O.B. town hall chairman circulates petition

Not waiting for selectmen decision, chairman wants to be ‘ahead of the game.’


Oak Bluffs town hall building committee chairman Bill McGrath has taken matters into his own hands, and has begun collecting signatures to put a warrant article on the Nov. 13 special town meeting.

McGrath went before town selectmen last Tuesday to submit the building committee’s recommendation moving forward after a second round of bids for the plagued project came in over budget. The recommendation was to have selectmen put a funding article on the warrant for $1.3 million so the committee could get a bid in hand and have construction begin.

Selectmen were not completely sold on the idea, and decided to postpone a vote on the advisory board’s proposed warrant article until the submission deadline on Oct. 10.

Standing outside the Oak Bluffs Post Office Friday, McGrath collected signatures from town voters to have the $1.3 million funding article on the warrant.

That wasn’t sitting well with at least one selectman. Selectman Brian Packish, who was on Circuit Avenue while McGrath was gathering signatures, criticized the committee chairman for the petition, calling it “inappropriate” after he had already asked the board to put it on the warrant. “On some level you have to question how ethical it is, and at some point you have to start to investigate even how legal it is,” Packish said.

Town citizens can either submit an article for the warrant to town selectmen or gather 100 signatures by citizen’s petition from verified town voters.

McGrath told The Times he had collected 120 signatures as of this morning: “I’m pretty optimistic that we’ll have enough verified signatures so it’ll be on the warrant.”

Although he submitted the funding article, McGrath said the petition was a way to guarantee it would get on the warrant instead of waiting for a decision at the next selectmen’s meeting. Selectmen have until Oct. 9 to accept the article, while McGrath has only until tomorrow to submit his petition. “I’m just trying to be ahead of the game,” he said, “I would rather [the selectmen] put it on, but this covers that if they don’t. If their feelings are hurt, that’s too bad.”

McGrath said several of the members of the committee went out to gather signatures, including committee vice chair Steve Auerbach.

Packish said he is concerned with the “desperation,” which leads him to believe there are many details being left out by the building committee.

At Tuesday’s meeting, Packish was particularly critical of the recommendation, saying citizens were sold on one building, but would now be asked for more money to build another building, even though $1.7 million had been made in estimated cuts.

“It’s less about going over the selectmen’s head … it’s more a point of the selectmen appointed a building committee, we’ve had a process, a process that has gone terribly, we’re running 30 percent over budget,” Packish said.

Packish also raised concerns that while the town hall project is an important one, town voters will be dealing with a bevy of other funding articles, and that $1.7 million in cuts had been made to the project after the first round of over bids came in — with no citizen input.

“So when it’s convenient you ask the people, and when it’s not quite convenient, you do what you want to do. Mr. McGrath has clearly stated a number of times if we don’t follow his course of action, he’s quitting, he’s no longer on the building committee. This is just another example of Mr. McGrath’s, ‘I’m going to take my ball and go home if you don’t do what I say,’ and that’s unfortunate,” Packish said.

Packish said petitions such as McGrath’s divide the community, and that he has been receiving calls asking how to start a petition that would counter McGrath’s. “The people don’t win in circumstances like that … it’s unhealthy,” he said.


  1. Petitions and voting are America. I don’t know what Mr. Packish is trying to do by trying to stifle citizens initiatives. His words are a sad commentary. This board has a history of dragging its feet and I applaud Mr. McGrath’s efforts. Voters are free to sign or not sign his petition. I plan to sign it and won’t be bullied.

  2. It’s not a matter of the people getting to vote on a warrant article. It’s no secret that at a special town meeting the attendance is worse than at the annual. I’ve always disliked the argument that if we don’t vote it now, the price will just keep going up and that it only adds this small dollar amount per $100K valuation. First, I’d rather the BOS wait to make a decision than be like Tisbury and not make one at all. That is why we have selectmen and committee members after all, to thoroughly review a topic and tell us their opinion. As seen by the votes at town meeting, we may hardly listen, but we still want to know their opinion. I question the idea that we need to be in a hurry to spend money. If this is approved the project will be over ten million. That seemingly small addition to my taxes adds up every time we have a multi-milliion dollar project, which seems like every year! I’d rather the building committee take a step back even further. Yes, you already did that, I get it. How about you give the tax payers a better option? Show us how grateful you are to have an opportunity to spend our money, by exhausting all options to prove that you really are fiscally responsible.

    • KimberlyBurke, no disrespect but I’m confused by your post. Tisbury didn’t wait on the school, they took a vote and turned it down. It will now cost them millions more for a similar project. If you do wait, the price does go up. In this age of a building boom it’s going up 4x faster than downturn or slow building times. What better option do you look for? You were on the Finance Committee but stepped back and decided to take what many see as an Anti Everything approach, which has always proven in our town of Oak Bluffs to be just defeatist and counter productive and more costly in the long run. Being financially responsible at times calls for spending money now to avoid spending more later for the same project. I value your input and really wish you could list what some of those better options are? It’s easy to say but difficult to state what they but really want to hear some. Thank you.

  3. Interesting how the writer of the article chose to have most of it be about the offended Selectman rather than the effort made by some of us to give the citizens of Oak Bluffs a chance to voice their opinion on whether to spend the additional funds needed to build a new Town Hall at this time. Feeling the need to mention this yet again, we must add that the petition was begun not to ask folks if they were in favor of spending the additional funds; it was simply to ask that the question be placed on the November Warrant. Buried in the article is only a brief mention that if we waited until the Selectmen voted on a funding warrant article, it would then be too late to start a citizens’ petition; the deadline was indeed today. And what is unethical about citizen members of the Building Committee trying to get signatures to put this question on the Warrant? We are tax-paying, interested volunteers trying to help Oak Bluffs move forward.
    Why does the Building Committee feel that the townspeople ought to make a decision as soon as possible? Because having studied and planned this project for several years, we have seen that material and labor costs, especially on the Island, are constantly going up. We have a long-deliberated plan that includes much citizen input as well as input from the MVC and the Planning Board; we have committed bids now. There is no “desperation”- that’s a ridiculous characterization. There aren’t “many details being left out”. If we wait until April Town Meeting, the cost will only be higher, unless it’s Mr. Packish’s plan to appoint a new Building committee to start the process all over again in the hopes of achieving a different result. If that’s his idea, we wish him the best of luck.
    We are all sorry that the bids exceeded our estimate. On the other hand, the people of our town voted for a new Town Hall with some Oak Bluffs “character”, not for a steel building or a box. Eliminating the basement doesn’t change the character of the planned structure at all; the building is still essentially what was approved at Town Meeting a couple of years ago.

    We will stand outside the Post Office with sandwich boards if need be to stir up enthusiasm for people to attend November Special TM in an effort to boost its attendance.
    We’re sorry to say this but in our opinion the dividing of the community has been fostered by Mr. Packish, not by Mr. McGrath.

    Steve Auerbach
    Richard Toole
    Walter Vail

    • The story was fair. Would you rather not know that at least one selectman doesn’t like the methods being used by the building committee chairman? Clearly you don’t like what Mr. Packish said to the reporter, but his comments aren’t even addressed until the 5th paragraph and not in any depth until the 10th graph. That’s hardly having “most of it about the offended selectman.”

  4. Bill McGrath is absolutely doing the right thing. Having spearheaded the efforts for our new fire station he knows that dithering is very expensive in the long run. We need a town hall that is accessible to everyone and that reflects the pride we all feel in our local gevernment/

    There is absolutely nothing to prevent any voter from attending the Nov. 13 meeting.

  5. Why doesn’t the personnel board examine each position at town hall and determine how much interaction each employee has with the public. For those positions with little daily interaction eliminate office space for them and have them work from home. Endless studies have proven that telecommuters are far more productive. A comprehensive management study could possibly reduce or combine positions again reducing the need for space. We need to make this a significantly smaller structure.

  6. Seems the high prices are what is driving our stock market. We need a correction soon, it’s out of control. Everything has doubled in cost since 2000. Our social security checks sure havent doubled. Costs need to be more inline with taxpayers wages.

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