Selectmen toss fishermen's insurance back
After an evening of bruising criticism from commercial fishermen, Chilmark selectmen Tuesday voted unanimously to rescind a February 16 vote to require leaseholders of town lots on Menemsha Harbor to carry $1 million each in liability insurance and name the town as an additionally insured party.
As part of a long-standing effort to preserve the working character of its harbor, Chilmark leases lots on the harbor at very little cost to individuals and businesses involved with commercial fishing. Many are so-called crickers, long-time fishermen who call the harbor home.
Many of the fishermen argued that the insurance was an unnecessary expense. Karsten Larsen, a cricker with a unique style who leases a lot on the bulkhead along Dutcher Dock for $72, described what measures he would take to limit liability.
"A no trespassing sign and an, 'enter at your own risk' sign, are all the insurance I need," Mr. Larsen said. "If I have to get insurance, and I have to put up $1 million liability, let me tell you, no one's going to walk across my lot with an open beer."
Selectman Warren Doty, who originally voted against the measure, suggested forming an independent committee to study the issue and make recommendations. That didn't sit too well in the packed meeting room.
"That's what we pay you guys for," said Pat Jenkinson, a lobsterman who pays $10 annually for a lot on the spit of land that divides Menemsha Basin from Menemsha Creek. "I would think you would have looked into it. You've got lawyers, why do we need a committee?"
At the earlier meeting on February 16 (See MV Times, Feb. 25, "Menemsha fishermen lessees need insurance"), selectman Frank Fenner proposed the lease requirement, saying it would protect the town. J.B. Riggs Parker, chairman of the selectmen, agreed. Mr. Doty voted against it, saying the town had insurance, and it would impose an unnecessary burden on the fishermen.
Tuesday, Mr. Fenner explained what got him to change his position. Mr. Fenner said he was first told that insurance could be added to the fishermen's existing policy for less than $200. He later learned that few of the leaseholders have liability insurance, so a rider would cost much more. "It's obviously not $100, and I'm understanding that now," Mr. Fenner said. "I don't want to make a big deal out of this thing."
The selectmen voted unanimously to rescind their earlier vote.
In other action, selectmen referred a request to send the job descriptions of Tim Carroll, town executive secretary, and Chuck Hodgkinson, the coordinator of administrative support, to the personnel board for review.
The debate about workloads and dividing duties began with the admission that minutes for the previous meeting were not ready yet.
"We're always adding jobs for Tim," Mr. Fenner said. "In the last year, we've had a lot of different management changes. It's just time, it's just good business practice to look at all your assets, to look at all the jobs people are doing."
"I think it's profitable to refer this to the personnel board, so we can get some opinions from them," Mr. Parker said. "I think that's their expertise. It's a work in progress, and I think it ought to continue."
Mr. Doty opposed the idea. "I think what you're asking for is a reorganization, you're not asking for a job description," Mr. Doty said. "I don't think that's the job of the personnel board, I think that's the job of the selectmen."
The measure was approved 2-1 with Mr. Doty dissenting.