Transparency matters

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We’re all ready to purge ourselves of 2020 — the pandemic and the four years of lies coming from the Trump administration. And while we’re all looking toward better times and brighter days, if we’ve learned anything from these past few months, it is that transparency never hurts, facts matter, and honesty counts. All the changes we hope for in our federal government need to work in our little towns, too.

Which brings us to the Mansion House and its illegal hookup to the town’s wastewater treatment plant. There is little doubt that the Goldsteins have built a tremendous business. Their decision to rebuild the hotel after a disastrous fire in 2001 created a visual gem in the Vineyard Haven landscape, and an anchor for the Main Street business community. The hotel has been successful in attracting visitors to the town and making them want to come back.

That doesn’t give them a pass on what was discovered in the basement of their hotel. During that rebuild, the hotel’s foundation reached the groundwater table, and the Goldsteins had to deal with infiltration of water into their basement ever since. Like any of us who have water issues in our basements, sump pumps were installed. At some point, someone tied those pumps into the town’s sewer system, and it went undetected. We don’t know when, or by whom.

We’ve asked the Goldsteins, repeatedly, for answers. They’ve declined, and instead have taken to our comment section to blame the messenger. Their reputation moving forward would have benefited from openness and regret. Sadly, they’ve demonstrated neither.

We can’t say for certain that wastewater superintendent David Thompson was fired for blowing the whistle on the illegal hookup. The town’s reason, in a letter to Thompson, is that he didn’t meet the town’s standards of “conduct, attendance, and job performance” during his probationary period. In most places, you’d give a guy a raise for discovering an illegal hookup pumping 15,000 gallons (sometimes as much as 25,000 gallons) of groundwater per day into your nearly-at-capacity treatment facility.

The timing of Thompson’s sacking is certainly suspect, and cast against the backdrop of his 16 years in Edgartown, where he was a respected wastewater superintendent who left on good terms, it doesn’t pass the sniff test.

Town leaders share some responsibility in how this has played out. From the time the Mansion House issue was uncovered, there has been an attempt by some to keep it under wraps.

Specifically, select board member Jeff Kristal sought to keep this quiet in deference to Josh Goldstein, co-owner of the Mansion House and a member of the sewer advisory board.

Even though Thompson wrote a report and sent it to the select board via town administrator Jay Grande, the issue never made it into the public discussions of the select board (who also serve as the sewer commission) until six months after it was uncovered. And even that was shrouded in secrecy, with a cryptic agenda item: “9 Main Street inflow and infiltration update.”

So for Kristal and Grande to now say everything was in the open is laughable. Kristal did his best to orchestrate a defense before the sewer advisory board last Thursday night. He twisted the facts so much they were tied up in knots by the end, and not the pretty bow he might have imagined. At one point he attempted to make a case that there were “red flags” about Mansion House sewer flow prior to Thompson’s discovery. But those red flags were about actual wastewater going from the hotel to the treatment plant — about 1,000 gallons per day in excess use. 

If you’re a Kristal pal, you get glad-handing and a pass. If you’re not, he’ll work behind the scenes to damage your reputation. Ask Elio Silva of Vineyard Grocer, planning board member Ben Robinson, or Island legend Trip Barnes.

Grande’s over-the-top praise of the Goldsteins during Thursday night’s meeting was embarrassing and tone-deaf — saying this project was “accomplished on time” and talking about the price of the remediation. “I can’t imagine how much it cost; it was certainly not insignificant,” he said.

True, Mr. Grande, but 15,000 gallons per day of groundwater — unpaid flow — is “not insignificant” either.

The Mansion House issue follows a series of failures under Grande’s watch too lengthy to list here, but the sinking of two boats, multiple police department lawsuits, and the town’s horrendous public relations blunder in handling the dismissal, then reinstatement of a crossing guard are among them.

They should do the right thing and leave, but barring that, voters should remember this when Kristal comes up for re-election in 2022, and vote for candidates moving forward who will hold Grande accountable.

As for Josh Goldstein, we don’t believe he can credibly serve on the town’s sewer advisory board any longer. He should do the right thing and step aside.

  • You have become like the NY Times making strong assertions without evidence. To broad sweep ”4 years of lies” is not good journalism. You dont know why Thompson was fired and you dont know who was responsible for the illegal hookup. You have nothing on Kristal yet you dont like what is going on and flail around with no specific evidence. Calling for transparency is fine but how about restraining your indictments of good hard working people who have not been found guilty of anything. If you are so sure of your facts, why not have the MVTimes file a private criminal case against the Mansion House or Kristal. You will need to gather evidence that implicates someone and that will be hard.

    • It is not the job of the MV Times to file any criminal investigation. An editorial is expression of opinion, as you know, and this needs to be out there. If you are following or involved with Tisbury politics, attend meetings, try to get information , express an opposing opinion or even ask for clarification, I believe you might feel differently. Lack of transparency is a real for so many issues. The curtain is mostly closed.

      • Ms Fraker, we are not talking about opposing opinions on say, the relative merits of prime rib versus porterhouse steak. We are talking about making scathing accusations without proof against a well established business with a reputation that can be forever harmed particularly on a small island. This is not investigative journalism it is sensationalism. How do the Goldsteins get their reputation back when it is found they had nothing to do with it?

        • I was not clear that my real concern is not about the Mansion House, but with the lack of transparency on so many issues as pointed out in the editorial. Had the Select Board been transparent from the beginning about the Mansion House issue, this would be a very different story. But they were not. The decision by the Select Board to cover up the efforts of the Mansion House to solve the problem is the issue. That’s what hurts this business. Not the Times pulling back the curtain on the Select Board. This is just the tip of the ice burg.

    • Andrew– you are correct that this editorial by the times does not have full verification of all the facts as determined by a court of law, but there is a lot of smoke here.
      On what basis do you think the Times should file a criminal case against anyone ? That would be as ridiculous as the state of Texas filing a supreme court case disputing the election results of 4 other states.
      I would like to point out to you, that media corporations often make insinuations about people without verifiable evidence.
      In this case, it seems the times does in fact have some verifiable evidence. There are plenty of facts here.
      Compare what the Times has written in this case to allegations of “massive voter fraud” with absolutely NO evidence that is even close to verifiable. The only verifiable account of “a” dead person voting in the 2020 election, was a guy in Florida who managed to get a vote for trump from his dead mother past republican election officials.
      He is rightly facing 19 years in prison.
      It seems the right wing media outlets need not be held to any standard for an editorial. For instance, they declare Hunter Biden “guilty” of “something” every day. But offer no proof.
      Why do you hold the Times to standards that you would probably not hold fox or One America to ? ( believe me, I am stepping carefully to not violate the time’s new rules against “personal attacks” )
      And– MERRY CHRISTMAS,
      Happy Kwanza ,
      And my respect for whatever holiday you choose to observe throughout the year.
      As one of the most frail of literary characters said “God bless us every one”

      • Keller, we don’t indict people on “smoke””. The rest of your rant is political and irrelevant.

        • Engelman-Since when did wishing people “Merry Christmas” become political ?
          Call it political if you want, but employees of Dominion voting systems are in hiding after receiving death threats on themselves and their families. Some people actually believe the vitriol of right wing extremists media.
          Any proof that Dominion changed votes ?
          Have there been any indictments concerning the Mansion house incident ?

    • Andrew– it seems to me that you are personally attacking George with this comment. I got censured for less.

  • Declining to talk to the judge, jury, and executioner (MV Times) is always wise. Especially when they are wrong. When a newspaper uses an hysterical quote entirely out of context and places it next to a photo of the Mansion House in an attempt to make a stalwart family look bad, you bet social media will have plenty to say.

  • Brennan is assaulting our character and our livelihood with his claim that we did not follow all town rules and regulations. Untrue!. Mansion House has always operated by the highest regulatory and moral standards.

    Maybe in Falmouth, where he commutes from and was a reporter, business’ try to hide something, but as all Vineyarders learn early, everyone knows everyone on the Vineyard. That you don’t talk about someone because their brother, mother, aunt, second grade teacher etc. is standing behind you. Islanders celebrate, or we grieve, but we do it together.

    As soon as Mr. Thompson suggested that the water from the sump, designed by licensed engineers, and permitted by the Town, to keep the basement from flooding was not okay, we moved to hire engineers to get approval on a plan to fix it. Last spring as water flowed out of our hotel, EVERY person with eyeballs in Town saw it, including all official inspectors, Select board members,… everyone.
    Mansion House obtains permits for every required purpose and is inspected often and regularly by every Town Department. The DPW, who checks sewer usage, has over the past several years opened, entered and inspected our pump chambers scores of times with no violations being reported to us.

    Brennan is saying we have taken to Social media. Yes. Why? Because Islander’s Talk has a greater impact that the paper and my daughter answered a few responsible comments. Because Brennan’s questions to my son, Josh, were so insulting and biased that Josh did not want to give him an opportunity to cherry-pick out of context answers. When we complained to the publisher, Brennan came back that he was “open” to speak with us. We are not the story. We had nothing to do with the hiring or firing of Thompson. The paper man was looking for bad news and in the search doesn’t care if an honest business is collateral damage. Shame on him.

    If Brennan lived here I think it is safe to guess he would not vote for one of the Select board members. That is not our problem. Yet, in proof of Brennan’s biased reporting, he uses the way a Selectperson conducts a meeting of an advisory board to insinuate collusion and illegal intention. There is none.

    All this series of articles and editorials do is prove how vulnerable and thick skinned a person has to be to want to serve our community or own a business in Tisbury.

    • Susan, perhaps you addressed this on islanders talk but I’m not on that so I don’t know but you haven’t answered them here so; Who put in the illegal hookup in the basement of the Mansion house? When was it done? Who instructed them to do it? If it was okayed by the town who exactly told you it was ok to do it? I also would like to know if your family knew nothing about this illegal hookup why do you think someone would do that and not tell you about it? BTW I have seen no reporting claiming you or your family had anything to do with Dave Thompson’s dismissal, that’s on the town.

  • My wife and I have been reading with increasing dismay your coverage of. the issue of waste water discharge into the Tisbury sewage system from the Mansion House. We are outraged at how this “story” has been publicized and turned into a salacious news item by the MV Times.
    With all due respects to the hardworking staff of the MV Times, we are appalled at the way the Goldstein family has been portrayed and linked to the headline of “corruption”.
    We have read and reread not only the front page articles and the editorials, but also the commentary from readers to the Times. The responses range from total support to total denigration of the principals involved. One reason for the confusion stems from the complexity of the situation. But it is this paper’s coverage which has evolved from reporting on a problematic issue to insinuating corruption and criminality under the guise of investigative reporting.
    What appears to have been a mistake, inadvertent or not , has resulted in serious reputation damage of the Goldstein family. Like so many other island businesses this past year, they have suffered serious financial losses while still loyally taking care of their staff and keeping them employed or making sure they had financial benefits in spite of significant business losses. This family has served the island community in many ways throughout the years through public service, philanthropic support and being an important financial anchor to Main Street, Vineyard Haven.
    No one is denying that mistakes were made. But it is equally if not more important to acknowledge that efforts to correct the problem have been underway since last May. Given the Covid -19 crisis, there have been delays in getting the proper resources in place. The email exchanges and public records of discussion between the family and public boards
    to remedy the situation speaks clearly that there has been no conspiracy or corruption. To us the real crime is how this family’s good name has been maligned.
    Our island community has been struggling with a combined pandemic health crisis and a residual economic crisis. The Island Food Bank reports record numbers of folks in need of basic food. We are heading towards a dark and deep winter with serious anxieties and concerns posing a true existential crisis to our economy and sense of community well-being. A responsible newspaper would focus on the magnitude of problems and day to day struggles that so many folks are experiencing, and on how we are dealing with and overcoming these challenges. We need to focus on a post pandemic envisioning of how we move beyond these daunting times.
    It would behoove the MV Times to correct the record and apologize to the Goldsteins and perhaps move forward as a newspaper that strives to serve a united community.

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