Oak Bluffs selectmen clash over grant funds
Oak Bluffs selectmen Kerry Scott clashed Tuesday with her colleagues over a grant whose funds would be used to improve critical parts of the town's beachfront and a town park. The funding requires a town match, and while she said she supports the planned improvements, Ms. Scott complained that the source of the town match had not been sufficiently vetted during the grant application process.
Ms. Scott sparred extensively with chairman Greg Coogan during the meeting.
The grant of $299,204.50 is funded by the federal government and administered by the state Department of Conservation and Recreation to improve access to town parks. Grant funds will be used to repair the brick bathrooms near the Steamship Authority terminal, to create a comfort station to replace the "snack shack," demolished after the collapse of the seawall, and to correct drainage issues in Waban Park. The grant, obtained by parks commission chairman Nancy Phillips, requires the town to match grant money for engineering and construction.
Michael Dutton, the town manager, outlined in detail a variety of specific town funding sources that would fulfill the 50-percent matching requirements, including Community Preservation Act funds, state highway funds, shellfish department funds, in-kind services from the town's highway department, and the selectmen's professional services budget.
After meeting with Mr. Dutton privately earlier in the week, Ms. Scott questioned Mr. Dutton extensively on the funding plan during the selectmen's meeting, and she criticized the process of getting the grant money. "The problem is, we have a grant that was successful," she said. "But we have a problem because the match piece wasn't vetted ahead of time. Even though I have a lot of questions, I'm certainly in support of doing this. The grant was written without a lot of participation from your office [addressing Mr. Dutton], or anybody else. We need to be very clear about what we're doing with town money."
After many questions, selectmen Ron DiOrio made a motion to approve the funding plan outlined by Mr. Dutton, but Ms. Scott raised more questions. Mr. DiOrio's second request for a vote prompted a sharp exchange between Mr. Coogan and Ms. Scott.
"Can I make a recommendation that if you have that many questions, you go over it ahead of time with Michael [Dutton]," said Mr. Coogan. "The rest of us are ready to move. I think you're holding the other four of us hostage, because you're putting us to sleep with your questions. I'm interested in information gathering, but I also think the rest of us are losing focus. As chair, I feel like, come on, move this thing along."
"This belongs here in open session, so the public knows we're looking out for them," said Ms. Scott.
"When you were chair, you ran the meetings the way you wanted to," said Mr. Coogan. He said, as chairman, he has the option to end debate.