Authors Posts by Steve Myrick

Steve Myrick

Steve Myrick
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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.

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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.

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Leandro Miranda listened to a court interpreter during his appearance in Edgartown District Court on July 10. —Photo by Steve Myrick

Leandro Miranda, 23, of Oak Bluffs pleaded guilty to drunk driving, failing to stop for police, and resisting arrest Thursday in Edgartown District Court. He was sentenced to 2.5 years in a house of correction, with nine months to serve, and the balance suspended for two years of probation.

Presiding Justice H. Gregory Williams also imposed conditions of probation that include no alcohol, and no driving without a license. If he violates those conditions after his release from incarceration, he could be returned to the house of corrections to serve the full 2.5-year sentence.

Mr. Miranda has amassed a long record of serious driving offenses this year, resulting in five separate arrests. In three of those incidents, Mr. Miranda tried to flee or evade police, according to court records, including twice when he fled in his vehicle at high speeds.

The plea agreement also included guilty pleas on charges of driving without a license, driving after a suspension of license for operating under the influence of alcohol (OUI), and negligent operation of a vehicle. He was found not responsible for a marked lanes violation, and a charge of destruction of property was dismissed at the request of the prosecutor.

Judge Williams revoked probation for Mr. Miranda on an earlier conviction of drunk driving, and ordered him to serve the 60-day sentence that was suspended as part of a plea agreement on August 10. The court also sentenced him to 60 days in a house of correction for an earlier conviction of driving after a license suspension for OUI. Both sentences are to be served concurrently with the longer sentence. Mr. Miranda, held without bail since his August 10 arraignment on the latest charges will get credit for 47 days already served in jail.

Although U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) was notified shortly after the Brazilian national’s first arrest on March 2, according to a police report, there is no record of any action taken by federal authorities, until August 28, following his fifth arrest. ICE then issued a detainee order, requiring local authorities to hold Mr. Miranda in custody for 48 hours once his jail sentence and any other court proceedings are finished. According to the detainee order, ICE has “determined that there is reason to believe the individual is an alien subject to removal from the United States.”

ICE did not respond to repeated calls seeking more information about Mr. Miranda’s immigration status.

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The island of Chappaquiddick on the eastern end of Martha's Vineyard, is without cable service.

Dennis Goldin, a Chappaquiddick resident who is among several community leaders that have worked to bring cable television to Chappaquiddick, told Edgartown selectmen Monday that he expects to fall short of the threshold of 270 household signups Comcast requires before it will extend its cable infrastructure across the harbor channel to the small island community. Mr. Goldin asked selectmen to push for a revised contract with Comcast, to lower that threshold.

“In a little less than two months the December deadline is going to expire,” Mr. Goldin told selectmen. “It’s our best estimate at this point, we’ll have 200 homeowners that will have signed up.” He said the estimate comes from a poll of Chappaquiddick homeowners.

On July 16, shortly before one of two summer Chappaquiddick Island Association (CIA) meetings there were 92 deposits being held in escrow from homeowners who committed to cable service, according to residents involved in the negotiations.

Under a deal that took more than two years to negotiate, Comcast agreed to extend its cable infrastructure to Chappaquiddick if 270 households paid an advance construction deposit of $2,139 each. The original July 21 deadline for the deposits was extended by agreement between the town of Edgartown and Comcast.

Dr. Paul O’Donnell made a plea for the service Monday night. He told selectmen he was recruited to move to the Island to provide medical services to cancer patients at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. He said he needs cable service, including high-speed Internet access, to treat Island patients.

“My wife and I bought a house on Chappy and moved here in March,” Dr. O’Donnell said. “In order to provide the services I need to do, I need to have access to MGH (Massachusetts General Hospital) electronic medical records, and have ready access all the time. With the provider I have now, the service is so unreliable, half the time I cannot connect to the medical records.”

Chairman Art Smadbeck pledged to continue to work with Comcast.

“We’re so close,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “We’re not going to rest until we can close the gap. Some of the points you make, we’ll be able to use.”

In other business, selectmen voted to accept the quarterly report of animal control officer Barbara Prada, who said her department answered 415 calls for service from April through September.

“It was a quiet summer, which is fine with me,” Ms. Prada said. Selectmen Michael Donaroma noted that Ms. Prada’s detailed report included as many calls for seals, as snakes this summer.

“There are a lot of animals that people don’t realize are out there,” she said. “I’ve also had a couple calls about peacocks.”

Ms. Prada told the selectmen that she will take a medical leave in February, which she said is the slowest time of year for her department.

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The Dukes County courthouse in Edgartown.

A Dukes County Superior Court grand jury Monday indicted Carlos G. Stevenson, owner of Mosher Photo in Vineyard Haven, on a charge of aggravated rape of a child with force, and five charges of indecent assault and battery on a child under 14.

Police arrested Mr. Stevenson, 48, of Tisbury, on June 11. According to the indictments, all of the incidents took place between 2000 and 2003, in Tisbury and West Tisbury.

At the time of his arraignment in Edgartown District Court, Cape and Islands assistant district attorney Laura Marshard told the court the charges stem from a period of stalking and molesting a child, over several years, that began when the child was 10 years old. At that hearing, Mr. Stevenson denied all of the charges.

Following his June 11 arrest, prosecutors filed an additional charge of indecent assault on a child, involving the same victim but for incidents in West Tisbury. Mr. Stevenson has been free on $9,000 bail.

Also indicted Monday was Matthew P. Tucci, who lists his address as Boylston, but who has been living for long periods of time on Martha’s Vineyard, according to police.

The grand jury charged him with two counts of possession with intent to distribute heroin, as a second and subsequent offense. He was also indicted on two charges of failing to register as a sex offender. Mr. Tucci was convicted of rape in 2000. At the time, he was 19, and living in Edgartown.

Mr. Tucci has a long record of drug convictions in several Massachusetts courts.

In January of 2013, with two heroin dealing charges pending in other courts, Oak Bluffs police arrested Mr. Tucci in a coordinated operation with the Martha’s Vineyard Drug Task force. He was convicted of dealing heroin in Edgartown District Court, and sentenced to 18 months in the Dukes County House of Correction.

On March 6 of this year, he completed his latest sentence and was released. Thirteen days later, he was arrested again, on charges of dealing heroin. He was released after that arrest on $2,000 bail, but at his arraignment two days later, the court revoked bail, and ordered him held on violation of his probation. At a subsequent hearing, he was again released on bail.

On July 15, Mr. Tucci went back to jail. After a struggle with police on Sea View Avenue extension, he swallowed what police believe were packets of drugs. They later went to a home where he was staying, and seized a backpack they believe belongs to Mr. Tucci. Inside they found 11 individually wrapped packages of heroin.

Mr. Tucci has remained at the Dukes County Jail, held on parole violations, since his July 15 arrest.

Both men were originally arraigned on the same charges in Edgartown District Court. An indictment moves the case to Superior Court, where the law allows longer sentences, including state prison sentences.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that Mr. Stevenson was indicted on charges in connection with a second victim. The additional charges stemmed from an incident with the same victim but in a different town.

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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.