West Tisbury annual warrant will include citizens' petitions
The volatile political caldron in West Tisbury continues to simmer, as three citizens' petitions have been filed with town clerk Prudence Whiting for the annual town meeting in April.
Two of the petitions concern the stalled and foundering town hall renovation project. A petition delivered by former selectman John Alley asks voters to rescind the action (taken by a special town meeting in October 2004) to authorize $3.7 million for the project. It turned out that $3.7 million was not enough to make the extensive renovations proposed. Last November the town refused to spend $1.8 million more, and the selectmen on Feb. 1 (in a tie vote) failed to authorize the building committee to spend any more money on a drastically reduced version of the project. A yes vote on Mr. Alley's petition would administer the coup de grace to the project.
A second petition, delivered to Ms. Whiting by Richard Knabel, asks that the town enter into negotiations with a non-profit organization (presumably the Preservation Trust, though the idea would have to be put out for bids) to take over the town hall building, with the intent to lease it back after it has been restored and renovated.
Coincidentally, at the same meeting at which Mr. Knabel apprised the selectmen of his petition, chairman of selectmen Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter returned from vacation with a similar scheme. Mr. Manter's plan is to sell the building to the Preservation Trust for the nominal one dollar. After renovations were completed, the town would lease it back from the Trust for 20 years at one dollar per year plus one-twentieth of the Trust's cost to restore the building, which would probably be less than the town's to do the same work. After 20 years, the town would rent the building for one dollar a year plus whatever it costs the Trust to maintain it.
Executive secretary Jennifer Rand has contacted Chris Scott, executive director of the Trust, who was not opposed to the idea, but noncommittal. However, Ms. Rand was yesterday awaiting a return call from the state Attorney General's office on the legality of such a plan. If the state sees the plan as a ploy to avoid state procurement regulations, it may not permit the scheme.
A third petition, delivered by Cynthia Riggs, would ask the voters enact a bylaw limiting the number of elected positions in town an individual might hold. The bylaw, based on one in effect in Chilmark since 1987, would prohibit a person from sitting on more than one of the following: board of selectmen, board of assessors, board of health, the finance committee, and the up-Island regional school committee. Mr. Manter sits on three of these boards, and selectman Glenn Hearn is a candidate for assessor.
Citizen's petitions, which must contain the signatures of at least ten voters, can be filed by Feb. 21.