Tisbury officials debate rules for taxis, moorings
Tisbury selectmen Tristan Israel and Tom Pachico clashed repeatedly at a meeting Tuesday night about areas of town management, particularly moorings in Lagoon Pond and taxi driver licensing, which usually fall under the oversight of town committees and departments.
In a lengthy and sometimes heated discussion session, Mr. Pachico questioned harbormaster Jay Wilbur and shellfish constable Derek Cimeno about what the selectman perceived as a growing number of new moorings in the Lagoon Pond in the area of the boat launch facility. In fact, Mr. Pachico estimated the number had doubled, based on his familiarity with the area after scalloping there for years.
"There are a lot more new ones in the shellfish beds," Mr. Pachico told Mr. Cimeno. "I've had several complaints. If we're adding moorings, it needs to come before the [selectmen's] board."
"We're not adding moorings, we're moving them," Mr. Wilbur explained. "We have kept them out of the eel grass."
Not satisfied, Mr. Pachico told Mr. Wilbur and Mr. Cimeno he knew of at least a dozen moorings that had been added in the area over the last two weeks, and suggested they should come up with a grid system to monitor the mooring locations, similar to one used in Lake Tashmoo.
Mr. Cimeno offered to take up the issue with the town's harbor management committee and shellfish advisory committee, and then report to the selectmen. "I'm not into us approving specific moorings," Mr. Israel said.
Mr. Pachico disagreed. Neither committee had commented on or asked about the new moorings, Mr. Pachico said, insisting firmly to Mr. Israel, "A new mooring field needs to be approved by us."
Mr. Israel, obviously annoyed, said he agreed there would be no harm in developing mooring policies. He reiterated his opinion that the selectmen did not need to insert their board into the process. He and Mr. Pachico raised their voices, and tempers flared as they argued.
Martha's Vineyard Shipyard owner Phil Hale, who was attending the meeting to discuss events for the upcoming Vineyard Cup weekend on July 6-8, suggested inviting boatyards, which would have an interest in mooring placement and usage, into the conversation. "I can't believe the selectmen need to be involved in that - Tisbury's harbor mooring policy is excellent," Mr. Hale said.
Taking the middle ground, selectman Denys Wortman said he would like to see Mr. Wilbur and Mr. Cimeno work the issues out. As a compromise, he suggested, "If you're putting in any more moorings by the ramp, let us know."
Mr. Wilbur said there are about 240 moorings on the Vineyard Haven side of the Lagoon and about 300 on the Oak Bluffs side. Mr. Pachico instructed him to talk with someone about coming up with a grid plan.
Taxing taxi hearing
With the mooring discussion mired in debate, a continued hearing regarding proposed new regulations for taxi driver permits slipped from 6:30 pm to 7:20.
Under new regulations the selectmen approved last November, they turned the matter of taxi driver permits over to the police department. Tisbury officer Timothy Stobie had drafted the taxi permit criteria, based on regulations in effect in other Island towns. When the new regulations went into effect in April, Chief Cashin enforced them. Under the stricter policies, which included more extensive background checks, many long-time cab drivers were denied their permits by Chief Cashin.
The owners of AAA Taxi, Able Taxi, and Tisbury Taxi hired attorney Daniel Larkosh of the Edgartown firm of Larkosh and Jackson to represent them. On May 29, the selectmen held a public hearing on the taxi licensing criteria. They extended the cab drivers' permits for another two weeks. Chief Cashin agreed to review a draft of changes to the regulations submitted by the cab drivers.
Tuesday, Mr. Larkosh urged the selectmen to adopt the two-page list of regulations proposed by the taxi drivers, which included a point system for approving or denying licenses. Describing Chief Cashin's regulations as "long and ambiguous," Mr. Larkosh warned that "the police department regulations put us back at square one - we'll have a lot of people out of work again."
"I'm a little disappointed you guys didn't sit down together," Mr. Israel chastised.
"I have certain viewpoints on this - you're the governing body - it's your responsibility to go over Officer Stobie's regulations, Mr. Larkosh's, and mine," the chief said, adding that, "If we're going to let the taxi drivers regulate themselves, sign off on their rules and let them get to work."
Mr. Pachico told Mr. Larkosh everyone would review Chief Cashin's nine pages of regulations first. The painstakingly laborious process, which stopped and started with numerous debates on wording and what-if scenarios, proceeded sentence by sentence and section by section, inching along like traffic on the Island on a rainy summer day.
Mr. Israel, who said he had once driven a cab, insisted throughout the discussion that he thought cab drivers who had previously been permitted should be allowed to drive.
"What if you have somebody with a recent DUI [driving under the influence]?" Chief Cashin asked.
"I don't want to put good hardworking people out of work," Mr. Israel responded.
"They may be good hardworking people, but we don't know what's under the surface," Mr. Wortman countered.
The selectmen continued to whittle down the regulations, with much give and take with the taxi cab company owners and drivers. One of the biggest concessions the selectmen made involved changing "admission of guilt" regarding driving and criminal offenses, to "convicted."
This represented a major departure for Chief Cashin, who said in earlier discussions several weeks ago that he viewed charges of negligent operation in the same light as a DUI. The selectmen also agreed to relax rules about conviction records to allow a cab driver a permit if he or she has not been convicted on a charge of violence for five years, possessing a controlled substance for five years, or an OUI for five years.
Mr. Pachico volunteered that his son, a Tisbury cab driver, had an OUI charge. Court records indicate it was continued without a finding, and he was given supervised probation for a year. Under Chief Cashin's regulations, Mr. Pachico's son would have been denied his taxi driver's permit.
Mr. Pachico recused himself from voting or debating any of the regulations that had to do with OUIs.
After two and a half hours, the selectmen agreed to put together the amended regulations and submit them to town counsel for review before voting on them at their next meeting. Mr. Wortmann and Mr. Israel voted to extend the grace period on the taxi drivers' permits through July 10. Mr. Pachico abstained.
After the hearing, Mr. Larkosh said he and the cab drivers thought that "the process worked wonderfully - we ended up with regulations that were more liberal than the ones we proposed."
Yesterday, Chief Cashin said he did not take the selectmen's rejection of his proposed regulations personally. "I thought the selectmen wanted something to work with that would be, from a public safety perspective, as comprehensive as possible, to really ensure the safety of the people utilizing the cab services. And apparently they found those rules too restrictive and were not prepared for the types of changes the adoption of such rules would entail."
Reflecting on the end result, Chief Cashin said, "I'm assuming, aside from the things I've just heard, there must have been some motivation for this change of regulations. But obviously that's gone by the wayside now, and we constructively have allowed the industry to regulate themselves."
Chief Cashin said he gave up his tough position on equating negligent operation to DUIs because he felt it was a losing battle. "The reasoning behind that was to provide deterrent for future behavior," he explained. "If somebody goes out and gets a DUI arrest, based on what I've heard from the prosecutors and people I know, it's very difficult to get a DUI conviction on this Island with a jury, because a lot of people just won't convict."
He added, "And that's why a lot of these things are plea-bargained. It's plea-bargained down. So basically, you're getting someone saying, yeah, I did it, but I'm not going to take punishment for that particular offense."
Chief Cashin joked that one upside of the less restrictive criteria is that it will make his job easier. However, he said, regardless of what regulations are in place, the cab drivers should view themselves as representing the town.
"We're spending $400,000 on a parking lot to impress people as they come off the ferry because it's the first thing they'll see but for many of them, it's the cabs and cab drivers," Chief Cashin pointed out. "I would hate to see anything happen to anyone, including the cab drivers, that would result in injury, death, or even an unpleasant visit to the Island, because we are somewhat a tourist resort. We have to appreciate the importance of that good impression."