Residency conflict heads to registrar hearing

Tisbury resident questions voter status of Ben Robinson.

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Ben Robinson sits with his family during the Board of Registrars meeting. — Brian Dowd

Updated 10/22

The Tisbury board of registrars decided Friday to hold a public hearing next month concerning the legal voter residency of Ben Robinson.

Tisbury resident Mark Alexander has accused Robinson, a member of the Tisbury planning board and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, of not being a legal resident of the town of Tisbury.

The board began the meeting by electing Catherine Mayhew as chair, since the last time the board met was over a year ago. Mayhew then declared the meeting would not allow for public comment or participation. 

Mayhew said the complaint centers on how many months Robinson was living in one place. After reviewing state law, Mayhew said a person can live in a place for any number of months and claim residency, but they may only declare one place their legal residence. 

Under Massachusetts law, a person’s domicile, or legal residence, is their “true home or main residence.” A person may have multiple residences, but only one domicile.

“I honestly do not believe that Mr. Robinson is a legal resident of the town of Tisbury and should have no right to vote in this town, nor does he, or should he have any right to serve as an elected voting member of any town board of Tisbury,” Alexander wrote in a letter to the board.

Robinson has declared a house on Main Street in Vineyard Haven as his legal residence. Mayhew said she did not see “any rationale” for a public hearing.

Board member and clerk Hillary Conklin told the board she spoke with town counsel, who recommended they hold a public hearing. Conklin is the town clerk, but was not serving in that role for the meeting.

The board agreed to hold a public hearing at 12:30 pm on Nov. 8 in the Katharine Cornell Theater. 

Speaking to The Times by phone after the meeting, Robinson, who was born and raised in Tisbury, said he has been doing the “Island shuffle” for many years. In the summer, he lives in Chilmark.

“What this boils down to is politics,” Robinson said, adding that there may be confusion because another man also named Ben Robinson lives in Chilmark. He also said Alexander was not happy about a proposed affordable housing development on Daggett Avenue, which sits near his property, and Robinson reviewed that project as a member of the planning board.

Alexander provided two documents to the board with statements from Adrian Smith, the owner of the Main Street property Robinson declares as his residency. The first document is a street listing that has a signed Oct. 3 statement from Smith saying Robinson does not live in the Main Street house six months a year, does not sleep there on a regular basis, and his partner, Elisabeth Carnie, and their children do not live there either. The second document is an Oct. 9 affidavit that withdraws Smith’s original statement, saying it was prepared by Alexander and claims Robinson has leased the Main Street house for the past four winters and it will be rented to them again this winter. The affidavit is signed by Smith and notarized by Robinson’s attorney.

Another document given to the board is a street listing signed by Carnie establishing her and her children’s residence on Mount Aldworth Road in Tisbury.

The complaint also claims Robinson did not have a Tisbury dump sticker, did not put trash barrels on the curb each week, and that during the winter months the lights to the home “always appear to be out.”

“I look forward to the Nov. 8 hearing,” Robinson said.

Updated to add the definition of domicile.