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Tisbury Selectmen

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Harbormaster Jay Wilbur took some heat for changes he proposed at Lake Street Pier and the outer harbor.

Tisbury selectman wrestled with harbor issues Tuesday night. From left: Tristan Israel, Jon Snyder and Mellnda Loberg.

Following a heated public hearing Tuesday night, Tisbury selectmen voted to allow properly permitted commercial fishing boats to dock for up to two hours on the south side of the Lake Street Landing pier. Selectmen punted on a request to change anchorage time limits from three days to seven.

Prior to the vote, discussion grew heated and personal. Charter captain Lynn Fraker said time limits did not matter, because of lax enforcement.

Ms. Fraker said Harbormaster Jay Wilbur preferred to “bully” those who speak up, rather than enforce the regulations. She also claimed selectmen “condone the bullying.”

Eugene Decosta said he agreed with Lynn Fraker “110 percent.” He said all the Island towns have a 20-minute limit for commercial fisherman. “There’s no communication down there, there’s no accountability, and there’s no enforcement,” he said.

Mr. Wilbur said it would be difficult to monitor the dock in 20-minute intervals, given the limited staff.

Town manager Jay Grande suggested that lack of regulation was the root of dock drama. Selectman Melinda Loberg agreed. “Until we make rules, we can’t ask people to comply,” she said.

Selectmen voted unanimously for the two-hour limit.

A proposed change in the number of days boaters may anchor in Tashmoo, Lagoon Pond, and both the inner and outer harbor from three to seven days generated considerable discussion about the need for rules in the outer harbor.

Nat Benjamin of Gannon and Benjamin said rules curtailing outer-harbor anchorage were “extremely rude” to vacationing boater families. Mr. Decosta called such regulation “very unfriendly.”

Planning Board Chairman Dan Seidman and Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard owner Phil Hale both spoke against outer-harbor regulation.

Mr. Wilbur saw value in regulating outer-harbor anchoring time.

“I don’t believe it’s burdensome to encourage people to use their boats when they come here for the summer, rather than use them as dormitories,” he said.

He said that Edgartown allows no anchorage in Katama Bay, and that Newport, R.I., recently implemented similar restrictions. Selectmen tabled the matter for later.

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The massive snowstorm generated many complaints about snow removal, and hampered response to emergencies.

The massive snowstorm generated many complaints about snow removal, and hampered response to emergencies. —Photo by Michael Cummo

The blizzard that dropped more than two feet of snow on Martha’s Vineyard two weeks ago also dumped a truckload of complaints about snow removal on Tisbury town officials — complaints unusual in their number and in their vehemence.

While the storm was an immense challenge for state and local highway crews, and every town received complaints, Tisbury selectmen and department of public works (DPW) commissioners were inundated with a storm of criticism about the way the town cleared, or didn’t clear, the snow; about how town officials communicated, or didn’t communicate, with residents; and about the lack of a plan or priorities, including keeping main roads and emergency facilities clear for first responders.

Town department heads met Monday to address problems, and the DPW director fielded complaints at a Monday-evening meeting of the board of public works.

On Tuesday, Jan. 27, at the height of the storm, a Tisbury ambulance headed out to respond to an emergency. The ambulance got stuck on Franklin Street, one of the town’s main roads, according to Fire Chief John Schilling. Another ambulance responded. It got stuck a block from the Emergency Services Building. Then a DPW front-end loader arrived, and towed the ambulance the rest of the way.

“It was very challenging, there was no question about it,” Chief Schilling said. “Emergency response was difficult.”

Just getting out of the Emergency Services Facility was difficult. The first responders cleared the area in front of the truck bays by hand, working around the clock.

“We had crews rotating through the night shoveling in front of the bays,” Chief Schilling said. “EMS and firefighters were in the building all night. When the ambulance rolled on the call, we sent two trucks along with the ambulance.”

According to police, even snowplows got stuck in the storm, and needed assistance to get out.

While many people were willing to forgive the DPW for its response during the fierce snowstorm, others were unhappy that streets were all but impassable long after the snow stopped falling and parking and driving bans were lifted.

On Thursday, Jan. 29, emergency dispatchers broadcast an advisory, warning emergency vehicles to avoid Main Street in Tisbury. A mound of snow three feet high divided Main Street into two narrow, slush-filled lanes. Snow removal equipment was diverted to pull out stuck vehicles. Main Street was closed to traffic for several hours at a time on Thursday and again on Friday, while DPW crews cleared the snow.

Stranded residents who called the DPW garage on Friday morning were greeted with a recorded message that the department’s mailbox was full, and were unable to leave a message.

Questions and complaints

Some complaints were aired at the board of public works meeting Monday evening.

“You are supposed to work together with all departments,” said Charles Cournoyer in comments directed at DPW director Glenn Mauk. Mr. Cournoyer, who lives on Colonial Drive, is a retired snowplow driver who worked for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation. “The National Weather Service warned us days before the storm. The DPW had ample time to prepare. A lot of things aren’t getting done, and I would like to know why.”

Mr. Mauk, who began his tenure as department head on Dec. 16, 2013, conceded that planning was inadequate. He also said that some DPW employees could not get to work, and one had a medical issue, so the department was left understaffed. He forcefully rejected Mr. Cournoyer’s assertion that the DPW refused offers of help from private contractors.

“This suggestion that we turned away private contractors that came to help, that’s flat-out wrong,” Mr. Mauk said. “I agree with him that there is not a plan in place to bring in additional forces, shovelers, drivers, people who can drive our trucks. My limited time here has identified many different areas where we have a lack of planning. What we found by the second day was the staff was down three or four people.”

Board of public works commissioners disagreed over the department’s performance during the storm. “We owe you, and everybody else in this town, an apology,” said commissioner Jeff Kristal, a former selectman, speaking to Mr. Cournoyer. “We failed. We failed with a plan, we failed with communicating the plan. It’s unacceptable that we don’t take care of town buildings.”

Commissioner John Thayer, who chairs the board, said people have unrealistic expectations about the town’s ability to respond to an unusually difficult storm. “The reason is limited staff, time, and the size of [the storm],” Mr. Thayer said. “I’m not going to apologize for us needing an extra day to clean up after a 27-inch snowstorm. There is this perception of the DPW that you can call 24 hours a day and this place is staffed. Absolutely nobody wants to accept the limitations of this.”

Strained relations

Since Mr. Mauk began as director, union employees of the DPW have filed 15 separate grievances charging violations of the union contract. Town administrator Jay Grande said he does not believe the strained relations within the department impacted the DPW’s response to the storm.

“There were clearly areas that needed to be improved and addressed, which did not indicate to me that there were any issues relating to the personnel and the director that impacted the response,” Mr. Grande said Wednesday. “I don’t think the performance had anything to do with personnel. I think they all tried as best they could.”

Ken Maciel, who heads the union, also said the grievances played no part in the response of DPW employees. “Not at all,” Mr. Maciel said. “We have a job to do, and even though we don’t agree with what [Mr. Mauk is] doing, we all had a job to do and we did it to the best of our ability. We did the best we could with what equipment we had. We needed extra help.”

Road responsibility

Town officials say misinformation contributed to the number of complaints they fielded, and some of them were compounded by social media conversations. Following the board of public works meeting Monday evening, Mr. Mauk made clear that the town is responsible for snow removal on private roads, in accordance with a 1977 vote of the town meeting. What many people didn’t understand, he said, was that some roads are higher priorities. Main town-owned roads are cleared first, then secondary roads, then private roads. He said there are exceptions for private roads that are so poorly maintained that plow drivers cannot safely or adequately plow them.

Several people interviewed for this article, however, said they were told by DPW employees that the town was not responsible for plowing private roads.

The official Tisbury town web site is also unclear about the policy, stating, “The Tisbury Department of Public Works maintains all Town roads and sidewalks, to include pothole repair, sidewalk construction and repair, road resurfacing, and snow removal. Private roads are not part of our responsibility, except for possible emergency snow removal.”

Another common point of misunderstanding involves the structure of town government, in which the elected board of public works is independent of the board of selectmen.

In 1989, by special act of the Massachusetts legislature, the town consolidated several departments into a department of public works, governed by a five-member board. Originally, the commissioners were appointed, but in 1991, the town began electing the commissioners at-large.

Selectman Melinda Loberg said selectmen got many calls from residents.

“Every time someone has called me to talk about the snowplowing and the DPW, they have been quite surprised to learn that the DPW has been a totally independent board, and selectmen don’t have control over the DPW, what it does, who it hires,” said Ms. Loberg.

She said town meeting voters authorized funds to hire a consultant who will examine the structure of town government, action spurred in part by a growing sentiment to reorganize town departments: “There’s more of a sentiment for it now than there has been in a while.”

The Tisbury planning board launched a “visioning” exercise last fall, to determine, in part, how residents want their government to function. “One of the major feedbacks we got from the visioning process so far is that government isn’t well organized and doesn’t function as a unit,” Ms. Loberg said. “This is the perception.”

Road to improvement

On Monday, town officials began planning for the next storm, and trying to apply the lessons learned in the January blizzard. Department heads met with town administrator John “Jay” Grande, and Lt. Eerik Meisner, who is the town’s emergency management director.

“All department heads agreed that the response could have been better,” Lt. Meisner wrote in a debriefing report for the board of selectmen. “The issues which were brought to the forefront were the need for better communications via the radio system for police, fire, and public works. The DPW will work with the fire department to improve capability regarding radio usage and monitoring. Other issues included the necessity to keep emergency services buildings such as the police department and the fire department clear of snow in order to allow the clear passage of emergency vehicles.”

Lt. Meisner wrote that the town will try to preposition snow-clearing equipment, including snow blowers, in advance of winter storms. He said the town departments will work to identify vehicles parked in violation of parking bans.

“During this storm, several vehicles were not towed, and hampered snow removal in certain areas,” Lt. Meisner wrote in his report. The department heads also agreed that the DPW will provide a list of personnel assigned to snow removal, and a prioritized list of routes that need to be cleared for emergency vehicles.

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The town has tough decisions to make about pedestrian and bicycle safety and access along the busy Beach Road thoroughfare.

Beach Road. — Photo by Michael Cummo

A team from the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) and Greenman-Pedersen, Inc., joined the Tisbury selectmen at a meeting Tuesday night to provide an update on options for proposed improvements to Beach Road.

MassDOT plans to add sidewalks and bike lanes to a section of Beach Road in Vineyard Haven, from the Wind’s Up watersports shop to Five Corners.

The $1 million MassDOT road project is in a preliminary design phase. It is expected to receive federal funding in 2017.

John Diaz, director of traffic engineering at Greenman-Pedersen, an engineering and construction services firm, gave a presentation featuring illustrations of three conceptual plans with different options for sidewalks, bike lanes, and a shared use path (SUP). MassDOT project manager Thomas Currier and District 5 project development engineer Pamela Haznar provided additional details and answered questions. Planning Board members and Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) staff also attended.

Mr. Diaz said the project evolved from a pre-feasibility study done in May 2009 regarding the extension of Martha’s Vineyard’s network of SUPs. Last August MassDOT contracted GPI to design bike and pedestrian improvements along Beach Road. MassDOT held a pre-design public meeting at Tisbury town hall about the project on May 21.

Mr. Diaz said one of the project’s most critical areas is from where the SUP path ends near Wind’s Up to Saltwater Restaurant. The stretch is flanked by the Packer Company’s concrete retaining wall on one side, and the Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard buildings on the other side, which makes especially challenging for fitting in sidewalks and bike lanes, he said.

Three concepts

With that in mind, concept one features a 5.5-foot wide sidewalk and 5-foot wide bike lane on both sides of the road from Wind’s Up to Five Corners, with two 11-foot vehicle travel lanes. Mr. Diaz said it would be the simplest of the three concepts to construct.

Concept two features a hybrid bike lane, with two-way bike traffic, and SUP on the eastbound side of the road, accessible by using a new crosswalk created by the Shell gas station. A two-foot grass strip would be added between the road and bike lane/SUP as a buffer. The westbound side of the road would have a sidewalk.

Concept three would extend the SUP from where it now ends near Wind’s Up, along the south side of Beach Road to Five Corners. Mr. Diaz said that design would require some takings, with a four- to six-foot impact on the eastbound side of the road.

Sam Dunn, an architect and builder who developed Tisbury Marketplace, also submitted an informal conceptual plan for the town’s consideration. During the discussion, he asked about the power lines along Beach Road and whether money that would be spent to move them could be put towards underground installation.

Ms. Haznar said that Transportation Improvement Program funds would pay for half the cost of moving the poles back for sidewalks and/or an SUP, and NSTAR would pay the other 50 percent. If Tisbury decides to put the utilities underground, the town’s ratepayers would have to pay the additional cost, she said.

MVC executive director Mark London suggested that town administrator Jay Grande and MassDOT representatives meet with NSTAR to figure out the costs. Mr. Diaz reminded everyone that even if the utilities are underground, there will still be street light poles along the road and in sidewalks.

Cyclist and business concerns

Chris Fried, who serves on the MVC’s bike-pedestrian planning advisory committee, expressed concerns about the safety of having children and inexperienced adults biking in a bike lane next to the traffic lane.

“It’s not ideal, but it’s certainly an improvement, giving them a five-foot striped bike lane, instead of the narrow sandy strip they have now,” Mr. Diaz said.

His biggest concern, he added, is about the industrial section near the Packer Company and Martha’s Vineyard Shipyard. A shared use path along that stretch could put employees at those businesses at risk for getting clipped by bicyclists, he pointed out, “The hard part for us is to come up with a design plan that’s going to work for everyone,” he added. “I think whatever we develop there will be an improvement over what’s already there.”

Vineyard Haven Marina general manager Liz Wild noted there are nine curb cuts on Beach Road from the Net Result seafood store to the vacant Boch property near Five Corners. Of those, seven are associated with traffic from very active businesses,

As a representative of two properties on Beach Road, Ms. Wild said, “We’re opposed to any taking of land, and would support a bike path that goes inland.We need sidewalks and crosswalks, and to put utility poles underground.”

Mr. Diaz said that he and the MassDOT reps would put together the comments they heard, get answers to questions that came up, and incorporate all of it into a discussion about the project’s pluses and minuses, as well as costs, at a public meeting tentatively planned for October. At that time, Mr. Currier said MassDOT will be asking the town which concept it prefers to advance as the 25 percent design submission.

Other business

In other business, the selectmen instructed Police Chief Dan Hanavan to discuss his reserve fund transfer request for $12,723 to cover a fiscal year 2014 budget shortfall with the Finance and Advisory Committee (FinCom). Chief Hanavan said he had under-budgeted for gasoline expenses and additional equipment purchased. FinCom chairman Larry Gomez said the chief’s request would likely deplete the town’s reserve transfer funds for this fiscal year, and that any future requests would have to be saved until the end of the year.

“This is the first time since I’ve been on the FinCom, in 13 or 14 years, that we’ve run out of money,” he said.

At Tisbury Police Lieutenant Erik Meisner’s recommendation as the town’s emergency management director, the selectmen voted to approve Tisbury’s participation in a mutual aid agreement with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Association and to appoint Robert Verdone as assistant emergency management director.

Also, the selectmen voted to appoint Martha Yukevich to the Housing Trust and Noreen Baker to the Martha’s Vineyard Cultural Council; to approve a participation agreement with Cape Light Compact for an LED streetlight program; to establish a joint Tisbury-Oak Bluffs Committee for Lagoon Pond watershed wastewater planning; and to allow the Planning Board to establish an advisory committee for its visioning process.

The selectmen’s next regular meeting is August 5. They will not meet again in August.

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Selectmen kicked back two shellfish regulations for revision. — File photo by Susan Safford

Tisbury selectmen Tuesday declined to approve two significant changes to town shellfish regulations recommended by shellfish constable Danielle Ewart and the town’s Shellfish Advisory Committee (SAC). Instead, they kicked them back for revision.

Selectmen held a public hearing Tuesday night to discuss five proposed rules changes. These included minor adjustments to language. The most heated discussion of the night focused on prohibitions against storing shellfish in the water following harvest and multiple uses of one boat to harvest scallops.

Following discussion and unanimous approval by the SAC, at the selectmen meeting on May 6 Ms. Ewart recommended to selectmen that the town add a new general regulation to prohibit wet storage of shellfish, which involves hanging containers of clams in water, usually off a dock. A state regulation prohibits the practice for commercially caught shellfish without a special permit.

Ms. Ewart said she was concerned about the risk of illness for people who eat shellfish, and the risk of diseases being spread among shellfish. Also, she said people are not required to tag their containers, so there is no information about who they belong to, when or where the shellfish were harvested, and how long they’ve been stored.

The selectmen agreed to seek comment from the board of health and scheduled the public hearing to discuss the wet storage regulation, along with other proposed changes to existing regulations.

After opening Tuesday night’s hearing, selectman chairman Jonathan Snyder called on Ms. Ewart to comment first.

With Oak Bluffs shellfish constable Dave Grunden sitting beside her to lend his support, Ms. Ewart read a letter she said summed up her opinions on wet storage written by Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group director and shellfish biologist Rick Karney in which he outlined the case against wet storage.

Mr. Karney said that in many cases, shellfish are crowded and some die, which leads to bacteria that gets into the healthy ones. Also, wet storage of shellfish that were caught elsewhere may lead to the spread of disease from one body of water to another. In the summer months as water temperatures increase, Mr. Karney said, the chance of people getting ill from consuming shellfish is greater.

SAC chairman James Tilton said the wet storage issue was brought to the committee’s attention in April, after shellfish assistant Ellery Whitworth found two milk crates filled with dead quahogs hanging from a dock owned by Michael Strada. He dumped them and called the state, which told him only commercially caught clams are prohibited from wet storage by state regulation.

After learning of the incident, Mr. Tilton said the SAC voted unanimously to recommend that wet storage be prohibited. Mr. Grunden said when the incident first arose, he took it to the Oak Bluffs Shellfish Committee. At the committee’s recommendation, the Oak Bluffs selectmen voted April 22 to add a regulation to prohibit wet storage in Lagoon Pond. Unlike the Tisbury selectmen, they were not required to hold a public hearing, Mr. Grunden said.

Mr. Grunden agreed that two of the concerns related to wet storage are shellfish disease and the possibility of importing diseases from one body of water to another.

Public prefers wet storage

Clams stored for a time in saltwater instead of the refrigerator taste better, several people argued. Tisbury health agent Tom Pachico disagreed with the proposed rule change. “I’ve wet stored clams before some of the people in this room were born — I’ve never been sick,” he said. Mr. Pachico said he did some research and could not find a single case of local residents getting sick from wet-stored clams.

Gene DeCosta said that Tisbury imports tons of contaminated clams and oysters into its ponds for later harvest, without a health issue. “I think it’s another rule and regulation we don’t need,” he said.

Michael Strada said he agreed with Mr. Pachico and Mr. DeCosta, and that everything he found in researching wet storage online was related to commercial harvests, not recreational. “I’ve stored quahogs out there on my dock for 20 years and never got sick,” he said. “I would ask the selectmen to look at this carefully and not put a regulation in place without a strong basis of fact.”

Marilyn Wortman asked the selectmen to think the regulation through carefully. “I’m very much against not allowing wet storage,” she said. “I think it’s ridiculous. I wonder if it isn’t driven by commercial fishermen who sit on the shellfish committee and aren’t allowed to wet store.”

Board of Health chairman Michael Loberg said his board looked at data regarding the impacts of wet storage on the health of Islanders and the ponds over several decades, and did not find a significant problem.

“I do think maybe we need to consider a new mechanism, where wet storage baskets are identified,” he suggested. “Maybe when you get a permit, you would indicate where you would be doing wet storage.”

Teachable moment

When it came time to discuss the proposed changes, selectmen Snyder, Tristan Israel, and Melinda Loberg offered their shellfish representatives limited support.

Ms. Loberg, newly elected to the board, said she was glad the issue came up because it gave her an opportunity to educate herself about the town’s shellfish regulations.

“We have the opportunity to use this as a teachable moment,” she said, suggesting that the town could address some of the wet storage issues by providing information about suggested shellfish storage techniques to people when they purchase their shellfish permits.

Mr. Israel said he agreed with the idea of creating some kind of pamphlet, and to take interim steps before adding another regulation. “I think there should be a time limit to wet storage and a requirement for owners to identify baskets,” he said, adding that he would not be in favor of the regulation as proposed by Ms. Ewart.

“Since the knowledge base is in the shellfish community and the board of health, we could ask them to collaborate on a set of regulations,” Ms. Loberg added.

Mr. Snyder said he was concerned about the risk to the health of Lagoon Pond and Lake Tashmoo with shellfish transfers and wet storage, yet he did not want to encumber the town with another regulation. “I’m inclined to agree to limit the length of storage and the quantity, and to identify the owner,” he said, “and educate the public on the risks of wet storage.”

The selectmen voted to approve Mr. Israel’s motion to ask the SAC to go through another public process to come up with some suggestions for the length of storage, storage container identification, and restrictions on transferring catches between bodies of water.

Selectmen approved a change in the commercial regulations that removed a limit of three licensed residents allowed in a boat.

A proposal to limit shellfish harvests to three family limits per boat per day also raised protest from shellfishermen in the audience. Scallop fishermen often make multiple trips during the day to take full advantage of their drags and haulers.

“I can take three people with permits out on my boat but can’t let my son use the boat later? That’s ridiculous,” Mr. Pachico said.

Ms. Ewart suggested that if he wanted to take someone else out, or let them use the boat, he should notify her. Mr. Israel suggested that should be made a regulation.

“I suggest you come back to us on this one,” Mr. Snyder told Ms. Ewart. The selectmen voted to take no action.

Selectmen did stand by Ms. Ewart’s recommendation to add the words “seed and/or broodstock” to a regulation regarding closing an area to shellfish harvesting. Lynn Fraker said there was a lot of controversy about the definition of what constitutes seed and broodstock, and that she and other commercial fisherman wanted to discuss it further with Ms. Ewart and the SAC before a change was made in the regulations.

“We looked at this issue last spring,” Mr. Israel said. “Danielle made a decision on how she wants to manage the pond, and we will support her as our shellfish constable.”

He and Mr. Snyder voted yes on the change. Ms. Loberg abstained.

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Tisbury selectmen chairman Jeff Kristal kept the pace brisk Tuesday night, wrapping up his last meeting as a selectman in about an hour. Mr. Kristal did not seek reelection and his second term will end with the town election on May 13.Selectmen Tristan Israel and Jon Snyder wished him the best in his next venture. Mr. Kristal is running for the Board of Public Works.

In departmentreports, fire chief John Schilling asked selectmen to agree to move full-time certified EMTs to group four, which includes uniformed employees such as police officers and firefighters, under the Dukes County retirement system. Chief Schilling said the change would give the town’s three full-time EMTs more credit for years of service on the retirement timeline, allowing them to retire sooner, which would be a valuable recruitment and retention tool. Following discussion about the potential costs, the selectmen tabled the issue, in order to get more information, including a pending new town employee classification plan.

Shellfish constable Danielle Ewart reported on proposed changes to the town’s shellfish regulations. Ms. Ewart said she is recommending that the town add a new general regulation to prohibit wet storage of shellfish, which is currently prohibited commercially by a state regulation.

The reason why is we do see a lot of illness spread to people from shellfish, and also among shellfish as well,” Ms. Ewart said. “Also, if hanging baskets of shellfish go bad, there is no accountability, there are no tags. We don’t know where they came from or where they were harvested, or how long they’ve been there.”

The selectmen agreed to seek comment from the board of health and to schedule a public hearing on June 3 to discuss the proposed regulation.

Town administrator Jay Grande followed up on discussion at Tisbury’s annual town meeting last week regarding two funding requests for replacement vehicles for Animal Control Officer Laurie Clements and Harbormaster Jay Wilbur. Mr. Grande said a pickup truck that Ms. Clements is interested in, as well as one with an extended cab for Mr. Wilbur, is available through Plymouth County’s municipal vehicle bulk purchasing program. The selectmen voted to recommend that Mr. Grande pursue the purchase of two pickups.

In other business, the selectmen voted to disband the emergency services facility building committee and to write a letter of thanks to every member; to allow a “Paint the Town Purple” promotion on May 31 through June 1 for the American Center Society Relay for Life; and to transfer a beer and wine license from the former Zephrus restaurant to the Copper Wok restaurant at the Mansion House.

Mr. Israel also took the opportunity to urge voters to turn out for the election, which includes a general override question on the ballot to allow the town to assess an additional $1.3 million in real estate and personal property taxes. “If it doesn’t pass, it’s the will of the people, but that will certainly cause some problems in the running of our government,” he said.