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.