Tisbury selectmen sign off on $19,000 for police consultant

The consulting contract calls for the development of a strategic plan “to best address policing challenges in the town.”

Tisbury selectmen hired a consultant for the police department. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

Tisbury selectmen covered a lot of ground Tuesday, approving a contract to hire a consultant for the Tisbury police department, and fielding arguments for and against the proposed Kuehn’s Way project for affordable housing.

Town administrator Jay Grande said that strategic planning at the police department has been a topic of conversation for a while with the police chief, the lieutenant, patrolmen, and selectmen. He said they have successfully concluded contract negotiations with the police department, and decided on a contract with Strategic Policy Partnership, LLC, based in West Tisbury. Mr. Grande said the cost of the contract is approximately $19,000.

Mr. Grande told The Times in a phone conversation on Wednesday that the chairman of the consulting firm, Robert Wasserman, has conducted reviews in the past for various towns, including Tisbury. Robert C. Haas, public commissioner in the Cambridge police department, will conduct the groundwork.

Mr. Grande called Cambridge “a relatively complex environment,” and said he thought that Mr. Haas would bring a “fresh perspective and ideas” to the direction the department should head over the next two to three years.

“We propose to have Commissioner Haas initially spend about three days in Tisbury, meeting each officer and talking about their perceptions of issues and concerns,” Mr. Wasserman wrote in the proposal. “During this time he would also meet with a few community leaders and town officials to get a sense of policing issues and successes in the town.”

A fresh look

According to the proposal, the consulting firm will develop a “survey instrument” for interviewing employees within the department, including the police chief, the lieutenant, sergeants, patrol officers, special police officers, and traffic control officers, in order to understand what they believe would be improvements within the department and how they could better their role within that department.

The proposal said that Commissioner Haas will provide Mr. Grande and Chief of Police Dan Hanavan with a plan that covers promotional processes, assigning officers distinct responsibilities, establishing the duties of what a corporal position would be, improving orientation training for new employees, and establishing groupings where a sergeant would oversee a group.

It also said that Commissioner Haas will review current and develop new job descriptions for sergeants, training and orienting them on their new roles. He will develop job descriptions for available sergeant and detective positions, as well as develop a job description and training for a corporal officer, “if the town decides on moving forward with that idea.”

“I think we have a good understanding what the issues and needs are, and I think now this proposal would get at those issues and concerns directly,” Mr. Grande told selectmen on Tuesday.

Surveying staff and conducting interviews could be used as a way to address job satisfaction, the development of officer skills, upward mobility within the department, the identification of specialities, and providing training modules, Mr. Grande told The Times on Wednesday.

He said the department wants to position themselves well in terms of what kinds of specialties they could develop, like home visits, skills with the public, working with different age groups and characteristics, mental health issues, or working with the elderly.

“We’re trying to create a dynamic and positive department, and it has to be a collaborative effort,” Mr. Grande said.

Selectmen Tristan Israel made a motion to approve the contract with a completion date of Dec. 1, 2016. Selectmen Larry Gomez seconded the motion, but asked that they receive interim progress reports, with the first by early October. Selectmen chairman Melinda Loberg, Mr. Israel, and Mr. Gomez voted unanimously to approve the contract.

Controversial Kuehn’s Way

The selectmen’s meeting heated up when Philippe Jordi and Derrill Bazzy from the Island Housing Trust (IHT) presented their proposal to selectmen for Kuehn’s Way. The presentation was not new to anyone in the room, which both Ms. Loberg and Mr. Gomez pointed out. Mr. Jordi’s presentation was on the agenda at the last meeting, but he didn’t attend because the dates had been confused.

Kuehn’s Way is sited on 5.9 acres fronting State Road, part of a 14.8-acre property at State and Deer Hill roads that was to be the site of an earlier affordable housing project, Bridge Commons, which never came to fruition. Plans call for 10 paired one- and one-and-a-half-story duplex buildings, to include two apartments each, on a building envelope of four acres. The complex includes three one-bedroom,14 two-bedroom, and three three-bedroom units. The buildings will be clustered in five groups of four apartments each, for a total of 20 apartments with 40 bedrooms.

On Tuesday night, Mr. Jordi told selectmen that Kuehn’s Way has 32 percent less developed area, 56 percent less roadway, 33 percent less parking, 50 percent less traffic, 10 percent fewer dwellings, 23 percent fewer buildings, 35 percent less nitrogen from septic systems, and 30 percent more conservation area than the previous Bridge Commons development.

“We’ve worked really hard over the past six months on this, and worked very hard to address these issues,” Mr. Jordi said.

He asked selectmen to join the Tisbury fire chief, the Affordable Housing Committee, the Superintendent of Schools, Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, the Land Bank, Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard, Adult and Community Education Martha’s Vineyard, and the voters from all six towns who have supported the proposal.

Ms. Loberg asked about nitrogen mitigation. Mr. Jordi said IHT is meeting with the board of health this month; however, they have agreed to use an enhanced denitrification system to be in line with what the town is proposing to require in the Tashmoo watershed.

Mr. Gomez also expressed concern over the nitrogen mitigation, asking about the data that the project is required to present. Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) approval last month came with a requirement to monitor the system monthly for six months to measure the nitrogen and also to determine there is no water contamination in the groundwater.

Split down the middle

Residents and abutters offered differing views of the project on Tuesday night. Robert Dias is an abutter and a major opponent of the project. He said the density of the project and the fact that it’s even being considered is “absurd.” Mr. Dias said he believed that a lot was being overlooked because of the Island’s housing crisis.

“All of the abutters and the people that have issue with this project, it’s not about this housing crisis, it’s about the project. That’s what we’re contesting,” Mr. Dias said.

One resident said he has been abutting the land for 44 years. He called Kuehn’s Way an “overwhelming project,” and said that according to his calculations, over a half a million gallons of water would go into the ground a year as a result of the project.

“I feel betrayed, I really do. We elect you people. We pay your salaries. We feel as though we’re not being protected,” he said.

“I just want to clarify that this is not the board that is making the decision,” Ms. Loberg said in response. “The zoning board of appeals is where this application rests.”

Marni Lipke said she wasn’t an abutter, but that there was a desperate need for affordable housing and that there were few areas where a housing project could be placed in Tisbury. Ms. Lipke said that the project has been modified in response to neighbors, and that IHT has done its best to address issues of density, nitrogen, and setbacks.

“I would speak passionately for approving it as something that is desperately needed for our town, to keep our town workers, to keep our town not all one sort of people, and to keep it vital for what it needs, so that our workers don’t have to commute,” Ms. Lipke said.

One resident in the audience echoed Ms. Lipke’s support. He said he supported the project, and was surprised IHT had reduced the number of units, given the need for affordable housing. Tisbury is behind in its goal for affordable housing, he said, while mentioning that he also believed the utmost care for neighbors had to be taken into consideration.

“I don’t see any other land or any other project being talked about to provide affordable housing in the near future,” he said.

Mr. Israel said that although he had serious concerns about the project and understood residents’ issues, he ultimately was in favor of the proposal. He said there is a need for housing, not just for workers off-Island, but for the people who live and work here. Mr. Israel said there are young people who were raised here and can’t afford Island housing. He called the project an opportunity for the Island, and said they had to weigh the good versus the bad. Mr. Israel said he believed that the community should move forward with Kuehn’s Way.

“There are other ways to do affordable housing, but people need to step up and do them instead of just saying there are other ways to do them,” Mr. Israel said. “This property, had it not been put in conservation, definitely would not have been affordable housing. It could have been subdivided, and you would have had the same [issues], as far as wastewater, traffic, and all those other issues. We would have been at the same impasse had this been subdivided and developed.”