Moped opponents claim town of Oak Bluffs failed to enforce bylaws

Paper trail going back 12 years shows systemic lack of enforcement of 2004 moped regulations.

West Tisbury voters will be asked to weigh in on mopeds this April.

Since the tragic moped accident this summer that resulted in the dismemberment of a young woman, Mopeds Are Dangerous Action Committee (MADAC) member Nicole Brisson has spent many hours combing through records at Oak Bluffs town hall, and she has unearthed a trove of documentation that shows a glaring lack of oversight of the moped rental business dating back to 2004, when the most recent moped bylaws went on the books.

The 2004 moped bylaws have been described by many, including town administrator Robert Whritenour, as vague and inconsistent. However, the bylaw is crystal-clear that transfer of moped licenses is prohibited, stating, “Licenses shall not be transferable, and no legal or beneficial interest in any entity holding any license shall be transferable without the prior approval of the Board of Selectmen.”

Last week, Ms. Brisson showed The Times evidence that shows at least one moped business has clearly changed hands since 2004.

According to the licenses, King’s Rentals changed hands between 2007 and 2008. Cheryl King is the applicant on the 2007 license. Jason Leone is the applicant on the 2008 license.

Presented with this information on Wednesday, chairman of the selectman Gail Barmakian said at this point, she did not think it was a matter for town counsel. “I think that’s something the committee should look into,” she said, referring to a committee of stakeholders being formed by Police Chief Erik Blake. Chief Blake told selectmen at their Nov. 29 meeting that he agreed some of the 2004 moped regulations were “outrageous,” and that new bylaws, informed by the discussions of the stakeholders group, would be drafted for a vote at town meeting in April.

‘Lack of clarity’

In an August 12 complaint to the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen, Ms. Brisson detailed numerous examples of lax enforcement, including months-late payment for licenses, incomplete documents of incorporation, and the absence of an on-premises test track at all three moped concerns still in operation.

In a Nov. 4 memo to the board of selectmen, town administrator Robert Whritenour addressed Ms. Brisson’s complaint. “In reviewing the business licensing procedures used for the renewal of the existing moped licenses, there are clearly inconsistencies between the Town’s License Renewal Application and the specifications for license applications in the bylaw,” he wrote.

A hot topic in the moped discussion is whether moped businesses in operation before 2004 were subject to the revised bylaws.

Former selectman Todd Rebello stated at a Sept. 14 selectmen’s meeting that the 2004 bylaws, which were written while he was a selectman, were only intended for new licenses. But a search of town records by office administrator Alice Butler produced no document confirming his assertion. Addressing the issue in his memo, Mr. Whritenour said, “A Selectman at the time of the bylaw enactment has stated that the bylaw provisions were intended to apply to new licenses, but there is no way to verify the requirements based on the wording of the bylaw. Each of the current licensees was existing prior to the adoption of the bylaw. Both the inconsistencies between the Town’s bylaw and renewal application as well as lack of clarity of the bylaw have an impact on the issues outlined in the complaint.”

Mr. Whritenour agreed in part or in total with Ms. Brisson on several other issues. He concluded, “It is recommended that the Town adopt a new license application that applies to renewals as well as new licenses which covers all bylaw provisions. Certain items may be submitted once and remain on file, and other items are required to be updated every year.”

Mr. Whritenour also put Jason Leone, owner of Island Hoppers and King’s Rentals, on notice. He wrote that the months-late license payments and lack of detailed vehicle information would not be tolerated moving forward. “These [licensees} should be placed on notice that this information must be submitted with their renewal applications by Dec. 31, 2016, or their licenses will be considered to be forfeited.”

Mr. Whritenour said the test-track requirement and the volume of moped rentals on Circuit Avenue Extension should be decided by the selectmen prior to the start of the 2017 season. He said that selectmen can suspend licenses for up to one week, and/or fine moped proprietors $50, for infractions, but he recommended stronger action moving forward: “The Board may withhold their license renewal if the information is not presented, which may be a more effective deterrent of this type of violation.”

The town currently licenses 218 mopeds. In October, Sun ’n’ Fun owner Donald Gregory permanently surrendered his license for 40 mopeds in exchange for 40 rental-car licenses.