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.