

Members of the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force arrested Justin Clark, 20, and Brandon Francis, 22, on drug charges Friday morning following a coordinated raid on a house located at 10 Chambers Way in Edgartown.

Police executed a search warrant at the Edgartown home shortly after 10 am and seized ten grams of heroin packaged for distribution, various distribution paraphernalia, and 2.5 ecstasy pills, according to a statement released by Oak Bluffs and Edgartown police.

Mr. Francis was also charged with possession of a small amount of psilocybin mushrooms, an illegal hallucinogenic drug.

The home is owned by Gretchen Wean of Edgartown, according to assessors records.

In a joint statement Edgartown and Oak Bluffs police said that heroin remains prevalent on Martha’s Vineyard, with tragic consequences. Police cited two recent heroin overdoses, one of them fatal, and asked for cooperation from Island residents.

“It’s the same thing we’ve been experiencing for the last couple of years,” Edgartown Det. Sgt. Chris Dolby told The Times. “It’s just to keep it in people’s minds that it’s going on. For heroin in particular, it’s life and death. It’s pretty prevalent.”
On October 1, Oak Bluffs EMTs used Narcan, a drug that counteracts the effects of heroin, to resuscitate an Eastville man who had overdosed. One police officer familiar with the incident said the man was completely unresponsive, in respiratory arrest and hypoxic, meaning he was literally blue. The Narcan saved the man’s life, according to the officer.

by -
2
Attorney Susan Whalen defended the Martha's Vineyard Airport Commission against a lawsuit by fired employee Beth Tessmer. Attorney Mark Bodner, represented the Dukes County Commission in that lawsuit. —Photo by Steve Myrick

Superior Court Associate Justice Richard J. Chin, in an order dated Thursday, October 9, denied a request by a lawyer representing the Martha’s Vineyard Airport commission that he dismiss two separate lawsuits filed by fired airport employee Beth Tessmer against the airport commission, Dukes County Commission, individual board members, and executives of the two commissions.

In an October 8 hearing in Dukes County Superior Court, airport commission attorney Susan Whalen argued that Ms. Tessmer’s two lawsuits and a separate complaint before the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD) all essentially covered the same allegations, and should not be allowed to proceed at the same time under court rules. She also argued that Ms. Tessmer’s attorney, former Tisbury police chief Ted Saulnier, violated court rules in filing the second lawsuit in Superior Court.

The first lawsuitasks the court to return Ms. Tessmer to her job as a management executive at the airport. The court said the legal action can move forward, and Superior Court is the proper legal venue.

“Dismissal is not appropriate and the court must make a declaration of the rights of the parties,” Judge Chin wrote in his order.

The second lawsuit, a 45-page complaint, which alleges slander and defamation, discrimination, retaliation under the Massachusetts “whistle-blower” law, wrongful discharge, denial of due process, civil rights violations, and civil conspiracy, was also allowed by Judge Chin, but not without comment.

“It does not contain averments that are ‘simple, concise and direct,’” Judge Chin wrote in his order. “It is verbose and confusing and is subject to dismissal.”

Judge Chin ordered Mr. Saulnier to file an amended complaint or see it dismissed. To file the amended complaint, Ms. Tessmer must withdraw her sexual harassment and discrimination complaint, currently before the MCAD.

Ruling reaction

Mr. Saulnier said he is entitled to withdraw the complaint before the MCAD, because that administrative agency has not issued any ruling within 90 days from the time the complaint was filed.

“Before you can sue in Superior Court for a discrimination case, you have to take it to the administrative agency and exhaust administrative remedies,” Mr. Saulnier said in a phone interview Wednesday. “He has ruled I have exhausted my administrative remedies. It’s going to be withdrawn, but I’m going to consolidate it into the Superior Court complaint. It’s a move from one place to another.”

Ms. Whalen said her motions to dismiss are the first step in a long legal process. She was encouraged by the court’s orders.

“We are pleased that the court has addressed our concerns with the conduct of the litigation being in two forums and has ordered the MCAD proceedings to be terminated so that the matter now will be addressed only in one forum,” Ms. Whalen said in a phone interview Wednesday. “We are also pleased that the court has ordered the plaintiff to file an amended complaint that comports to the rules of civil procedure.  We look forward to litigating these matters and addressing the substantive issues in court.”

Lawyer vs. lawyer

In court last Wednesday, Ms. Whalen argued that the entire matter should be dismissed. She used sharp terms to describe Mr. Saulnier’s complaint, which includes 113 allegations of fact, and 180 separate charges of illegal actions against 11 separate defendants. At various times during the proceeding she described it as an “incoherent rant,” “flawed and unsupported,” and “wishful thinking.”

“It presents an incoherent litany of allegations without presenting a shred of evidence,” Ms. Whalen told the court. “It’s anything but a well-pleaded complaint.”

In court, Judge Chin questioned Mr. Saulnier about whether the complaint complied with court rules, and whether it needed to be refiled in a shorter form.

Mr. Saulnier defended his complaint. “It’s about as short a complaint as possible given the complexity of the case,” he said. “It’s voluminous because there is more to this than meets the eye. There is something going on at the airport which no one seems to be able to control. That’s why it’s so voluminous.”

by -
0
The contractor installed inverters, which emit a constant hum, close to several homes. —Photo by Steve Myrick

Edgartown has made progress, but much work remains to complete maintenance, landscaping, and reduce noise at the town solar installation near the Smith Hollow neighborhood, town administrator Pam Dolby told selectmen at their weekly meeting, which was held Tuesday rather than Monday due to the holiday.

Neighbors of the project complained that the contractor, American Capital Energy (ACE), has not lived up to its obligation to grade, landscape, and clean the site.

Ms. Dolby has been negotiating with ACE executives to craft a plan for continued maintenance. The contractor has also committed to reducing the level of the low-pitched hum emanating from three large inverters.

“I think we made a lot of progress this week,” Ms. Dolby told the board and several Smith Hollow residents who attended the meeting. “Hopefully, we’ll continue from there. We have to be very careful about including everything in the maintenance agreement.”

Ms. Dolby said she would continue to work with the contractor, and push for a definite timetable to complete the work.

Also Tuesday, selectmen authorized town counsel to research legal issues associated with building a bike path along Meshacket Road.

“The current situation is hazardous, especially to pedestrians and bicyclists,” said Jeff Agnoli, who represented area residents. Mr. Agnoli said research by the town counsel is the first step in a long process.

A bike path could involve amending agricultural preservation restrictions on land administered by the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank, from West Tisbury Road to the old town landfill. It may also involve negotiation with private homeowners.

On the recommendation of the Dukes County Retirement Board, selectmen voted to reclassify full-time paramedics to the same classification as police officers and firefighters.

“What that means,” said chairman Art Smadbeck, “is acknowledgement that a paramedic has a very stressful job, and should be treated more as some of the other public safety employees are treated.”

The reclassification has implications for mandatory retirement requirements, and it allows those employees, in certain circumstances, to retire earlier with full pension benefits, than most state and municipal employees.

by -
0
Money for an exterior renovation of Chilmark Town Hall was among the articles approved at special town meeting Monday. —MV Times File Photo

Chilmark voters will be asked to decide articles on a short special town meeting warrant  Monday that include a measure to borrow $300,000, the town’s share of improvements to the regional refuse district’s waste transfer station in Edgartown, and $600,000 for deferred road paving and maintenance. The meeting is scheduled for October 20 at 7:30 pm at the Chilmark Community Center.

“Let’s hope we have a good turnout,” Bill Rossi, chairman of the board of selectmen, told The Times. “I have a feeling it’s going to be quick. There’s nothing really controversial on it.”

Voters will decide whether to approve a $2.5 million bond authorized by a vote of the Martha’s Vineyard Refuse Disposal and Resource Recovery District. Chilmark’s assessment from the refuse district is 12 percent, so the town’s share of the bond amounts to $300,000. The money will fund Chilmark’s share of capital improvements at the Edgartown transfer station. While Chilmark has a local drop-off open Wednesday and Sunday afternoons, many residents use the regional transfer station near the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.

“Refuse district availability is important to us,” Mr. Rossi said. “Our own transfer station is open on a limited basis. Most of the trash goes to the refuse district by commercial carriers and some people go down there on their own.”

Mr. Rossi said the the refuse district recently paid off its remaining debt.

“Their last bond is up, so it’s not going to be an increase in our annual assessment,” Mr. Rossi said. “We’re looking at borrowing a new round of funds. They’re going to redesign the layout. They’re going to separate the commercial from the residential and upgrade how the traffic flows in and out of the property. We’re looking at another scale to assist in efficiency.”

Also Monday, voters will be asked to borrow $600,000 to fund reconstruction, paving, and various repairs to town roads. The article authorizes selectmen to borrow the money, only if voters exempt the bond from the limitations of Proposition 2.5, in a question on the November 4 state election ballot.

The town has delayed or deferred some of the usual road maintenance over the last few years, according to Mr. Rossi. “We have to get back on a plan so it doesn’t become this overwhelming expense,” he said. “There used to be a plan in place to pave a mile a year to keep up with it. With the economic downturn, some years we went where there was nothing done. We’re trying to catch up. There are parts of town that really need attention.”

Mr. Rossi said parts of Middle Road and Tabor House Road need immediate attention. “It’s obvious something has to be done.”

Also on the short warrant is a measure to spend $17,000 for roadside grass and brush cutting, and $13,260 for tree work along town roads. The article includes the cost of a police detail during the maintenance work.

The town’s community preservation committee will ask voters to approve $50,000 in Community Preservation Act (CPA) funds to continue the rental assistance program managed by the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority. Currently, four Chilmark families get help from the program, and there are three others on a waiting list for rental assistance. The program subsidizes rents for households that earn less than half the area median income, and pay at least half of the rent for market priced apartments

CPA funds are generated by a three percent surtax on property taxes. A varying percentage of the funds raised locally are matched by state tax funds.

Voters will also decide whether to spend $65,000 for exterior renovation of town hall.

by -
0
Police displayed 13.5 grams of cocaine concealed in a coffee bag, cash, and a phone they said was seized in a drug arrest.

Police arrested David Chagas, 30, who lists addresses in both Fairhaven and Vineyard Haven, on a charge of dealing cocaine, shortly after he arrived on the Island by ferry Monday morning.

A month long investigation by members of the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task Force revealed Mr. Chagas has been transporting cocaine to Martha’s Vineyard and distributing the illegal drug, according to a statement released by Oak Bluffs police. During the investigation, police learned his right to drive was suspended in an unrelated case.

Officers observed Mr. Chagas drive off a Steamship Authority ferry in Vineyard Haven at 11:30 am, and stopped his vehicle a short distance away.

“Chagas was placed under arrest on Franklin Street in Tisbury for operating a motor vehicle after suspension,” according to the statement. “Upon searching the vehicle Chagas was operating, which was a 2003 Chevy Silverado registered to Luis Lopes of Vineyard Haven, officers located a ‘Café Bustelo’ coffee grinds bag that was wrapped in duct tape. A subsequent search of the coffee grinds bag revealed 3 individual plastic bags that were wrapped inside a single plastic bag. The 3 individual plastic bags contained a white powdery substance that was consistent with cocaine.”

During booking at the Dukes County Jail, officers found an additional plastic bag they suspect to be cocaine, according to police.

Police say they seized a total of 13.5 grams of cocaine, with a street value of approximately $1,350.

Mr. Chagas is scheduled for arraignment on October 17 in Edgartown District Court.

by -
1

A superior court judge promised a quick ruling on a request to stop the county from adding two new airport commission appointees.

Attorney Robert Troy represented the Dukes County Commission before Judge Richard J. Chin in Dukes County Superior Court Wednesday. Seated is clerk-magistrate Joseph Sollito. — Photo by Steve Myrick

In a courtroom watched closely by members of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission and the Dukes County Commission, on Wednesday Dukes County Superior Court Associate Justice Richard J. Chin heard arguments in two separate but related lawsuits that have kept the two public bodies embroiled in controversy for much of the year.

In the first hearing, airport commission attorney David Mackey, of the Cambridge law firm Anderson and Kreiger, asked Judge Chin to issue a preliminary injunction to prevent the county commission from expanding the size of the airport commission from seven to nine members.

Mr. Mackey repeatedly cited legal documents known as grant assurances, which severely limit the county’s role in airport operations as a condition of receiving millions of dollars in state and federal grants. Characterizing the country’s attitude toward the grant assurances as “highly schizophrenic,” Mr. Mackey argued that the documents specifically prevent the county commission from reorganizing the airport commission.

“The grant assurances say that, because they foresaw this scenario,” Mr. Mackey said, “Confusion in the chain of command at an airport is a dangerous thing. Right now, my client [the airport commission] can’t meet because of uncertainty about who the commissioners are.”

Attorney Robert Troy, of the Bourne firm Troy Wall Associates, represented the county commission. He argued that the airport is a department of Dukes County, and has no standing to sue the county commission, or prevent it from adding two new airport commissioners. He said the only agency with authority to sue the county is the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division.

Last week, in a letter dated Sept. 25, Christopher Willenborg, MassDOT Aeronautics Division administrator, demanded an immediate explanation from the county commission chairman of the rationale behind the vote.

“Let’s see how these two airport commissioners do,” Mr. Troy said. “If there is a problem, the Aeronautics Division will step up to the plate. It doesn’t become a reorganization just because you call it a reorganization.”

Before the attorneys got far into their arguments, Judge Chin aggressively questioned both sides about the legal basis for the county commission’s vote to expand the airport commission.

“I read the statute to say they can establish a commission,” Judge Chin said. “There is no statutory authority to increase or decrease it. There is no authority after that to change it.”

Judge Chin said he understood the urgency of the matter. He took the matter under advisement, and he promised to issue a written ruling as soon as possible.

Also Wednesday, Judge Chin heard arguments in connection with a protracted legal dispute between the airport commission and Beth Tessmer, an employee who was fired and later filed a workplace discrimination lawsuit.

The court has already issued a preliminary injunction against the county commission on all other issues in the original lawsuit. On August 7, Judge Chin ruled for the airport commission on every point in its request for a preliminary injunction against the county commission, county treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders, and county manager Martina Thornton, based on his view that the airport commission has shown “a likelihood of success on the merits.” Judge Chin said the county commission is enjoined from appointing the county manager to the airport commission as an ex-officio, nonvoting member; the county manager is enjoined from serving in such a capacity; and the county treasurer is enjoined from refusing to pay invoices duly approved for payment by the airport commission, from obtaining privileged or confidential communications between the airport commission and its attorneys without notice to, or the consent of, the airport commission, and from releasing those communications between the airport commission and its attorneys to the public.

by -
3
Edgartown animal control officer Barbara Prada has many four-legged friends to check on her daily rounds. —Photo by Steve Myrick

Longtime Edgartown animal control officer (ACO) Barbara Prada had just begun her day at the office early one recent morning to take care of paperwork, handle emails, and size up the day when the radio sitting on her desk cackled with a message from one of the Island’s 911 dispatchers asking her to call the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital emergency room.

She guessed that she would be notified of a dog bite. Very little surprises Ms. Prada after 31 years on the job, but when she contacted the emergency room, she learned it was not a dog bite.

“It was a mouse bite,” she said. “You don’t get many of those.”

Ms. Prada assured the emergency room doctor that there was a near zero chance the offending critter carried rabies, or any other disease of concern.

With a laugh, she recounted another recent incident, a late-night call reporting a sheep and a goat loose near the old town landfill. She arrived to find a sizable herd of sheep, two of which were recently shorn, and could be easily mistaken for goats. Ms. Prada knows every person in Edgartown who keeps sheep, or might keep sheep, so within a few minutes she had a good idea where the sheep belonged, even though she could not reach the owner.

She began shepherding the animals toward their home, using her patrol truck to nudge them along.

“Every time they would slow down, I would give them a little toot with the horn,” Ms. Prada said. “They came to a big patch of grass. Well, they all stopped and started eating grass. I had to zap them. Gave them a little zap with my siren. That got them going.”

Then there was a woman whose pet Macaw had flown the coop, and was perched high in a tree in her front yard. The exasperated owner of the talking bird called Ms. Prada.

“She said ‘I keep telling him to come down and he says ‘okay,’ but he never does,’” Ms. Prada said.

After a trip to town hall, for more paperwork, she was back in her immaculate office. Calls were few that day, so she took the time to call the Animal Rescue League in Boston. She has been trying to convince the organization to provide low cost pet spaying and neutering for Island residents.

“The cost of spaying and neutering is so expensive,” she said. “A lot of people on the Island just can’t afford it. The Animal Rescue League has a spay wagon that goes around. I thought it might be a good idea to see if I can get them to come down for a weekend.”

Balancing act

Ms. Prada works the phones, trying to arrange low-cost spaying and neutering for Island pets. —Photo by Steve Myrick
Ms. Prada works the phones, trying to arrange low-cost spaying and neutering for Island pets. —Photo by Steve Myrick

With firmness, extensive knowledge of the state laws, and a healthy dose of good humor, Ms. Prada keeps order and helps bring justice in Edgartown to all matters that involve animals. She has help from two assistants, Catherine “Betsy” Buck, and Jen Morgan. Like all Island ACOs, they must balance the law with common sense and reason, while trying to apply even-handed enforcement. That is often a difficult assignment, when the strong emotional attachment people have with their pets gets mixed into a dispute, and when the target of enforcement might be one of their friends or neighbors.

The job requires response to calls at all hours. Recently an Edgartown resident apologized profusely for calling Ms. Prada at 3 am. After searching for hours, and still quite upset, the new pet owner reported a lost puppy. Ms. Prada was told her there was no need to apologize. “That’s what I get paid to do,” she said.

She keeps meticulous records, dating back to 1984, of every call that required a response. In 2013, the department responded to 1,497 calls. The majority, 870 calls, were for dog related incidents. There were 212 calls for cat problems, and 99 for all other animals combined.

If Ms. Prada has to pick up a loose or lost dog, the pet owner often gets a warning. For repeat offenders, fines progress from $50, to $60, to $100.

Ms. Prada said the number of calls has fallen significantly during her years on the job, and people have changed their attitudes.

“That’s what effective enforcement does,” she said. “People don’t want to pay the fines, and I take them to court if they don’t pay.”

Demands of the job

The job of ACO is far more demanding than the days when most towns appointed an on-call dog catcher to round up stray animals, and little else.

These days, at any one moment on the job, an ACO might have to be part police officer, part exotic animal handler, part emergency medical technician, part crime scene investigator, or part constitutional law expert.

Formal training includes instruction on techniques for capturing animals, preventing dog bites, how to handle rabies and other infectious diseases, how to conduct a hearing before a board of selectmen, courtroom procedures, and the fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which provides protection from unreasonable search and seizure.

Under a comprehensive state animal control law enacted in August, 2012, every city and town must appoint an ACO. The ACO is required to complete a 96-hour certification and training course.