Beer, wine forum uncorks emotional debate
Some speakers spoke in strident tones and some with voices quavering. Some read calmly from prepared notes, while others rambled on extemporaneously.
Whatever their style, many Tisbury residents had their say about the possible end of the town's dry status during an emotion-laden public forum held by the selectmen Tuesday night.
Last spring at town meeting, Tisbury voters approved a warrant article to allow the selectmen to submit a Home Rule Petition to the state legislature authorizing them to license beer and wine sales in certain restaurants. The beer and wine bill made its way through the legislative process and to Gov. Deval Patrick's desk where it awaits his signature. If approved, the question of whether Tisbury should allow beer and wine licenses can be put to voters on the April 15 town election ballot.
The selectmen held Tuesday's forum in response to requests from community members to express their opinions about what they see as the pros and cons of allowing beer and wine sales. About 25 people attended.
Audience member Rob Doyle jump-started the discussion by asking the three selectmen how they will vote. "If push came to shove today, I'm modestly in favor," said selectman Tristan Israel. With the caveat that he does not want people to be swayed by his opinion, selectman Denys Wortman announced he plans to vote yes on the beer and wine question. Selectman chairman Tom Pachico described himself as "sitting on the fence," and said he had not made up his mind yet.
Voicing a sentiment expressed several more times during the forum, Mr. Pachico said he worried that allowing beer and wine sales would be "the camel's nose in the tent." Mr. Wortman pointed out that the only way the town's beer and wine licensing rules could be amended would be if Tisbury went through the whole legislative process again.
Although Mr. Pachico judiciously called on everyone who wished to speak, those expressing negative opinions outnumbered those in favor.
Many of the speakers expressed concerns about possible negative effects that beer and wine sales might have on Tisbury's character and atmosphere as a family-oriented town. "We like the town just the way it is," said Dr. Henry Nieder.
Noting that there is a documented substance abuse problem among youth and adults on Martha's Vineyard, Youth Task Force chairperson Cindy Doyle said, "I'm proud of Vineyard Haven - it's the one place kids can go and not be around alcohol."
Since he lives close to town, planning board co-chairman Henry Stevenson said he would enjoy being able to walk to a restaurant on Main Street, meet up with friends, and have a glass of wine with dinner.
Hanover House owner Steve Perlman, Clark House Inn owner Lisa Rusche, and Mediteranean co-owner Leslie Hewson argued in favor of beer and wine sales from their perspectives as business owners who lose customers to similar establishments in Oak Bluffs and Edgartown that serve alcohol.
Mr. Pachico reminded everyone to go to the polls on April 15, and for those who have to work or go out of town, to vote by absentee ballot.