Veteran Martha's Vineyard Commission commissioner storms out
Martha's Vineyard Commission chairman Douglas Sederholm found himself in the role of impromptu copy editor and negotiator at a stormy September 18 commission meeting that ended with one long-time commission member's angry departure.
The incident began with routine business. As recorded by MVTV, the local government access station, Martha's Vineyard Commission staff presented the commissioners with a draft written decision that described a change in an offer from the developers of the Field Club.
The Martha's Vineyard Commission reviewed the 25-lot upscale Katama subdivision that will include a private recreational club as a development of regional impact (DRI). Following Martha's Vineyard Commission approval, the developers, with the support of Edgartown officials, agreed to pay $1.8 million to the Edgartown affordable housing committee rather than donate three undeveloped housing lots, a condition of the permit the Martha's Vineyard Commission originally issued to the club.
Much to the consternation of Edgartown, whose affordable housing committee members were anxious to move forward and use the money, the commission decided that the change was substantial enough to require a public hearing. On August 28, under pressure from Edgartown housing officials, the commission approved the DRI modification.
At the September 18 meeting, Mr. Sederholm began a review of the draft decision that approved the modification. The five-page document included background about the history of the Field Club project and the original DRI decision to approve it.
Linda Sibley, commissioner from West Tisbury, objected to the background and the lack of detail surrounding the debate over a change from lots to cash. "I don't think it clarifies things; I think it confuses things. People will get to the point where they can't find the decision," she said.
Mr. Sederholm suggested the chronology was useful information and would provide context for people who looked at the decision.
Ms. Sibley persisted. "I'm sorry - let me rephrase this," she said, with her voice rising. "In this document, I can't find a clear exposition of what happened that night and what we decided. Because everything I find when I look at this is about sewage and... where does it say that in the pubic hearing these people argued that it would be better to have $1.8 million instead of three lots?" she exclaimed. "If it's here at all, it's completely lost in this other verbiage."
Martha's Vineyard Commission staff member and DRI analyst Paul Foley, the author of the draft, replied. "The project description is a history, so if someone just comes to this document, then they have a history," he said.
Mr. Sederholm attempted to defuse the situation. He said that a large amount of the report could be deleted and began taking pen to paper. But, that did not calm the waters. With an apology to the Martha's Vineyard Commission staff and unsure what powers he had, Mr. Sederholm said he would make an executive decision and recommend staff rewrite the decision.
Mark London, Martha's Vineyard Commission executive director, and Mr. Foley said they had followed the format used in the past. Discussion continued amid some confusion over past procedures and the actual nature of the draft decision.
Again Mr. Sederholm interceded. "Everything that Linda said, and my requests, are not criticisms of staff, because what you did is what we've always done," he said. Noting that it was a specific decision on a specific narrow modification, he said he would ask that it be rewritten so it addresses only that decision. "It will be a lot shorter document, and can be circulated by email," he said.
Mr. Sederholm did not want to tackle the rewrite that night. However, Chris Murphy of Chilmark reminded everyone that this would be the second time the Martha's Vineyard Commission had postponed finalizing the written decision.
Mr. London reiterated that there was nothing wrong in the document. At that point, Ms. Sibley announced, "I'm sorry - I'm leaving. This is not a criticism of staff. This document has nothing to do with what we did that night."
"Linda, we're going to put that part in," Mr. Sederholm said.
"It cannot be rewritten tonight - I'm leaving," she said, banging her hand on the table. "I'm sorry to lose my temper about this kind of thing, but yes it matters, no it can't be done tonight, it has to have a complete rewrite, and it's very easy to do, but not the way we're doing it. It's not holding up the applicant."
"Okay, if it's not holding up the applicant, then we'll rewrite it as I proposed," Mr. Sederholm told her, reminding her as she walked out the door that she would miss the vote on the public transit human services transportation plan, which had to be adopted that night.
Ms. Sibley said she didn't care. Following a quick count, Mr. Sederholm noted there was still a minimum quorum for the needed vote.
Still, his fellow commissioners did not buy Mr. Sederholm's assertion of executive powers. "We did agree with the Edgartown Housing Committee that we would do everything in our power to expedite this process, and I think we can vote this document just the way it is," said Mr. Murphy. "It may be a little confusing, but it's not incorrect, and we can move on. This whole thing just seems to be to me a tempest in a teapot. I think Linda's behavior was abusive to staff and unnecessary, and I think we should just move this."
After a brief break that allowed for some editing by Mr. Sederholm and Mr. London, the Martha's Vineyard Commission reconvened. "It's not a work of art, but it's serviceable," Mr. Sederholm announced.
The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the decision document.