Authors Posts by Steve Myrick

Steve Myrick

Steve Myrick
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The Martha's Vineyard Airport commission is responsible for the care and custody of the airport.

The office of the Massachusetts attorney general has ruled that the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission twice violated the open-meeting law, first on Jan. 24, and then again on Feb. 12. The attorney general’s division of open government also ruled that the airport commission’s longstanding practice of posting notice of regularly scheduled meetings at the airport is a violation of the law.

Both meetings involved contentious disciplinary hearings for Beth Tessmer, a nine-year airport employee who was later fired. Ms. Tessmer has filed a lawsuit against the airport commission, airport manager Sean Flynn, assistant airport manager Deborah Potter, and the Dukes County Commission, alleging slander and defamation, discrimination, retaliation under the Massachusetts “whistle blower” law, wrongful discharge, denial of due process, civil rights violations, and civil conspiracy.

After a review of three complaints filed by lawyer Ted Saulnier, who represents Ms. Tessmer in the lawsuit, assistant attorney general Hanne Rush found that the Jan. 24 meeting was originally posted as beginning at 10:30 pm, rather than 10:30 am.

“While this appears to have been a clerical error, the commission’s meeting at the time other than that posted 48 hours in advance nonetheless constituted a violation of the open-meeting law,” Ms. Rush said in a letter to airport commission attorney Susan Whalen.

Ms. Rush said that the Feb. 12 meeting, an effort to correct the Jan. 24 discrepancy, also violated the law.

“The commission’s February 12 meeting notice stated it would be re-hearing an employee dispute, but failed to mention the reason for that discussion, including any mention of this complaint or the commission’s failure to properly post notice of the January 24 meeting,” Ms. Rush wrote. “Because the chair clearly anticipated discussing those matters, we find that the commission violated the open-meeting law by failing to specifically list all of the anticipated discussion topics in its February 12 meeting notice.”

Ms. Rush also faulted the airport commission for its practice of posting notice of regularly scheduled meetings at the airport, with copies sent to the Dukes County offices, the Dukes County courthouse, and local media. She noted that the commission is a regional public body, serving all six Island towns.

“Accordingly, our office has advised the commission that, going forward, it must comply with the notice-posting requirements for regional public bodies by posting notice in each town within the region in the manner prescribed for local public bodies in that town, or alternatively, posting to the airport’s web site.”

Ms. Rush rejected a third complaint filed by Mr. Saulnier, alleging the airport commission failed to provide proper notice to Ms. Tessmer about a disciplinary hearing on April 4. At that meeting, the commission voted to fire Ms. Tessmer.

The ruling does not impose any sanctions on the airport commission, but does include a caution.

“We therefore order the commission’s immediate and future compliance with the open-meeting law, and caution that future similar conduct may be considered evidence of intent to violate the open-meeting law.”

Earlier, in a separate ruling, the attorney general’s division of open government ruled the airport commission did not violate the open-meeting law by meeting improperly outside of its regular meetings.

In that complaint, Mr. Saulnier alleged that in early February, commission members John Alley, Denys Wortman, and Peter Bettencourt met improperly with the airport commission attorney and airport manager Sean Flynn at a time when the airport commission was embroiled in controversy over its disciplinary procedures and the eventual firing of Ms. Tessmer.

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An electronic sign at Five Corners cautions drivers that the Lagoon Pond temporary drawbridge is scheduled to be closed to traffic at 6 pm, Oct. 7, and reopen early the next morning. —Photo by Michael Cummo

The Lagoon Pond temporary drawbridge will be closed to traffic overnight, beginning at 6 pm Tuesday, Oct. 7. It is expected to reopen the next morning, Wednesday, at 5 am. The bridge contractor will replace the deck panels that form the roadway on the temporary bridge, to improve safety. The bridge spans the channel into Lagoon Pond, connecting the town of Tisbury to the town of Oak Bluffs along Beach Road.

“The deck panels are being replaced because the top surface on the existing panels has worn down,” Department of Transportation (MassDOT) spokesman Michael Verseckes said. “We want to replace this in advance of the winter because in addition to snow and ice, this bridge is especially exposed to high winds and additional wear and tear caused by the salt air.”

Vehicles, including emergency vehicles, will have to detour using Barnes Road, Edgartown–Vineyard Haven Road, and State Road to reach destinations in either town during the evening and overnight hours.

The temporary bridge, completed at a cost of $9.3 million, opened to traffic in 2010. Construction of the permanent bridge, at a projected cost of $43.7 million, began in November 2013. The permanent drawbridge is scheduled to open to traffic next summer. After that the temporary bridge will be dismantled. There are plans to create a public park where the temporary drawbridge stands now, extending along the Lagoon Pond shoreline.

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Edgartown police chief Tony Bettencourt congratulates newly named student police officer Zachary Townes at town hall on Monday. —Photo by Steve Myrick

Edgartown selectmen unanimously approved the appointment of special police officer Zachary Townes as a student officer in the Edgartown police department, a standing that will give him a better chance of entering a 26-week police academy training course.

“This will put Zach into an early police academy this winter,” police chief Tony Bettencourt told selectmen. “When he gets out he’ll be a full-time Edgartown police officer. He’s going to pay his own way, but we’re promising him when he gets out, he’ll have that position.”

Chief Bettencourt explained that the demand for entrance to police training academies is so great that most academies are accepting only candidates who already have full-time police department positions.

Officer Townes will fill the open position created by Sgt. Kenneth Johnson’s retirement earlier this year.

“I’m very excited, very happy,” Officer Townes said following the meeting, as he accepted good wishes from family, friends, and five police officers who attended in support. “Anxious to get through the academy and get back and serve Edgartown.”

He is a 13-year employee of the town, beginning in the Parks Department at Recreational Field and on South Beach. He worked in the Edgartown School’s Bridge Program for students with intensive educational needs, then most recently with the police department. He has already completed a reserve police officer training course.

Officer Townes, along with Curtis Chandler, was one of two special officers appointed to full-year, part-time positions in August. Chief Bettencourt had high praise for Mr. Chandler.

“Eventually I hope to have both of these officers on the force,” he said.

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A vehicle driver is assisted backing onto the ferry Martha's Vineyard Monday.

The Steamship Authority (SSA) was back to normal operations Tuesday morning, following a day of delays and adjusted schedules due to a broken bow door on the Martha’s Vineyard that required some vehicles to back onto the double-ender ferry.

“The repairs to the bow door were completed and everything was tested by 2 or 2:30 this morning,” Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, said. “All vessels were back in their normal position early this morning for the start of today’s operations.”

A crack in the support beams of the ferry door was the cause of the problem, Mr. Lamson said. Work crews welded plates over the crack as a temporary repair, and will make permanent repairs this winter, when the Martha’s Vineyard is scheduled for dry dock maintenance.

The SSA took the ferry Martha’s Vineyard out of operation at 5 pm, Monday to begin repairs. Freight boats were pressed into service with extra runs to handle passenger and vehicle traffic, and some trips were diverted from Oak Bluffs to Vineyard Haven.

The Island Home’s 9:30 run from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole was cancelled, and the vessel remained in Vineyard Haven overnight, because Martha’s Vineyard occupied its usual overnight berth at the Woods Hole facility. The two boats swapped places early Tuesday morning, in order to make their regularly scheduled 6 am trips.

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Some vehicles were required to back onto the ferry Monday, because of a broken bow door.

The Steamship Authority (SSA) announced this morning it would remove the Martha’s Vineyard from the schedule at 5 pm, Monday in order to repair a malfunctioning bow door on the double-ender ferry.

The SSA said the Martha’s Vineyard will run on or close to schedule until 5 pm today, when the ferry will be taken out of service for repairs to the balky door. She will be replaced by the freight boat Katama.

SSA personnel helped drivers back onto the ferry.
SSA personnel helped drivers back onto the ferry.

As a result, the 5 pm Woods Hole to Oak Bluffs and 6:15 pm Oak Bluffs to Woods Hole trips will be diverted to Vineyard Haven, the SSA announced in an email alert sent out at 11 am, Monday. “There will be limited passenger capacity on the 5 pm, 7:30 pm and 9:45 pm Woods Hole to Vineyard Haven trips, as well as the 6:15 pm and 8:30 pm Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole trips,” the SSA said. “The 9:30 pm Vineyard Haven trip will be cancelled.  Customers may travel on either the 8:30 pm or a special trip at 10:30 pm from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole.”

The 9:30 pm departure of the Island Home from Vineyard Haven to Woods Hole has been cancelled because with the Martha’s Vineyard tied up for repairs there will be no place for the ferry to berth in Woods Hole. Instead, she will remain in Vineyard Haven for the night.

“There is a crack in one of the internal support beams on the bow door of the Martha’s Vineyard,”  Wayne Lamson, SSA general manager, told The Times. “We need to weld temporary plates over the crack to make the door operational until we can make permanent repairs in the shipyard.”

Mr. Lamson estimated the repair would take 10 to 12 hours.  “We expect to have the Martha’s Vineyard back in Vineyard Haven [Tuesday] morning for the 6 am run,” Mr. Lamson said.

Under normal circumstances, vehicle drivers drive on and drive off the double-ender ferry. The problem first began Sunday, causing slight delays in service.

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The Martha's Vineyard Airport Commission is responsible for the care and custody of the airport.

The Martha’s Vineyard airport commission returned to the Dukes County courthouse last Thursday and asked a superior court judge to block the Dukes County commission from expanding the size of its appointed airport commission from seven to nine members, on the basis that it is a direct violation of state and federal funding-grant assurances that prohibit county interference in airport affairs.

The latest battle in the long-running war between the county and airport commissions also attracted the attention of the Massachusetts Division of Transportation (MassDOT) Aeronautics Division, which expressed uneasiness with the expansion and demanded an immediate explanation from the county commission chairman of the rationale behind the vote, and the benefits of the airport commission, which by state statute is responsible for the care and custody of the county-owned airport, expanding from seven to nine members.

Last Wednesday the county commissioners voted 6 to 0, with one abstention, to increase the size of the airport commission to nine members. The commissioners immediately appointed pilot and businessman Myron Garfinkle of West Tisbury, and Robert Rosenbaum, a seasonal resident of Chilmark, former businessman and pilot.

The county commissioners said the move was warranted because a large number of qualified candidates had expressed interest in filling the seat left vacant by the recent departure of Peter Bettencourt.

On Sept. 17, the commissioners appointed Beth Toomey, retired West Tisbury police chief and briefly an interim county commissioner, to fill the unexpired three-year term of Mr. Bettencourt, who resigned in August.

Since April the county commissioners have appointed five new members, who would constitute a majority if the commission is allowed to expand to nine members.

Former airport commissioner and county commissioner John Alley of West Tisbury was the only dissenting vote. Mr. Alley questioned whether the expansion would violate the grant assurances.

No problem

County manager Martina Thornton told commissioners that she had researched the issue of expanding the size of the airport commission. She assured the commissioners she did not foresee any problems.

Ms. Thornton cited as an example the Norwood Airport Commission, which expanded earlier this year.

“The grant assurances that Norwood has have the same things that our grant assurances have,” Ms. Thornton said. “Norwood signed them in 2013, and they expanded their commission from five to nine this spring. There hasn’t been any controversy. Being the same, I don’t think we should have a problem. And I also was on the phone with the counsel from MassDOT, and I asked him the question if expanding the board would trigger us violating the grant assurances. They told me as long as we stay within the law, which is 3 to 11, and as long as the new members adhere to the other grant-assurance provisions, that there should not be an issue.”

County commission chairman Leonard Jason, Jr., of Chilmark, a veteran county commissioner who has been in the thick of the battle, had his own view. “I’m sure they’ll sue us again,” Mr. Jason said.

Clear violation charged

On Thursday airport commission attorney David Mackey filed a motion in Dukes County Superior Court, and asked to amend the airport commission’s existing lawsuit against the county. If the court allows that motion, the airport commission will ask for a temporary restraining order to prevent the county move to expand the commission.

“This action constitutes yet another direct violation of the grant assurances, which is a legally binding contractual commitment to the [county commission] ‘not to take any action to reorganize’ the MVAC (Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission) or ‘in any way to interfere with the autonomy and authority’ of the MVAC,” Mr. Mackey wrote in the motion filed Sept. 25.

Mr. Mackey asked the court to “declare that the county commission lacks the legal authority to increase the size of the MVAC from seven to nine members, and to appoint two new members, or otherwise to interfere with the autonomy and authority of the MVAC, without the express written approval of the Aeronautics Division of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, and issue an injunction prohibiting the county commission from so doing.”

Motives questioned

In 1997, Stephen R. Muench, executive director of the Mass Aeronautics Commission (MAC) sought the signatures of the county commissioners on a set of grant assurances that freed up millions of dollars in state and federal funding for a new terminal, and which prohibited interference by the county manager or county in airport affairs. The commissioners also signed in their capacity as self-appointed airport commissioners.

Last week, one day after the county commission vote, in a letter dated Sept. 25,

Christopher Willenborg, MassDOT Aeronautics Division administrator, asked Mr. Jason for an explanation of the vote.

“Given the litigious history between the county and the airport commission, it is incumbent upon the Aeronautics Division to ensure that this sudden increase in membership is not a reorganization of the airport commission, nor is it an attempt to interfere with the autonomy and authority of the airport commission, as referred to in the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Grant Assurances,” Mr. Willenborg said. “Please be advised that any such reorganization or interference would require ‘the express written approval of the Aeronautics Division. Accordingly, please immediately provide me, in writing, with your rationale for the increase in membership, the qualifications of the two appointees, and how the appointments benefit or improve the functioning of the airport commission beyond that of what was a seven-member board.”

No choice

Airport commission chairman Constance Teixeira of Tisbury, in a phone conversation Friday morning, said the commission needed to take immediate legal action.

“The airport has a responsibility to maintain the airport without interference,” Ms. Teixeira said. “We have no choice.”

A Superior Court judge is expected to hear arguments on Oct. 7.

Ms. Teixeira canceled the airport commission’s regular monthly meeting, scheduled for Sept. 26. She said the airport commission would not have been able to get a quorum, because of the illness of several commissioners.

The airport commission filed its original lawsuit on May 5. This is the second time the airport commission has amended its lawsuit in response to the actions of the county commission. The county commission filed a counterclaim to the lawsuit, asking the court to declare the airport is under the jurisdiction of Dukes County, as a subdivision and department of the county, according to Massachusetts law.

The court has already issued a preliminary injunction against the county commission on all other issues in the original lawsuit. On August 7, Associate Justice Richard 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.

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

Edgartown selectmen called American Capital Energy (ACE) and the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative (CVEC) to its regular Monday meeting to address numerous issues with two large solar-energy installations constructed over the spring and summer.

ACE is the contractor which won the bid to install solar arrays in Edgartown and six other communities as part of a complex public bidding process managed by CVEC.

A sound consultant hired by the town found that noise coming from equipment at the solar array installed on town land near the Nunnepaug well site off Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road clearly violates noise standards set by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

Residents of the Smith Hollow development, which abuts the Nunnepaug site, said there are also issues with screening, fencing, security, site maintenance, and landscaping.

“We’re going to make this right,” chairman Art Smadbeck said. “One way or another, this is going to be corrected.”

Sound advice

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The solar panel array is located close to the Smith Hollow neighborhood.

Residents say three inverters installed on the Smith Hollow side of the solar array are emitting a constant hum during daylight hours. The inverters convert direct current (DC) solar energy into alternating  current (AC), which allows the electricity to flow into the commercial grid.

Lawrence Copley, a noise-control engineer hired by Edgartown selectmen to evaluate the noise levels, measured the noise coming from the inverters on Sept. 18, a sunny day when the facility was producing solar power at near capacity.

“The sound from the inverters is clearly in violation of the Massachusetts DEP noise policy, and also constitutes a noise nuisance, in my opinion, based on the sound level and measurements reported here,” Mr. Copley wrote in his report to the town. According to his measurements, taken from the rear deck of one of the residences, the inverters increased the level of noise by 40 percent over the ambient sound level, from 35 dBA of ambient noise to 49 dBA when the inverters were operating at near capacity (dBA is a scientific measurement of relative noise levels). Mr. Copley recommended building acoustic screens around the three inverter platforms to shield the residential neighborhood from the noise.

Zac Osgood, project manager for ACE, said a noise consultant hired by his company recommended attaching vent baffles to the equipment, which, he said, would bring the noise level into compliance with state regulations.

Town administrator Pam Dolby was concerned that ACE could not guarantee the baffles would reduce noise to an acceptable level, while the solution recommended by the town’s noise consultant would be guaranteed. Mr. Smadbeck proposed a compromise.

“You give us the estimate for your solution,” he told Mr. Osgood. “We’ll get an estimate for our solution. We’ll do our solution, because I think it’s better, and we’ll pay the difference.”

Smith Hollow resident Jim Cimeno said the problem could have been averted by installing the inverters on the other side of the site, which abuts forested conservation land.

“Right from the start, I suggested they move them to the other side,” Mr. Cimeno said. “We were told they weren’t going to make any noise.”

Mr. Smadbeck asked why the inverters were located near residential homes.

“You guys are familiar with this equipment, you know ahead of time it’s going to create a problem,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “Why did you put them on the house side of the project, instead of the woods side?”

“The [inverters] are laid out for interconnection purposes,” Mr. Osgood said. “They are placed on that side because of the run of cable, it makes it easier to get to the point of connection.”

Liz Argo, special projects coordinator for CVEC, said at other projects the cooperative oversees, inverters do not produce any noticeable increase in sound level.

“I’ve been a little bit embarrassed,” Ms. Argo said. “We have other solar sites where this is not a problem. This is clearly a problem.”

Other issues

Neighbors and town officials also fault the contractor for a lack of maintenance and poor screening, fencing, and landscaping.

“There was supposed to be a maintenance schedule,” said town administrator Pam Dolby. “It doesn’t appear there has been any maintenance at all. What the town would like to see is a schedule of maintenance, so it doesn’t look like an overgrown field with some panels.”

Security is another issue raised by health agent Matt Poole and building inspector Leonard Jason, Jr. The solar array is surrounded by a 12-foot chain-link fence, but on Tuesday, there was no lock on the gate to the facility. Inside, despite warnings of an electric-shock danger printed in several languages, there were no locks on any of the inverters or other equipment.

Cedar trees planted as a buffer, as specified in the contract, were also a point of contention. Neighbors said 23 of the trees are damaged or dying, and were left with no grading, seeding, or mulch.

According to town officials, in July, a subcontractor said he was unable to complete the job as specified in the contract, because he couldn’t find a supplier that could get 200 trees to Martha’s Vineyard.

At that point, selectman Michael Donaroma, who owns a landscaping company, said he would contact his suppliers, and was able to get the trees, and arrange ferry transportation. He was hired by White Bros.-Lynch Corp., the subcontractor responsible for overall site excavation and grading, to do the planting. Mr. Donaroma said he is responsible for the trees, but was not contracted to do the grading, seeding, or mulching.

“There are a few that are dead that need to be replaced,” Mr. Donaroma said. “I don’t want to do it now because it’s too dry and hot. At the end of my contract I replace anything that’s dead. I take care of the trees for a year, I have to guarantee they survive.”

Neighbors also said there was no screening around the exterior of the facility, as the contractor promised. Mr. Osgood said the company intends to attach green opaque screening to the chain-link fence in the near future.

Conservation agent Jane Varkonda said similar problems are evident at the solar array constructed on town-owned land at Katama Farm.

“We would like something in writing,” Ms. Varkonda said. “We have the same issues at Katama, the trees are smaller, and the weeds are growing taller than the trees. They hadn’t mowed any of the grass around the solar arrays until two weeks ago.”

Selectmen agreed to document each of the outstanding issues in a certified letter to ACE, and Mr. Osgood agreed to respond with a date the work would be completed.

“We will get to the end of this, and it will be right,” Mr. Smadbeck said.

The original online version incorrectly reported that solar panels produce alternating current, which must be converted to direct current. The opposite is correct.

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The Edgartown Police Department maintains its own web site, and a Facebook page.

Last year a Martha’s Vineyard visitor burglarized a house in Edgartown. While exiting the house, he left faint prints from stolen boots in the fresh paint on the porch. Later, the man posted pictures of the boots, his favorites, on his Facebook page. The photo of the boots led Edgartown police to the main suspect in the house break.

It is difficult to say if this crime would have been solved by a conventional police investigation. But Island police departments are increasing their use of social media and turning to web sites, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other online social networks to stay in touch with their communities, investigate crimes, and make information available quickly, and investigate suspects that post incriminating information.

Oak Bluffs police use Twitter to send messages and advisories that warrant immediate distribution.
Oak Bluffs police use Twitter to send messages and advisories that warrant immediate distribution.

For veteran police officers schooled in investigative techniques that depend on shoe leather and persistence, the reach of social media is revealing.

“It’s an incredibly useful tool these days,” Edgartown police Det. Sgt. Chris Dolby told The Times. “It helps us stay in touch with our community in ways that up until now didn’t exist, especially at that speed. It’s pretty unbelievable.”

Investigating at the speed of Facebook

The first step in many police investigations is to narrow the list of possible suspects. Prior to the popularity of social media, that could be a tedious process that began with verifying the whereabouts of possible suspects at the time of the crime, interviewing witnesses, and gathering information from a variety of sources. Now, detectives often turn first to social media networks to confirm investigative leads.

“People put a lot of personal information on Facebook,” Detective Sergeant Dolby said. “I’ve had numerous cases where it helps you connect the dots. Current pictures, pictures of people hanging out together. At certain points in an investigation, that’s really important stuff.”

Tisbury police have circulated a photo of a man they wish to question in connection with the theft of sunglasses.
Tisbury police have circulated a photo of a man they wish to question in connection with the theft of sunglasses.

In the case of the burglar who stumbled by posting his footwear on a Facebook page, the investigation began with conventional gathering of information. Once police developed a suspect, Detective Sergeant  Dolby searched for his Facebook page, where he had posted a message and a picture raving about the comfort of his new work boots. The boot’s tread design was an exact match to boot prints taken from the scene of the crime. When confronted with that fact, the suspect admitted his crime.

Getting the word out

On Sept. 9, Edgartown police received a call from a resident who reported a stolen pickup truck.

“We checked all the normal spots, where we’ve had luck finding stolen vehicles,” Detective Sergeant Dolby said. “But there’s a lot of area.”

Edgartown police issued an alert to all the other Island departments. Depending on staffing at  the time of day or night, that’s about 12 to 30 pairs of well-trained eyes on the lookout.

The West Tisbury Police Department began using Facebook this year.
The West Tisbury Police Department began using Facebook this year.

Social media can multiply that effect exponentially. The following day, Detective Sergeant Dolby posted a picture showing the same model and color truck, and an example of the truck’s specialty license plate, on the department’s Facebook page. The original post was shared 19 times to other Facebook pages, increasing the reach of the information far beyond the Edgartown Police department page. One of the places it was shared was a Facebook group called “Islanders Talk,” which has more than 2,300 members. One of the members recognized the truck immediately.

“I threw it up on Facebook, a woman saw it, and we recovered the truck in about an hour,” Detective Sergeant Dolby said.

Tisbury police utilize Twitter, and increase their reach by automatically posting each Twitter message on a Facebook page. In August, they distributed surveillance photos of someone they suspect shoplifted some sunglasses from the Sunglass Haven store on Main Street. The pictures show four clear views of the suspect, all from different angles.

Tisbury police chief Dan Hanavan said his department intends to increase its use of social media.

“You reach more people,” Chief Hanavan said. “It’s convenient for people, and they can find the information they need.”

Oak Bluffs police Det. Jeff LaBell, who handles much of the social media responsibilities for his department, said the multiplying effect is sometimes astounding.

“Sometimes we’ll put at the bottom of a message ‘please repost,’” he said. “People just keep reposting. We’ve had 15,000, 20,000 hits on some things. If we’re trying to identify someone, and we have a photo we can put on there, sometimes within a few minutes we’ll get a call.”

Social community policing

Local police departments are also using social media in the same way many users do: staying in touch with their community. In addition to reposted newspaper stories of arrests, announcements of newly hired police officers, and alerts about a phone scam are pictures of the Oak Bluffs police participating in a Little League parade, a group picture of Oak Bluffs police officers from 1992, and tips on safe winter driving posted on the eve of an impending blizzard.

“It starts to break down the barriers between police and community,” Detective LaBell said.

West Tisbury’s Facebook page includes photos of police officers at the fair, and a video of Chief Dan Rossi leading his department in an ALS ice bucket challenge.

“You’re letting the community know what their police department is doing,” Chief Rossi said. “You’re humanizing the police department.”

Social statistics

By a wide margin, the most common way police use social media is in criminal investigations, according to a 2013 survey by the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The survey found 86 percent of police departments use social media to solve crimes.

More than 73 percent of the survey participants say they use social media to notify the public about crime problems.

The third most-cited use in the survey was community outreach and citizen engagement, at 70 percent.

Of the departments that responded to the survey, 73 percent said social media has improved their relationship with the communities they police.

The association warns, however, that police departments need a clearly articulated social media policy that follows the same principles of law that govern any other conduct.

“Actions must be lawful and personnel must have a defined objective and a valid law enforcement purpose for gathering, maintaining,

or sharing personally identifiable information,” the association wrote in its guidelines and recommendations for law enforcement agencies. “In addition, any law enforcement action involving undercover activity (including developing an undercover profile on a social media site) should address supervisory approval, required documentation of activity, periodic reviews of activity, and the audit of undercover processes and behavior. Law enforcement agencies should also not collect or maintain the political, religious, or social views, associations, or activities of any individual or group, association, corporation, business, partnership, or organization unless there is a legitimate public safety purpose.”

Little privacy

There is widespread confusion about privacy controls on social media platforms, and many complaints about how difficult it is to keep information within a circle of friends. But even if users are careful about privacy controls, police may have access to personal information through a court order, subpoena, or search warrant.

Snapchat, the instant messaging service wildly popular with teenagers, allows users to send text, picture, or video messages that are deleted soon after they are read by the intended recipient. Except for unread messages, which are stored for 30 days, Snapchat says, it does not keep the messages on its computers. But with proper authorization from a court, police can get plenty of information. With that authorization, Snapchat is required by law to turn over personal information such as email address, phone number, and a list of the past 200 messages sent over the service, similar to a phone log.

But many times, criminals make all that court paperwork unnecessary, and simply post incriminating information that anyone can find with a simple search.

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With fare hikes on the horizon, Islanders can expect to pay more to ride the Island Home.

Updated 12:40 pm, Friday September 26, 2014

Steamship Authority (SSA) management Tuesday recommended a slate of fare hikes they said are needed to help fill a $1,900,000 hole in the boatline’s 2015 operating budget. General manager Wayne Lamson presented the recommendations at a meeting of the Steamship Authority board on Nantucket.

In total, management said it needs $1,900,000 from anticipated rate increases to meet its projected net operating income next year of around $3,619,000. Based on each routes cost of service, $1,400,000 would need to come from the Vineyard side of the ledger and $500,000 from Nantucket, according to a management report of the meeting.

“I think reasonable people will understand,” Martha’s Vineyard SSA member Marc Hanover, told The Times in a telephone conversation Tuesday. “A bunch of things are happening, two of the big boats are going in for dry dock, which is very expensive.”

Under the proposal presented Tuesday, the cost of a one-way adult passenger ticket to or from Martha’s Vineyard would rise from $7.50 to $8. That price does not include the 50 cent embarkation fee charged by port towns.

“Passengers are where the Steamship Authority makes money,” Mr. Hanover said. “Fifty cents, it doesn’t strike me as much. We’re going to need the money next year.”

Round trip auto excursion fares, the discounted vehicle rate for Martha’s Vineyard residents would increase by $2. Regular vehicle rates will not increase, under the proposal presented Tuesday.

“I do want people to understand that excursion rate that they pay covers 37 percent of the actual cost, so they’re getting quite a deal,” Mr. Hanover said. He also stressed that the fares are only proposals at this point, and he is looking at alternatives to raising the cost of excursion fares.

Parking at all of the SSA’s Falmouth satellite lots would cost $15 per calendar day in peak season, from May 15 to September 14, and $13 per calendar day in the shoulder seasons, from April 1 to May 14, and September 15 through October 31.

The cost of parking in the Falmouth lots is currently $13 per calendar day during the prime summer months, and $10 in the off season.

According to  treasurer Bob Davis, the Steamship Authority will need $89 million to cover operating expenses in 2015. That represents an increase of $3,354,000, or 3.9 percent, over the estimated operating costs for the current year.

In a report on the board meeting, Mr. Lamson wrote that vessel fuel costs are expected to rise 2.5 percent to $9,669,000; overall maintenance is projected to rise 10.4 percent, or $1,371,000; health care expenses for employees are expected to increase by 5.2 percent or $368,000; and pension expense is projected to increase by 27 percent or $1,182,000. Mr. Lamson said the pension expense reflects recently approved contracts for licensed deck officers and unlicensed vessel employees.

The Steamship Authority raised rates for large trucks and parking in 2013. In 2012 it raised fares for automobiles and year round parking permits. The Steamship Authority last raised passenger rates in 2010.

The board is scheduled to vote on the proposed annual budget, which includes the fare increases, at its October 21 meeting, scheduled for the Oak Bluffs library.

Any fare hikes would likely take effect on January 1, 2015.

The original online version of this story incorrectly reported the proposed excursion fare hike as $4, and the location of the next meeting as the Katharine Cornell Theatre in Vineyard Haven. 

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Edgartown residents, and housing advocates aired concerns and voiced support for a proposed Meshacket Road affordable housing development. —Photo by Steve Myrick

Members of the Edgartown affordable housing committee promised they will re-evaluate plans for a 30-unit apartment rental complex on a town-owned parcel off Meshacket Road, following a spirited discussion with neighbors and housing advocates at a public hearing on Thursday, Sept. 18.

Chairman Mark Hess also told the packed meeting room that the proposal would likely be submitted to a future town meeting for debate and approval, because the proposal has changed since voters approved transfer of the nine-acre parcel to the affordable housing committee at the 2012 Edgartown annual town meeting. At the time there was discussion about creating nine building lots on the parcel, to be sold at below-market rates to qualified buyers who would then build their own homes.

The committee said it ran into engineering and environmental limitations which changed the original concept. The Martha’s Vineyard 2014 Housing Needs Assessment also swayed the committee’s view. That study, funded by the six Island towns, highlighted a greater need for rental units, according to committee members.

Mr. Hess stressed that the committee is not bound by the latest plan for rental housing, and is open to considering other options.

“Our goal is to do what is reasonable, right, and practical,” Mr. Hess said. “The committee has explored many plans, and hasn’t settled on any one plan. We have not made any final determination. It’s a town issue, it’s a town project.”

Some neighbors objected to the density of the current proposal, which would create 52 bedrooms in five buildings clustered close to Meshacket Road. A recreational area and protected habitat would be sited at the rear of the parcel.

Others told the committee they object to the project because they believe it will create more traffic on the narrow, winding roadway.

“The traffic on that road is horrendous,” said Paul Hudson who lives on Meshacket Road. “I can’t walk my dog down that road. I was all for this project, people need housing. But it has turned into something else.”

Mr. Hess noted that nearly all of the correspondence to the affordable housing committee cited traffic as an objection.

Doug Ruskin, a former member of the committee, said traffic concerns are a separate issue.

“Traffic is a problem for the same reason that we need affordable housing,” Mr. Ruskin said. “We have more people arriving all the time. I think the traffic problem needs to be dealt with, but I don’t think you can put the solution to traffic on the backs of developers. You can’t ignore it, but I don’t think a traffic problem should knock a development out of the box.”

David Vigneault, executive director of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority, said some towns have moved away from creating single-family houses to address the need for affordable housing, because even at subsidized rates, people who may qualify according to income guidelines cannot get financing to buy the homes.

Mr. Vigneault said currently, there are 265 households on the housing authority’s list of people waiting for subsidized rental housing.

“Of those, 50 have current physical addresses in Edgartown,” Mr. Vigneault said. “Forty-three of those 50 current Edgartown residents have incomes below 60 percent of the area median income. That is, depending on the size of the family, $37,000 to $48,000. Banks are not going to lend on these incomes.”

Fern Thomas said she is one of those people who would like to own a home, but sees rental housing as her only practical option.

“When they advertise the opportunity to own my own home, there are quite a few of my equals, my friends got all excited,” Ms. Thomas said. “We went down to the meeting, we can’t meet the criteria. I’m one of the lucky ones that has been able to live at Morgan Woods. Every year my rent goes up. For the past three years, my income has gone down. I don’t need two bedrooms, I’m looking for a one bedroom, that’s not that easy. I am not alone.”

Micah Agnoli told the committee he is the kind of person that the original concept of creating home lots was intended to help.

“I’m one of those young people looking to move back,” he said. “It’s a constant discussion among my friends. They benefit from home ownership, and not necessarily from rentals.”

Several neighbors suggested the Jenney Way development, a cluster of 10 homes off Pine Street in Edgartown completed in 2008, as a more appropriate model for development of the Meshacket Road parcel.

Committee member Melissa Vincent said the demand for home ownership at Jenney Way was less than expected, because few people could qualify for financing.

“We had five subsidies, and we had six applicants,” Ms. Vincent said. “We could have come up with other subsidies, but we didn’t have any more applicants. We were surprised as a committee.”

Selectman Margaret Serpa, who attended the forum, said the town is pursuing several parcels in Edgartown that may be seized because the owners have not paid taxes on the property. She said those lots may present opportunities for homeownership.

“Selectmen are very aware, and are looking into other opportunities with some of the tax title properties coming to the town,” Ms. Serpa told the affordable housing committee. “It’s certainly not something we are, and your committee is, ignoring.”

The committee said it plans to hold further public forums as the plans for the development progress, and invited anyone interested in the issue to attend meetings of the affordable housing committee. The committee meets on the first and third Wednesday of each month at 3:30 pm, at town hall.

In the original online version of this story, the quote attributed to Micah Agnoli, was incorrectly attributed to Jeff Agnoli.