West Tisbury selectmen last week adopted a new safety and security policy for the town hall under which an employee alone on a floor in the three-story building during regular business hours will be allowed to lock the door to his or her floor and post a note asking visitors to knock. In some cases, the employee could refuse to open the door.
Adopted October 15, the policy states: “If an employee finds that they are alone on their floor during regular business hours they may, if they choose, lock the entrance door to their floor and post a note asking patrons to knock for entrance into the floor. If the employee has reason to feel concerned they may refuse entrance to that individual. If a patron is refused entrance the employee shall notify their department head or board members immediately of the incident. After regular business hours the door from the lobby to the stairwell and the elevator shall be locked unless there is a public meeting taking place in the building.”
The policy did not satisfy Michael Colaneri, chairman of the board of assessors, who initially raised the issue with selectmen in July when he said that an employee who works on the third floor told him she did not feel safe when she realized that she is sometimes the only employee in the building during hours when the town hall is open to the public.
Mr. Colaneri, in an email to the selectmen dated October 7 following his review of a draft of the new policy, noted that the town hall is also a well used bus stop.
“I certainly do not want to make a mountain out of a molehill,” Mr. Colaneri said, “but in these ever precarious and uncertain times, and the town hall now being a bus depot times have changed in West Tisbury and the Island. I believe the town can do better and should do better, with a more comprehensive plan, to possibly include security cameras.”
Mr. Colaneri told selectmen Wednesday that the new policy “is minimal at best and doesn’t do enough to protect town employees.”
Selectman and town police sergeant Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter said that he thought a security camera would be a good idea. Mr. Manter said that recordings from a security camera would be used as an investigative tool only in the case of an incident and would not be routinely monitored as a surveillance camera would be. “There is hardly a place you can go today, right or wrong, that you aren’t smiling on a camera,” he said.
Selectman Richard Knabel disagreed and said he is “completely opposed to the idea” of a video camera. “To some extent it seems to me we are looking for a solution that’s looking for a problem,” he said. “I raised the issue of security five years ago when we first moved into this building because of the separation between floors and the lack of easy communication and one floor not knowing who is on the other floors.”
Mr. Knabel said he thinks there should always be someone on the first floor whenever the building is open. “Without going to extreme measures we should see how this new policy works,” he said.
Selectman Cynthia Mitchell said that employee input was solicited before the new policy was written.
In a town where many residents do not even bother to lock their doors, there is little to suggest that town hall is unsafe, with or without a bus stop.
West Tisbury police Chief Daniel Rossi told The Times that in his 23 years with the police he does not recall a single call from a town employee regarding suspicious activity in the town hall. “There have been around two calls per summer reporting suspicious activity at the bus stop in front of the town hall,” he said, “but nothing significant happened any of those times.”
In other business Wednesday, selectmen Mr. Knabel and Mr. Manter rejected building inspector Joe Tierney’s request to charge fees for tent permits. Mr. Tierney said fees are charged by most of the other Island towns for the permits that are required by state law for tents over 400 square feet. Selectman Cynthia Mitchell voted for the fees.
Selectmen voted unanimously to continue to team with the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank to appeal a land court decision denying public access to a part of a traditional walking path known as Old Stagecoach Way. The Massachusetts Land Court ruled that the town’s evidence was too speculative to satisfy the burden of proof in a case tied to an attempt to clear title to land owned by the McKacou Realty Trust.
Selectmen observed a moment of silence to honor the memory of Robert Potts who died on October 11. Mr. Manter said Mr. Potts always had a wise word and was a wonderful man. Mr. Knabel noted Mr. Potts’s contributions to the community through “The Broadside,” his self-published newspaper. “He had a good sense of irony and knew how to use it,” Mr. Knabel said.