Updated 5:20 pm
After a lengthy and formal hearing Friday afternoon, the Tisbury board of registrars voted that Ben Robinson is a qualified voter in Tisbury.
The hearing was the result of a complaint filed by Tisbury resident Mark Alexander, who 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, falsely claiming his residence at a home on Main Street in Vineyard Haven.
The complaint centered on how many months Robinson was living in one place. At a previous meeting, reviewing state law, board chair Catherine 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.
The hearing was presided over by Gregg Corbo, counsel for the town of Tisbury.
Corbo asked Alexander what facts he was bassing his position on.
“Well, the kids don’t live there, they don’t go to school here, they were renting for a minority part of the year,” Alexander said. “All these situations indicate that this is not their primary home.”
One of Alexander’s pieces of evidence was a statement written by Alexander and signed by Robinson’s landlord, Adrian Smith, at the Main Street home. Alexander said Tisbury selectman Jeff Kristal, who lives on the street across from Smith’s house, was with him when Smith signed the written statement claiming Robinson does not live there in the winter.
But an affidavit 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, Eric Peters.
Alexander’s wife, Constance Alexander, agreed with her husband that Robinson was not a Tisbury resident and instead lived in Chilmark. She said she was “shocked” and “stunned” when Robinson said he lived at the Main Street address.
In October, Robinson told The Times the Alexanders were unhappy with a proposed affordable housing development on Daggett Avenue, which sits near their property. Robinson reviewed the project as a member of the planning board.
Kristal said the only reason he was at the meeting was because Peters summoned him. “I’ve heard stories. I’m sure Mr. Peters will say that it’s not firsthand knowledge, but these are stories from certain individuals that have mentioned it in the past over the last few years, that [Robinson] resides up in Chilmark. They see his car … they’ve seen him on the beach, at Lucy Vincent,” Kristal said.
Corbo asked who the certain individuals were. Kristal named former Tisbury building inspector Ken Barwick and former Tisbury selectman Larry Gomez. Kristal added that Gomez had spoken to Robinson when he saw him at Lucy Vincent in the summer, and Robinson said he lived across the street.
“During the term of the lease, there would be very little activity of any that I would see,” Kristal said of the Main Street home.
Peters asked Kristal and Alexander if they had ever asked Robinson about his residency; both said they had not.
Robinson read from a prepared statement detailing his history in town. Robinson was born at his parent’s home in Tisbury in 1977. He attended the Tisbury School and the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. He said he has always voted as a Tisbury resident.
“Thank you to the board of registrars, town clerk, town counsel, and members of the public for taking the time out of their busy day to come to this public hearing so that I may address these baseless and fabricated accusations,” Robinson said.
Since 2010, Robinson, his partner Elisabeth Carnie, and their children Runar and Odin have spent their summers in Chilmark due to Carnie’s job. But since 2015, the family has maintained a six-month lease, from November to April, with Smith for the Main Street house.
“I have always kept the town of Tisbury as my home,” Robinson said. “I consider Tisbury to be the center of my family, domestic, social, and civic life, and it always has been.”
One by one, Peters passed out copies to the board of Robinson’s vehicle registrations, car insurance bills, Post Office box, driver’s license, deeds for land he owns in Tisbury, oil bills, a recycling bin sticker, and tax bills for that land to each member of the board.
The theater was filled with people in support of Robinson.
Clarence (“Trip”) Barnes said he’s known Robinson since he was very young. While he doesn’t always agree with him, Barnes said, he respected Robinson. Barnes also said he was at the meeting because he dealt with a similar residency accusation, which was eventually dropped. Barnes said he had dropped Robinson off at the Main Street house numerous times after late-night MVC meetings.
“I had somebody very upset with something I was doing, so they came after my [residency], which is what is happening to Mr. Robinson,” Barnes said. “This is such a sad thing … I am here to support him. He’s a Vineyard Haven guy as far as I’m concerned, and he always will be a Vineyard Haven guy.”
Robinson’s cousin, Josh Robinson White, said for the past several years he has visited the Robinson family at the house on Main Street numerous times during the winter, and offered to show the board “thousands” of time-stamped pictures of holiday gatherings and a weekly venison taco night.
Michael Lieberman said all of Robinson’s testimony was true, and he knows Robinson lives in the Main Street home because he sometimes would go home for lunch from the office the two share.
Taylor Wilson was also in support of Robinson, and said he was “flabbergasted” at Alexander’s accusations. Wilson called Robinson’s partner, Elisabeth Carnie, a “green queen” because of her concern about the environment, and said people probably don’t see many lights on in the house because the family is environmentally conscious. “There’s more living in that house than you could imagine,” Wilson said.
The theater broke out in applause when Alexander chimed in and said he wanted to withdraw his testimony.
“You’ve convinced me that I’m incorrect,” Alexander said. “This testimony and the one before about lights off and us not seeing it sounds credible to me, so I would like to remove my complaint.”
He then walked over to Robinson and shook his hand. “You talked me into it, you really did,” Alexander said.
Speaking to The Times after the board’s vote, Robinson said he was happy it was over. “I think it could have been resolved in a lot simpler way if the people had just come talk to me directly instead of dragging the town through this incredibly laborious, expensive, time-consuming process,” Robinson said.
Updated to correct Alexander’s evidence to a handwritten statement. — Ed.