Updated 7 pm
Tisbury’s board of selectmen (BOS) and several town officials spent 90 minutes Saturday morning mostly talking about implementing a sweeping project to improve internal and external communications, a discussion tied to recent events.
The Saturday morning meeting was a “workshop” session posted by the board of selectmen. Tisbury School crossing guard Stephen Nichols wasn’t on the agenda, but he was on the minds of the attendees. Neither was the long-running flap over redoing the Tisbury School, but communication — or the lack of it — that plagued both issues was present at the Saturday morning session on a brilliant fall day at the Old Waterworks venue on South Spring Street.
Hasn’t been a pleasant time for town officials recently, but as the adage goes, it’s an ill wind that blows no good, and the free-flowing discussion focused on the immediate need for a wide range of improvements to town communications processes, including establishing new communication systems and regular departmental reports.
Chair Melinda Lobetrg said the Saturday agenda was informed by an incident in which Nichols, an 84-year-old crossing guard, was relieved of his post and had his personal firearms removed from his home by Tisbury police officers on Sept. 20, setting off a firestorm of negative public opinion and pressure on town officials. Nichols was reinstated on Oct. 15 to car honks, whistles, handshakes, and back pats at his post at Spring and Pine streets adjacent to the school.
After the session, Loberg said, “Yes, absolutely, that was a consideration” for the agenda. “We were not aware” of the police action at the time, Loberg said. Shortly after The Times reported on Nichols, a social media blowup informed the entire Island.
Loberg, selectman Jim Rogers, and selectman Jeff Kristal were joined by town administrator Jay Grande for the meeting. Tisbury School Building Committee member Rachel Orr, planning board member Ben Robinson, and Alexandra Kral, administrative assistant to Grande, were in the audience. MVTV filmed the session.
In terms of streamlining and improving communications, the group favored establishing a working group, rather than creating a committee, in the hopes that a working group would get to its tasks more urgently.
They also reached general agreement that the town’s public information efforts should be reviewed with an expert, including guided meetings with town employees on best practices and chain-of-command observance.
What emerged on Saturday was the picture of a small town in a different era, with operating systems and methods of a pre-digital age, and that town officials know it and have seen recent examples of unintended and unlooked-for results.
At one point during discussions of regular monthly internal reports and tech upgrades to permit faster, more accurate data for analysis, Kristal said, “We [Tisbury] are a nearly $28 million organization now.”
Some of the projects on the docket for further discussion are:
- The need for software that allows data and information to be shared internally and externally. “We should be sharing information with other towns’ websites,” Kristal said.
- Upgrades of town plans and planning processes. In the past, Kristal has noted, for example, that Tisbury’s emergency planning document predates 9/11.
- Regular monthly reports by town department heads on their operation. Supporting the idea, Kristal noted, “We get asked by The Times why we don’t know what’s going on.” Grande said town department heads “are ready and able to do that.”
- Resident permitting processes and better organization of various inspectors are needed. “People have to run around to three or four places to get permits today,” Rogers said.
- Data capture and digital planning tools. Selectmen and Grande described manual data-capturing systems for projects like financial planning, capital projects, and liability tracking.
In other news, the board was meeting for the first time at the Old Waterworks complex. Selectmen are considering reconverting the former residence, now used as office space, back into housing for new hires at Island companies and organizations on the Island, which often help to underwrite housing costs for new employees.
The space is located on the hill just above and behind the Waterworks pump station building.
Grande told the group that DPW and wastewater plant employees are now working in the same space.
Updated to correct Orr’s title and to make it clear that this was a posted meeting of the board of selectmen.