Tisbury convened its annual town meeting Saturday afternoon under a tent on the grounds of the Tisbury School. In addition to the 33 article warrant, voters tackled two special town meeting warrants that encompassed another 22 articles, and wound up passing a $29,341,234 budget for 2021. Town clerk Hilary Conklin said 200 people checked in at the meetings, out of 3,481 registered voters.
Masks were mandatory. Social distancing was established through chairs placed six feet apart, and each speaker who came to one of three microphones was required to swab it with a bleach wipe when done.
Via a game-changing article for many of the town’s eateries, voters said yes to serving alcohol without food. In a first for the Vineyard, voters also said yes to changing the name of the board of selectmen to the select board. The efforts made by the kids of Plastic Free MV paid off when voters approved a ban on plastic beverage bottles, making Tisbury the fourth Island town to pass the initiative. In Edgartown, the Plastic Free MV initiative was indefinitely postponed.
In a first for Tisbury, voters unanimously approved the establishment of Special Ways regulations and definitions, and the designation of Red Coat Hill Road and Shubael Weeks Road as Special Ways.
The article allowing alcohol to be served without food came to the warrant by petition, and was unsupported by the finance committee in a previous 2-2-1 vote. One stipulation of the article was that alcohol sales can’t exceed 35 percent of the gross sales of a given restaurant.
Rachel Orr, chair of the Tisbury School Building Committee, asked if the 35 percent was measured from daily, weekly, or yearly sales. She also asked who would enforce compliance with the percentage.
“As far as I know, that is enforced on the honor system,” finance director Jonathan Snyder said. He did not address at what calendar intervals such a percentage might be evaluated.
Orr went on to say she walks often at night, as does her daughter, without problems. However, in reference to their more liberal alcohol laws, Orr said she doesn’t walk in Oak Bluffs or Edgartown at night:. “So for me the potential of this change is pretty dramatic in terms of how I’m able to live my life in this town.”
Shipwright Nat Benjamin pointed out alcohol has been a “divisive” subject in the recent past, and that previous loosenings of alcohol regulation in town came with promises they wouldn’t loosen further. Benjamin said he appreciated Tisbury’s restaurants, but set against the “unusual” character of the town, where a kid could bike to the movies without fear of “drunk and disorderly patrons, which you do find in other towns,” he could not support the article.
Voter Chris Chambers spoke in favor of the article, saying if Tisbury residents can support marijuana sales, they should be able to support alcohol.
Clarence (“Trip”) Barnes, a longtime advocate for alcoholics and who counts himself among them, threw his support behind the article. “Historically, I was against liquor in Vineyard Haven,” he said. “I don’t happen to drink myself, but I think the time has come, especially [because] of all the restaurants have endured, that we give them a chance to sell a drink without a $30 meal.”
The article passed on a majority voice vote. It still requires a ballot vote to become law.
Ahead of the votes for up-Island bottle bans, a group of young representatives from Plastic Free MV spoke to voters of the detriments plastics pose in the environment and the value of nixing bottles from Island shelves. Nothing like that occurred under the tent in Tisbury. With no young advocates at hand, Tisbury voters nevertheless unanimously authorized the selectmen — who became the select board by a majority voice vote four articles later — to develop a plastic mitigation action plan and bylaw by May 2021. But in the very next article, which called for a ban on plastic water and soda bottles of less than 34 ounces, and which had been under threat of being sidelined from the warrant, voters got a chance to authorize a precise type of plastic mitigation plan.
Moderator Deborah Medders said that while the selectmen proposed the article, it began as a citizen’s petition, and therefore would be voted on.
Selectman Jim Rogers wasn’t onboard with the ban. “This would be taking redundant action that would be hard to enforce,” Rogers said.
Voter Lilian Robinson supported it: “I strongly urge the voters of Tisbury who are here today to be rational and reasonable, and consider that taking no action on the 50th anniversary of Earth Day, when this planet is in crisis, is really shameful. This is a small sacrifice for the townspeople of Tisbury, to give up the use of single-use plastic bottles of under 34 ounces.”
The article passed by majority voice vote.
As a pair of line items in an article on embarkation fee expenditures, Tisbury’s contribution to the Vineyard’s tactical response team came under scrutiny. Planning board chair Dan Seidman called into question the need for a military-caliber police unit.
“I have nothing against the police,” Seidman said. “I think we have a wonderful chief. I think we have a wonderful organization here. I do have a problem with the militarization of the police and the tactical force, and whether or not such a thing is appropriate for the Island and Massachusetts.” He requested a justification from the chief of police.
Tisbury Police Chief Mark Saloio described the tactical team as “critically essential and important,” and said it had been deployed “at least four times” in the past year. Saloio noted as an Island, response time from elsewhere is “a minimum” of three hours. “So I have to honor you by planning for a worst-case scenario, as does every police department on this Island …”
Dukes County Commission chair Tristan Israel, a former Tisbury selectman, said he objected to the expenditures because they are out of line with what embarkation fees can be used for, which must relate to the harbor.
“If you could connect it back to our harbor, then it was copacetic …,” he recalled from his days on the embarkation committee. But he did not see how that was possible in the two line items.
“You can’t tie it back to the harbor in any kind of linear way,” he said.
Snyder told Israel there was a long precedent of using embarkation fees to fund the tactical team: “One of the reasons is one of the sources of threat would be through the Steamship [Authority], and that would be a particularly difficult place to have any kind of engagement.”
Rogers expressed his support for the tactical team. “Many of you may or may not know how many times the Island tactical team has been [deployed] — way more than what you may know,” he said. “And I’m very proud of that, because they’ve been able to de-escalate situations for many years, including a couple of bad situations at the Steamship Authority, without any serious injury to the people they’ve de-escalated.”
The line items went on to pass part and parcel with the rest of the article.
Select board chair Melinda Loberg gave a heartfelt tribute to retiring Fire Chief John Schilling for his many years of service to the town. Loberg highlighted certificates from both the Massachusetts House and Senate honoring that service.
By far the most prolific speaker under the tent was MacAleer Schilcher. Springing from his seat dozens of times to request clarifications, propose amendments, and often to refer to local history, Schilcher challenged the limits of the moderator’s patience, and found those limits were extensive. Several times Medders declined to permit Schilcher to modify an article, as the modification was outside its scope. Her most common comment to him, as with many others, was to “wipe the mic,” as he repeatedly didn’t after speaking, and had to return to do so.