West Tisbury to hold town meeting in O.B.

Town will also seek court order to reduce quorum size.

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West Tisbury town moderator Dan Waters will be swinging his gavel at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs.

West Tisbury will hold its town meeting June 23 at the Tabernacle in Oak Bluffs and is seeking a one-time court order to reduce the meeting’s quorum from 130 registered voters to 30.

The decisions, made necessary by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, were made at a meeting of the board of selectmen Wednesday.

Though selectman Skipper Manter and Kent Healy, who had technical difficulties throughout the Zoom meeting, were reluctant to move the annual town meeting out of town, they ultimately joined chair Cynthia Mitchell in deciding it was the safest location because it’s an open air venue that doesn’t require $10,000 to rent a tent. The other possible locations were the West Tisbury School soccer field or the Ag Society grounds.

Because there is a state of emergency in place, the town can hold a town meeting in an adjoining town, town administrator Jen Rand said. West Tisbury “touches Oak Bluffs somewhere in the state forest,” she said.

Rand said the town of West Tisbury would not be charged rent to use the Tabernacle. She didn’t provide a figure, but said the M.V. Camp Meeting Association, which owns the venue, is only charging for staff time. The only other cost would be a bus to transport town residents who sign up in advance for a ride to town meeting.

Both Manter and Healy worried that parking will be an issue. In initial lobbying for the school site, Manter said it’s the board’s responsibility to encourage voter participation. 

Town moderator Dan Waters and treasurer/collector Kathy Logue advocated for the move to the Tabernacle, as did resident Laura Silber.

Waters said weather could play a factor with a tent, particularly wind. “I’m a little bit worried about what weather does to tents,” he said. “The Tabernacle has been there for a while so we know it’s secure.”

When it seemed like selectmen were leaning toward a tent on the soccer field, Silber pointed out that some of the town’s older voters might have difficulty maneuvering the field if it rained. “If it was bad weather, I would think twice about going,” she said.

Selectmen considered kicking the can on a decision, but Logue urged them to take into consideration the logistics that Rand, who is already juggling the town’s business with town offices closed to the public, would have to work out. “The Tabernacle has the fewest logistical problems, so many fewer problems to solve and a lot less expense,” she said.

That seemed to sway Manter, a budget hawk, then Healy.

As for the quorum, which is the lowest number of voters required to hold a legal meeting, town counsel Ron Rappaport said the town of Marblehead was successful in petitioning the court to lower its quorum to 30. Rappaport will use that blueprint to seek a similar court order for West Tisbury. 

According to Wicked Local Marblehead, the judge in that case ruled “immediate injunctive relief is necessary in order to prevent irreparable harm including disruption and/or halting of local government operations and functions and waste of municipal resources.”

Manter pointed out that there’s no guarantee a Dukes County Superior Court judge will see it the same way. Rappaport agreed.

The Legislature had considered a bill allowing towns to reduce quorums in the ongoing emergency, but it did not pass. The bill has been refiled, Rand said. 

The town will have to pare its list of town meeting articles to essential business, a process that’s already underway, Rand said. That business will include the town’s operating budget and other projects that can’t wait until the fall for funding, she said. “It’s stuff the town needs to get done to move into the new fiscal year,” which starts July 1, Rand said.

Doug Ruskin, a member of the town’s finance committee, asked town leaders not to “advertise” the quorum change, even though he understood the need for it. “I have a concern it would discourage people from showing up. A lot of people are going to say I don’t have to go,” he said.

In other business, the town appointed Janelle Gadowski as the town’s deputy emergency manager. Gadowski is already assisting emergency Russell Hartenstine. She replaces Christopher West, who resigned, saying he could not meet the demands of the position, Rand said.

The West Tisbury board of selectmen will meet Friday at 5 pm to consider extending the stay-at-home order and partial construction ban

  • As a resident of the Campground, I am stunned by the decision to hold the West Tisbury Town Meeting here in June. It is frightening enough to think about the return of residents in an area where cottages are packed so closely together, as well as the number of tourists who visit here on a daily basis, than to consider ADDING programs or activities in such a vulnerable community. Many of our residents are in the “elderly” category. Most of our homes are well within 6 feet of each other. It is going to be challenging to practice social distancing, even without the addition of visitors. I have already had tourists hop up on my porch for a photo opportunity this spring, in spite of a sign I put up asking them to respect my privacy and safety. While that is common practice in the summer, and more of a nuisance for those of us who live here, now it is down right dangerous. To date, little has been done here to anticipate the return of homeowners and protect their safety, other than to refer us to “State Guidelines.” As far as I know, no programs have been cancelled, including Illumination Night, even though the Beach Road Concert and the Agricultural Fair HAVE been cancelled. I’m assuming those cancellations were made out of an “abundance of caution.” I would hope that that same principle and concern would apply to residents of the MVCMA.

    • I’m assuming they will be wearing masks at their meeting and if the elderly campground tenants are so worried about getting sick they should stay home this summer. I have a heart but don’t play that “elderly card”, ANYONE who is vulnerable should shelter in place and not risk traveling anywhere, not just to MV. If West Tisbury needs to hold an open air meeting at the Tabernacle, so be it. I would love it if my elderly mother could come visit me this summer but she is doing the right thing and staying home where she is safe.

      • Is it playing the “elderly card” to note that most of the year round residents here are over 65? What “card” shall we call having homes that literally abut each other? There are MANY factors in the Campground that put us at risk, regardless of age. Perhaps they could hold the meeting at your home? So be it?? You have a heart, but it appears to be made of stone.

          • As I said, “most” of the year round residents, and a significant portion of the summer residents are over the age of 65. If you’re not sure about this, feel free to check with the MVCMA Office.

        • The could have a meeting in my front yard…if they all wear masks. So be it.

      • ProudAmerican said “if the elderly campground tenants are so worried about getting sick they should stay home this summer.”

        I AM home already. As a year-round campground resident, I have no place to go except here. Don’t assume that everyone who has a cottage here has multiple homes.

        I can check off 4 at-risk boxes for this disease. I am very concerned that if I get sick I might not survive, or my life would be changed in very real ways forever. I have been self-isolating since the end of February, and expected that my community would take the kind of actions that would enable me to stay safe, not put me at risk.

        I understand that the Ag Fairgrounds and a few other locations were also considered. If everyone coming to the meeting could just somehow “transport” in a la Star Trek, without having to park and walk past cottages to get there, not a problem. But so many of these cottages, including my own, are right up on the walkway, my living room is less than 6 feet from the walk.

  • A squirt gun filled with vinegar should keep tourists off of your porch. That is rude and unacceptable for someone to invade your privacy.

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