Aquinnah votes concert venue plan
Whether it was the interest a proposal for an outdoor music stage generated or the knowledge that on a cold winter night it was the best show in town, a significant number of voters appeared Tuesday night for an Aquinnah special town meeting.
Over the course of the approximately two-hour meeting, voters authorized selectmen to solicit proposals to lease a portion of the Aquinnah Circle for the purpose of a performing arts stage and took action on 13 additional warrant articles, most of which involved some degree of financial housekeeping.
Having failed to attract a quorum of 39 voters in three tries since October, the first question of the night was answered when voters continued to fill the rows of folding seats in the old town hall past the scheduled 7 pm start of the meeting. The ultimate and official total attendance was 55.
Photo by Nelson Sigelman
Aquinnah in early March is very quiet. That may have accounted for the distinct conviviality that permeated much of the night's discussion and smoothed the edges off debates among year-round residents who found themselves suddenly gathered in one room with folks they had mostly seen in passing on up-Island roads.
The first extended discussion of the night came when voters were asked to approve a policy that would allow selectmen to sell a town-owned, landlocked parcel to abutters, in exchange for an agreement that the property would not be subdivided.
Selectman Jim Newman explained the financial benefits of a sale, expected to generate approximately $600,000. He said the immediate benefit would be that the town would be able to place $238,000, the maximum allowed, into the stabilization fund. Over the long term, the sale would place a piece of property back on the tax rolls. "This is really important to us," he told voters.
But voters were not convinced it was a good deal for the town and defeated the measure on a voice vote. Much of the discussion focused on efforts to use the land for affordable housing, or as leverage to gain a site elsewhere in town, possibly through a swap.
Cheryl Andrews-Maltais, chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head, questioned the probity of past town land sales, subsequent to tax takings. Ms. Maltais said she knew that many tribe members had lost land due to a lack of due diligence on the part of the town.
In fact, tribe members have in the past filled many of the official positions in the town, formerly known as Gay Head, including those responsible for tax takings.
Yesterday, in a telephone conversation with The Martha's Vineyard Times, Jeffrey Madison, a former Aquinnah selectman, long-time town assessor, and a lawyer, said that while those accusations might have been true for the distant past, he could not recall one instance where the town had failed to exercise due diligence.
Normally, voters move quickly through those portions of special town meeting warrants intended to take care of outstanding bills. But article nine, a request for $305.29 for the Dukes County pest management program raised numerous questions: What is it for and what did the town get for its money, and by the way how much did it cost the town?
And, Jim Benoit added, "It just so happens that I have a rat in my house. How is this going to help me?"
Town officials had no answers to any of the questions, and the article was tabled. As it turns out, there will be no need to resurrect the article.