Town meetings 2017


The complicated task of putting together warrants for each town meeting and election comes to full flower over the next several weeks, beginning next Tuesday and Thursday in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and West Tisbury. Chilmark and Tisbury follow two weeks later, and Aquinnah finishes up our Island-wide boots-on-the-ground democratic pageant on May 9 and 10.

Town meetings are an acquired taste; their iconic folksiness and hands-on feel belie their many legal and technocratic dictates. A great deal is worked out in advance to meet various arcane administrative and borrowing requirements, the time commitment on a weekday evening brings out restless leg syndrome in all but the true wonks, and the prices for hardware and personnel always seem to be meant for some other, wealthier place. While each town has its own issues, priorities, spending attitudes, and general styles, some warrant items are worthy of special mention.

This year several important Island-wide issues are addressed by petition within each town’s warrant, in the form of four nonbinding questions covering housing, moped rentals, police practices, and Island-wide health service access. They provide an opportunity for voters to show themselves visibly ahead of their elected officials, which seems sorely overdue right now.

Vote yes to support the regional housing bank. Demonstrating a convincing consensus to move ahead on a regional basis is the right first step toward building more housing of all types. Timid leadership and hackneyed deflection by citing a failure of political will is embarrassing and irresponsible. We should embrace the opportunity to commit to actually meeting our obligations that this nonbinding resolution initiates.

Vote yes to ban the moped rental business as soon as possible. Inept oversight and careless regulation of franchises in Oak Bluffs may have foiled the will of Oak Bluffs voters several years ago, and extended the lives of some businesses, but no one wants these dangerous things on the road.

Vote yes to authorize law enforcement officials in each town to refrain from using town resources to enforce federal immigration laws. This resolution ratifies existing practices, eliminates any possible confusion, and hopefully adds comfort to the Island’s vulnerable immigrant community in the midst of extremely threatening federal policy.

Vote yes to provide funding in support of Martha’s Vineyard Community Service’s First Stop and CORE programs. The First Stop website will link Islanders of all ages to all community social services, and the CORE (Counseling, Outreach, and Referral for the Elderly) program coordinates services for community members over 55 years old on behalf of Island agencies, such as clinicians and service agencies. Rather than being duplicative of state or town efforts, these programs, essential to the Island’s safety net, can be efficiently and responsively integrated across the entire Island by MVCS, and represent the best of regionalized efforts.

There are also town-specific issues of particular importance (the Aquinnah warrant, to be voted on at its May 9 annual meeting, is not yet available to review):

In Edgartown (April 11), vote yes to fund acquiring the “Yellow House” adjacent to town hall in downtown Edgartown. A derelict building in the heart of the village, the Yellow House has been the subject of 15 years of fruitless negotiation with a self-serving owner with no obvious regard for the town. Edgartown voters need to empower the town to take charge of the fate of its downtown.

Oak Bluffs (April 11) seems to be having a particularly chaotic annual meeting season. Years of neglect implementing the voters’ will to end moped rentals means that there are technical obstacles to overcome. Improper drafting of the warrant article that would enable increased residential construction above commercial spaces will delay that consideration. And another technical hitch regarding implementation of state law regarding recreational marijuana will remove that article from the warrant. Still, some important issues remain.

Vote no on the $200,000 transfer of funds to allow the town to “make safe” the privately owned Island Theater. This prominently located building has been found in unsafe and dangerous condition several times by the Oak Bluffs building inspector, and years of negotiation with its owner (see Yellow House in Edgartown, above) have been fruitless. Investing town funds to make it safe seems pointless. The theater should be torn down, and the demolition costs billed to its longtime owner.

Also in Oak Bluffs, vote yes in support of committing, finally, to replacing town hall. The current facility is dangerous, and puts the health of town staff and visitors at risk; the replacement building has been studied and cost-engineered in exquisite detail. Voters punted on budgeting funds for this project in 2014 while the new fire house took precedence, but the project’s budget fits within the town’s debt limits.

It’s time to get this done.

And in support of what should be only a short-term remedial step, vote yes on the Oak Bluffs warrant question to tighten and enforce moped regulations until the moped rental business can be ended in the town.

In West Tisbury (April 11), vote yes to assist in the development of the Scott’s Grove affordable housing project. There are two articles involved, for a onetime grant and for potential ongoing rent support. In supporting this project of Island Housing Trust, West Tisbury can make a meaningful dent in our serious housing-supply deficit.

In Chilmark (April 24), vote yes to approve the sale of beer and wine in the town’s restaurants. This would match the practice in towns across the Island, and support town businesses and customers, with no foreseeable adverse effects.

In Tisbury (April 25), vote yes to convert the town’s beer and wine licensing to extend to all alcoholic beverages, similar to licenses in Edgartown. Vineyard Haven’s experience with limited beer and wine licensing makes it clear that the change is manageable on the public side. It makes no sense to agonize over a declining downtown while simultaneously constraining the entirely reasonable entertainment options for Islanders and visitors, and the commercial options for business owners.

Also in Tisbury, vote yes to support the necessary override and borrowing associated with placing Beach Road utilities underground. As shown by the success of last winter’s limited project removing poles on a short stretch of Beach Road, this vote, allowing engineering and installation of a larger-scale and more dramatic improvement to proceed on one of Tisbury’s major arteries, is important and overdue.