Letters to the Editor
How to read
To the Editor:
You can tell a lot about the Island newspapers by listening for who does, and doesn't, answer their telephone calls. For a dramatic example, read last week's coverage of West Tisbury's thumping win in the William Graham tax case and be alert for variants of the telltale phrase, "did not return repeated calls this week."
Way back when, the Vineyard Gazette got a running start on this story. It was sending its reporter up to Boston for sessions of the Appellate Tax Board for quite some time before The Martha's Vineyard Times jumped in. And during this early period, the Gazette showed a powerful appetite for testimony attacking the practices and even the character of the West Tisbury board of assessors and its contractor, Vision Appraisal Technology Inc.
Last week, the assessors were popping the cork on a victory, and they discussed that victory expansively with The Martha's Vineyard Times. The Gazette, which had burned its bridges with the defendants long before, could only write: "Board chairman Michael Colaneri and principal assessor Jo-Ann Resendes did not return calls for comment this week." The Gazette added: "Vision Appraisal president Kevin Comer did not return a call for comment yesterday."
Eventually The Times did begin ramping up its coverage of the Graham case, and the difference in tone was obvious from the start. There was less highlighting, and no evident relishing, of testimony that impugned the assessors, and much less ink was devoted to the vocal attacks on the town system by Mr. Graham himself.
Mr. Graham spoke extensively with the Gazette last week, taking the sour-grapes position that he had never expected the Appellate Tax Board to rule in his favor. Wrote The Martha's Vineyard Times, "Mr. Graham did not return telephone messages left Tuesday afternoon and Wednesday morning by a Times reporter."
This running story will be remembered, among close followers of the Island press, for two remarkable moments of theatre. Last summer, the Boston Globe picked up on The Martha's Vineyard Times report that Gazette editor Julia Wells was Mr. Graham's tenant, renting a cottage on his West Tisbury estate. The Globe tried to get her side of the story, but reported: "She wouldn't talk to us." According to the Globe, the Gazette's publisher, Richard Reston, was more than willing to talk. In fact, he "roared over the phone," dismissing The Martha's Vineyard Times as "a throwaway paper" and insisting that Ms. Wells's rental raises no issues of conflict. Why? Because he, not she, was editing the news file on the Graham tax case.
The second memorable moment was the Gazette's remarkable editorial of Nov. 25, 2005, entitled "No Confidence: A Call for Resignations." Here Mr. Reston weighed in from his retirement home in Sarasota (at least we presume it was he, taking him at his word that Ms. Wells, the cottager, had recused herself from the case), explaining to the people of West Tisbury what they had really said in their recent special town meeting. Although no citizens of West Tisbury had specifically said any such thing, and although Mr. Reston had not attended the meeting, he declared that the real message from the populace was "a message no longer open to debate." The message? Firmly grasping his secret decoder ring, Mr. Reston intoned: "The elected members of the West Tisbury board of assessors should resign, along with the principal town assessor."
This exercise in Ouija-board journalism may just have something to do with the fact that the West Tisbury board and their assessors didn't feel comfortable talking with a Gazette reporter last week.
The Graham case is an object lesson in how easy it is for competing newspapers to polarize in their coverage of a local controversy. (Think of New Bedford fast ferry service and the Southern Woodlands controversy, two instances in which the Island newspapers seemed to be speaking from different journalistic universes.) Here the Gazette started with its own point of view, grounded in its own close ties to the Graham family, and ended up alienating the town and its assessment firm. The Times tried to balance that perspective, and apparently ended up alienating Mr. Graham.
For political junkies interested in the most complete perspective on a big story, this is one of those instances when there's no real alternative to reading both Island papers. Because if you read just one, you'll never hear from the folks who aren't picking up the telephone.
Editor's Note: The writer, who lives in Edgartown, is a writer and editor, and the former longtime news editor of the Vineyard Gazette. He is the founder and editor of Framework, the Journal of Affordable Housing on M.V., and a frequent contributor to The Martha's Vineyard Times.
Time to end legal battle against
To the Editor:
Nelson Sigelman's excellent article in The Martha's Vineyard Times, "State Land Court Finds for the ZBA on Chappy House lots" and Ian Fein's article in the Vineyard Gazette "Land Court Upholds Permits for Homes on Chappaquiddick" carefully report the background of a contentious issue, the legal aspects that were considered, and the people involved. Our objective in this letter is to ask the plaintiffs in the lawsuit who are listed below not to appeal Judge Piper's decision so that these nice young people can build their dream houses and go on with their lives. While we firmly support the concept that citizens should have the right to petition (appeal) any governmental decision, there is a point where preventing anyone from building a house to which they are entitled, for frivolous or manufactured reasons, has a terribly destructive effect on their lives. Let us as such a small community move on to constructive solutions to our affordable housing dilemma. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are Lionel Spiro, Cornelia Dean, Robert and Cheryl Finklestein, George Mellendick, James Williams, Paul Wales, Frank and Karen Gazarian. The Gazarians are recent year-round residents; the remainder are all seasonal residents.
Bob and Fran Clay
Protect us from the Girl Scouts
To the Editor:
So, the "MVC will take Girl Scout Camp for DRI review" (front page, MV Times, June 29). "The referral is principally because there is no feasible way to have comment from the abutters. We felt the neighbors deserved an opportunity to be heard," one of our Chilmark selectman explained. "We love the Girl Scouts but we love the neighbors, too".
It warms my heart to know that the folks over at Chilmark Town Hall care deeply about the potential impact on neighbors from the Girl Scouts' grandiose building plans - even though we love the Girl Scouts. Because the Girl Scouts are a non-profit, our elected officials could have left the concerned neighbors helpless, in legal limbo, or given them the runaround. They could have rolled their eyes if a concerned neighbor walked in with a complaint or a concern, thinking, "Here comes that troublemaker again, the one who hates the Girl Scouts."
Is the potential impact from noise, actual use, and traffic and parking really that big? We'll find out, for sure.
What's with those entitled little campers, anyway, increasing the size and improving the safety of their camp house like that? And who says we love them? What if the sales from those aprons, cookbooks, and memorial bricks make the Scouts very wealthy? Left unchecked, who's then to stop a bunch of self-serving little girls and their leaders and lawyers from having big weekly parties, complete with traffic and parking issues, brass bands, fireworks on the 4th, and screaming, clapping audiences? Those girls might become so pushy as to get permission for their camp house, but then, without further permission or input from anyone affected, build a new road, widen a private, dirt road by more than eight feet, start doubling the size of turnouts on other people's property (so the excavation equipment could park there), put up a few extra, enormous structures, keep hidden from the public what the property is really being used for, (campfires or farming, my foot), excavate and clear-cut tens of acres of natural vegetation without anyone knowing if it is wetlands, turn neighbors' well water to a funky brown color during all the digging, tear out enormous boulders and mature trees, produce enough speeding, stinky truck traffic on a formerly quiet and safe dirt road to rival the Holland Tunnel and kill someone's dog, build bonfires without protective screens, put in an eco-damaging lawn and outdoor theater, and place a BBQ underneath an environmentally protected tree, endangering the entire neighborhood with fire. No, the planning committee did not mess around. They handed those goody-two-shoes Scout plans right over to the MVC.
It's a good thing we have an alternative, the MVC, so that in case any non-profits might want to do some ridiculous, dangerous, and damaging building, they can't bypass the civilized planning, zoning, and conservation laws the rest of us so faithfully abide by here in town. What a relief.
And how about the good things the Girl Scouts do accomplish? Would excessive, secret, neighbor-annoying, and damaging building by a now wealthy aspect of a bigger picture negate the importance of helping others and establishing healthy self-esteem in girls? Instead of the leaders of an important group being good role models for girls, would the actions of a few bad, rich girly scouts make everyone involved in the Girl Scout organization seem like bossy, self-righteous, and selfish little brats?
Nah, not with the Girl Scouts, not in Chilmark, and not with all these protective, proactive local governing boards keeping an eye out for us voters. Chilmark is safe from all kinds of shortsighted, power-hungry, greedy little girls and their proclivity for foolish, damaging, and incessant building. No one would ever agree to all that ridiculous building, anyway. I mean, everyone would either have to collude with the offenders or else just pretend it wasn't really happening.
So, not to worry, here in Chilmark the love abounds.
Hit and run
To the Editor:
If the reader has any information concerning the owner or driver of a recent-model silver-gray double cab pick-up truck, which at 8:45 am Sunday morning, July 2, turned onto Ocean Avenue, Oak Bluffs from Healey Way without slowing down and hit a "toy" sized white dog on a leash held by its owner, causing it serious injury, telephone 693-7181. The truck sped off without stopping, turning right onto Grove Street.
Joseph Sequeira Vera
To the Editor:
Have you seen them? The short red house number signs that are starting to appear on the Island? They are made of steel, are about two feet high, and are set very near the road at the end of driveways. The sheriff's department is placing them through a group named Triad, whose purpose is to develop programs to help seniors feel safe. These signs are designed for high visibility to help emergency vehicles find seniors' houses.
I think the idea is great, but I feel that they are dangerous for many reasons. They could hurt a bicyclist or moped rider who is out of control, or even a pedestrian trying to get out of a vehicle's way. Most of them are on either state or town property, so if someone is hurt by them the state or town would be legally liable. Since they are so close to the ground they will be covered in snow storms. Also, the signs red-flag where seniors live. I know that we don't have much of a criminal element, but the policemen who I've talked to seem to think that it's a bad idea to flag seniors' homes.
Lastly, I think that the red is too bright and not within the esthetics of Martha's Vineyard. If the signs were a different color, just as reflective at night, not set right at the edge of the road, instead placed on trees, fence posts, mailbox posts, etc. and offered to everyone, I would feel much better about the project. Am I the only one concerned about this?
Missed the boat
To the Editor:
I got ripped off by the Steamship Authority last week. What else is new? I made the fatal mistake of not calling the Steamship to let them know that I would be late for a scheduled return trip. When I showed up a few days late, they told me that my ticket had been cancelled and that I would have to get a standby ticket. Knowing that there was no point in arguing with the counter help, I went ahead and paid $78 for a one-way ticket from Woods Hole to Vineyard Haven.
When I returned home, I made a call to Wayne Lamson at the Steamship Authority. I explained to Mr. Lamson what had happened and that this same thing has happened several times in the past with no penalty. As a frequent traveler there has been many occasions that I have arrived a few days late, simply jumped in the standby line and come across without my ticket being cancelled.
The response from Mr. Lamson was quite an awakening. "Jerry," he said, "have you ever gone to a concert before? What happens when you buy a ticket to a concert and you don't show up?"
Yes reader, you read that right. Mr. Lamson was comparing passage on the Steamship as to that of attending a concert. With this analogy, I realized that I wasn't going to get anywhere with Wayne Lamson, so I asked him if I could speak to someone else, perhaps the CEO of the Steamship Authority. He then told me that he was the CEO. It became quite clear to me that Wayne Lamson is totally out of touch with the average person who rides on the Steamship Authority. To Wayne Lamson, the policies of the Steamship Authority are more important than the passengers who he is supposed to be providing service for.
To compare passage on the Steamship to that of attending a concert is a very weak analogy, but it was the best that the current CEO had to offer. If Bob Dylan was performing a concert in Woods Hole 15 times a day, seven days a week, and I happened to miss a show, I'll bet Old Bob would let me sit in on the first show that had a seat available. After all, I did pay for a ticket.
To the Editor:
Islanders who cherish the freedom of speech guaranteed to all American citizens under the US Constitution applaud the heroic efforts of Oak Bluffs selectmen Kerry Scott and Roger Wey in fighting for the rights of town voters to have the opportunity to express their opinion about the future of town-sponsored monster shark tournaments.
Unfortunately, the courageous efforts of these two outstanding selectmen to place this important town issue on the Aug. 8 ballot has been effectively undermined by the town's other two selectmen, Gregory Coogan and Duncan Ross. Their opposition to allowing the citizens the chance to vote on Aug. 8 is a disturbing lesson in obfuscated rhetoric.
It would seem reasonable that Oak Bluffs voters have a legitimate right and solemn responsibility to inform selectmen as to their thinking regarding future monster shark tournaments. By refusing to place this issue on the Aug. 8 ballot, selectmen Coogan and Ross have demonstrated their apparent contempt for the good citizens of the town. Regardless of the outcome of the vote, the people of the town have the right to participate in the decision-making process. To disrespect and undermine this constitutional right is shameful, not to mention un-American!