The Dukes County Commission is drafting a resolution to be sent to all Island towns suggesting mandatory fines be enforced for folks not wearing masks.
Commissioner Christine Todd, who is also executive director of the Oak Bluffs Association, said she is noticing that some people on Martha’s Vineyard are still not wearing masks in public, like on Circuit Avenue, where she said noncompliance is rampant. She highlighted some problem areas, and reminded commissioners of the petition that circulated in Edgartown requiring mandatory mask fines. In other towns, she said, people are still not in compliance. Todd said that Oak Bluffs has a petition being circulated that has garnered more than 200 signatures, but said she thinks this notion should be applied to the entire Island.
The association’s petition seeks to follow suit with Edgartown to impose fines, Todd said.
County manager Martina Thornton said the county does not have an enforcement arm to take on this initiative by itself, although they could enforce mask wearing at State Beach, since it is a county-owned beach, but added they don’t have the necessary personnel available.
Commissioner Keith Chatinover said he is frustrated that the only Island-wide legislative body [the county] has no way to enforce mask wearing, and stressed that a town-by-town approach to this issue is the wrong approach. “What is the point of having the six separate towns enforce masks? I understand that Chilmark and Oak Bluffs are different places, but are they really different for COVID-19?” Chatinover said. “How can we treat this pandemic differently depending on which side of a rock you live on?”
Chatinover called mask wearing “the most sensical decision to make,” and said that it is inefficient and ineffective to have activists from all the different towns circulate petitions to make a common-sense decision that should have Island-wide consensus.
“We shouldn’t have to fight town by town for masks, where this is clearly an issue where the Island should be united,” Chatinover said. “It frustrates me that we can’t keep our public safe.”
Todd said that although the county has the ability to make suggestions, it is ultimately up to the town boards of selectmen and boards of health to make their own decisions.
“We can say whatever we want, but it is up to the towns to make their choice. I do think it is important to go on record saying that this is the most important thing to do for public safety for the whole Island,” Todd said.
Commission chair Tristan Israel said the commissioners could draft a resolution to all the Island towns suggesting mandatory mask wearing and enforcement with fines.
Commissioner Don Leopold highlighted the immense task that is before the boards of selectmen and boards of health in each town, and reminded his fellow commissioners to respect the degree of difficulty or challenge of these governing bodies’ positions.
The boards of health are the acting enforcers for any mask wearing or issues related to public health, but Leopold said they are already stretched thin, and asking them to put out their own boots on the ground for enforcement would be unrealistic because of the lack of personnel.
“I know in Chilmark, they tried to do some enforcement earlier, and the police were asked to play some role. I know the police found that extremely uncomfortable,” Leopold said.
Todd said she knows the enforcement falls into the legal jurisdiction of the boards of health, but said the health departments don’t have the staff to address this issue, and whomever they do hire to take on this task would have to be top-notch.
“You have to have someone who is really tough and serious about the job, not some kid who is just here for the summer,” Todd said. “However we craft this message, it is to state simply that we are very concerned as county commissioners.”
Todd suggested using the language in the resolution she worked on for Oak Bluffs and broadening it to apply to the entire Island. The commissioners will review the draft letter, and finalize it at their next meeting.
An in-tents idea
Alchemy Bistro & Bar in Edgartown has been approved to have outdoor dining on the courthouse lawn by the Dukes County Commission; now they are finalizing all the elements they need to make the experience a special and safe one.
The restaurant will be putting a tent over its outdoor dining area to accommodate patrons. The tents will take up 800 square feet of lawn, and one tent will be 20 by 30 feet (which will serve as the main dining area), with two other 10- by 10-foot tents for additional space.
The concept has been approved by the Edgartown Historic District Commission, but commissioner Leon Brathwaite asked about liability issues related to having a tent up for 24 hours straight. “I just want to make sure no one gets hurt there,” Brathwaite said.
Alchemy office manager Kelsie Dahlen said there are no hourly restraints on the restaurant’s insurance, and she expects it would cover any issues all day long.
If a bad storm was approaching, the tent company would assess the situation, and take the tent down if need be.
Thornton said the agreement the county has with Alchemy will have to be amended because it currently states that the restaurant would be in charge of taking the tent down at the end of their business each day. Thornton said she would work on modifying the agreement.
Thornton voiced her concern over the impact the tent would have on the condition of the courthouse lawn, and noted mowing and watering as two important components to consider.
“We can work something out, but we have to figure out how we are going to maintain the lawn, with sprinklers and mowing going on when there is a structure on it,” Thornton said. “Whatever lawn they take up, it will be up to them how they will maintain it.”
Dahlen said the sprinkler system will not be affected by the tent the way it is going to be placed. Alchemy managers also said the mowing schedule would not be affected by the tent being up, and they would add a second mow on Wednesday mornings prior to court business as a good-faith gesture to the county.