On Wednesday, Jan. 11, West Tisbury selectmen conducted a taxi hearing with former Bluefish taxi driver Kyle Newall and Benoit Baldwin – who was not present. Mr. Newall had filed a complaint with the West Tisbury police for being verbally assaulted by Alpha Taxi owner Benoit Baldwin, July 22, 2016. Selectmen suspended Mr. Baldwin’s taxi driving permit for two weeks beginning July 22, 2017 – which is the exact day of the incident in 2016.
In his hand-written complaint to the West Tisbury selectmen and the airport manager, Mr. Newall wrote that he “witnessed Benoit Baldwin of Alpha Taxi swap different vehicles from outside the taxi line.”
Mr. Newall said he got out of his car to ask Mr. Baldwin if what Mr. Newall saw was indeed what happened and if it was allowed. Mr. Newall alleged that Mr. Baldwin said to him, “What did you say, you kike?” And when a startled Mr. Newall said, “Excuse me?” (to make sure he heard correctly), Mr. Newall said that Mr. Baldwin repeated even louder, “What did you say, you stupid f___ing kike?”
When Mr. Newall tried again to explain what he saw, reportedly Mr. Baldwin said, “You saw nothing, kike.”
“I was absolutely appalled to hear this anti-Semitic word,” Mr. Newall said in his written complaint.
“I could see that it would do no good to continue the conversation, so I quietly said, ‘OK, thank you,’ before I walked away from the most violating, racist, intense verbal aggression of my entire life,” Mr. Newall wrote.
“If the other party is not present we can’t really hold a hearing,” board chairman Richard Knabel said. “There’s really no action that we would take in the absence of the other person’s presence.”
“You can,” town administrator Jennifer Rand said. “The complainant is here and the person who had the opportunity to speak against the complaint has chosen not to be here.”
“The hearing has written evidence, Benoit is not here, he apparently does not wish to participate, and he has all the materials, so he knows what the complaint is about,” selectman Cynthia Mitchell said. “We have not heard from him, so it wasn’t as though he needed a different time. He’s just failed to show up.”
Selectmen decided to proceed with the hearing despite Mr. Baldwin’s absence.
Town administrator Jennifer Rand tried to contact Mr. Baldwin via numerous methods: letter, phone, email, but Mr. Baldwin has never responded. Mr. Newall now lives in Colorado and participated in the hearing by telephone. Town Counsel had said this method of participating was up to the selectmen’s discretion; they decided to allow it.
“I’m kind of at a loss for words,” Kyle Newall said. “Such a nasty thing. For someone to be an ambassador to the Island — it shocked me.”
“I think this is serious,” Ms. Mitchell said.
Ms. Rand read Taxi Regulation 6.4 outloud to the meeting:
“Taxi cab operators should conduct themselves in a courteous and professional manner at all times. No operator may interfere with the business transactions of another taxi cab once the fare is on board.”
She continued by citing Taxi Regulation 6.8:
“If at any time during the time of a permit if the board or the police department becomes aware that the permit holder no longer complies with these regulations or may otherwise be unsuitable to hold a permit that the police department may suspend the permit. If the violation endangers public safety the suspension may be immediate. In such instances a hearing before the board will be held as soon as possible to determine the continued status of the permit. If the violation does not endanger public safety, there should be a hearing before the board to determine if the permit shall be revoked or suspended.”
“It was not considered an issue of public safety,” Ms. Rand said.
“He should have a suspension of his permit,” Ms. Mitchell said. “And he should know that if anything like this happens again, that we will consider revoking. While this is documented and on the record, there is, as I understand it, significant anecdotal information about Mr. Baldwin having taken his liberties in other situations, so it’s not the first we’ve heard about this.”
Selectman Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter thought the suspension should reflect the same time of year that the original incident took place, which was July 22, 2016 — so Mr. Baldwin’s two-week taxi driving permit suspension will commence July 22, 2017.
The Town of West Tisbury is being sued by Mr. Baldwin of Alpha Taxi for its lack of Uber regulations in a completely separate case.