Tisbury selectmen move to wrest control of town DPW

Photo by Steve Myrick

Last month, the Tisbury Department of Public Works commission faced sharp criticism for its department’s snow-clearing efforts. This week, they had good reason to feel as though they had been in a whiteout.

In a special meeting called last Wednesday during school vacation week, a time of the year when many Vineyarders head north or south, Tisbury selectmen approved a warrant article designed to wrest control of the Department of Public Works from the elected five-member public works commission.The article asks voters to approve a home-rule petition to allow the selectmen to ask state lawmakers to place the Department of Public Works and all its duties and responsibilities under the control of the board of selectmen, and make the public works commission an advisory body.

Selectmen Tristan Israel and Jonathan Snyder voted to approve the article. Selectmen Melinda Loberg participated in the discussion by speakerphone from Colorado, but was unable to vote.

Neither DPW Director Glenn Mauk nor any of the DPW commissioners were present at the meeting.

“I think there needs to be a more linear chain of command in town,” Mr. Israel said following the vote.

“I should mention that this is the first step in what will be probably a fairly long process,” Mr. Snyder said.

Asked by The Times if the DPW was in support of the article, Mr. Israel said, “We have not broached the subject with them yet.”

Asked what spurred the article, Mr. Israel said the change was the “result of conversations over the years” and “the visioning report that has come out.” Snowstorm removal was not mentioned.

Asked if the warrant article arose from recommendations made by a consultant, Mr. Snyder said, “We’re stepping out a little bit ahead of the consultant.” He added, “We need to approve putting the article in the warrant early because of the timeline for getting the warrants printed.”

Reached in Colorado by telephone earlier this week, Melinda Loberg cited public disgruntlement as a major driver for the warrant article. “There’s been more and more discussion about how disjointed the town is,” she said.

Ms. Loberg added that the planning board’s visioning project further highlighted Tisbury’s mood when it revealed “disconnect” and “discontent.”

“Perhaps we could have invited the DPW commissioners to that meeting, but we are counting on having a substantive discussion with them well before town meeting,” Mr. Snyder said in an email to The Times several days after the meeting. Mr. Snyder described the reasoning behind the warrant article.

“The purpose to bringing the DPW into the town’s management structure is to coordinate aspects of management that are currently handled by different parts of the town’s organization,” he said. “The DPW commissioners oversee operations, while the town’s personnel director [town administrator Jay Grande] handles personnel issues, for example. The public is largely unaware of the dichotomy, so the selectmen receive many queries about DPW operations.”

He added that he thought the DPW commissioners have done their best under challenging circumstances.

“They and the DPW staff have been working hard to manage the town’s physical plant and roads, and that has been a tall order over this past winter. We would keep an appointed board to oversee DPW operations, and that board would report to the board of selectmen.”

Reached by email days after the meeting, DPW commissioner John Thayer said, “I have not seen the article, but if brought to town meeting, then the town will decide what they think is best.”