West Tisbury tightens vaccination policy

Select board also discusses grave situation with town cemetery.

Howes House is one of the locations where town employees will be required to be vaccinated. — Rich Saltzberg

The West Tisbury select board has added several town buildings to the list where employees must be vaccinated in order to work, unless they have an approved medical or religious exemption.

At a Zoom meeting Wednesday, the vaccination policy was discussed again. Last week the board specifically mentioned that anyone working in town hall must be vaccinated. This week, the board voted 2-1 with select board member Kent Healy in opposition, to add the library, Howes House, public safety building, fire station, and highway barn to the list of town buildings where employees are required to be vaccinated.

Healy wanted the town to make exceptions, but never clearly articulated what he meant. 

Board member Cynthia Mitchell said anyone whose exemption is rejected can appeal to town administrator Jen Rand.

Rand said the town will work to accommodate anyone with an exemption, but won’t provide any beyond medical or religious exemptions. “If you don’t have exemptions, you as an employee have a decision to make: Do you wish to stay in the employ of the town of West Tisbury?” Rand said. “Then you have to be vaccinated.”

The board stopped short of imposing a vaccination requirement for anyone visiting town hall. 

Chair Skipper Manter introduced the idea. He said his thinking was that protecting town employees from the unvaccinated is as important as protecting the public.

Mitchell pointed out that the town has an indoor mask mandate. She also said neither her health clinic, Island Health Care, nor the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital are requiring visitors to be vaccinated.

The Island boards of health discussed the requirement, and it was pointed out that some businesses in New York City have made the requirement. She suggested a wait-and-see approach: “Just as we deferred on requiring a vaccine for town employees, I would advise that we wait. I would defer to [health agent] Omar Johnston and the board of health if they felt differently.”

She suggested having town employees check the vaccine status of visitors would be problematic and a strain on staff resources.

Manter said he’s not sure what else there is to see. There’s a high level of infection on the Island. “It’s not likely to get much better,” he said.

Johnston said it would be a difficult requirement to enforce. “I also think that we have a lot of safeguards that are already in place here at the town hall that protect the employees,” he said. “My opinion is that it’s not necessarily something that we need at this time. There’s enough safeguards in place, we could always come back to this and re-examine it.”

West Tisbury resident Jim Klingensmith worried such a requirement could become problematic if there’s an election. “You’re taking away their right to vote,” he said of the unvaccinated.

The board took no action after its brief discussion.


Grave concerns

The town has only a limited number of cemetery plots at the Lambert’s Cove Cemetery, and a growing demand, Rand told the select board. 

The select board voted unanimously to limit the remaining 48 cemetery lots to West Tisbury residents and taxpayers (to cover seasonal residents), and to limit the number that each address could purchase to two lots. Within those lots, as many as four people can be buried in caskets, while more family members could be buried in them if they are cremated, she said.

The recommendations were made by Alan Gowell, Rand said.

“There are already people waiting to purchase,” Rand said. “There’s been a bit of a run on cemetery lots lately. So I do fervently believe the 48 lots are not going to last long.”

The town doesn’t have as much of an issue at the Village Cemetery on State Road, and so the select board held off on the limits for that cemetery.

“While we do have a large expansion capability, land is finite, so when it’s gone, it’s gone,” Rand said.

During the overall discussion, Rand made the point that being a taxpayer should carry some weight when it comes to being able to buy a cemetery plot.

“We have for years had discussions about a split tax rate for residents and nonresidents. You raise the point year after year after year that these people are our friends and neighbors and have a very long history in this community, and pay taxes and are close neighbors, and they just don’t happen to call this their primary residence,” she said. “So I think I would fall on the side of taxpayers, considering that very argument, as being eligible. Some people have had a family home, quite possibly on Lambert’s Cove Road, and not been a voter here in this town because they have a home somewhere else. I think their connection is as strong as anyone who moved to West Tisbury last week and decides they want to buy a cemetery lot there.”

Manter countered that people who rent also have long-term commitments to West Tisbury.

“I could have rented a home here for 20 or 40 years, never paid taxes, been here for a second or third generation, and I would not be allowed to buy a plot,” he said if they were limited to taxpayers.

Ultimately, the board approved limiting the lots to residents and taxpayers, and also limited the number of lots purchased to two per household.

In other business, the select board made several unanimous appointments. Doug Ruskin was appointed to the Up-Island Regional School District Environmentally Friendly Task Force Committee, Robert Wasserman was appointed to the Vineyard Transit Authority board, and Harriet Bernstein was appointed to the cultural council.

The board also approved the energy committee’s request to include a survey with West Tisbury tax bills.


  1. Correction–James Klingensmith is not West Tisbury Emergency Manager, he is a Concerned Citizen and sits on several Boards and committees serving the town of West Tisbury.

  2. I don’t quite understand the objection that people don’t have a right to “vote.” Do folks have a right (other than medical or religious) to “vote” on the vaccine for smallpox? How about polio? I think it’s time we started thinking of vaccines against Covid as far as their ability to save lives as we acknowledge those older vaccines which have also saved millions of lives. Until we get this epidemic under near-total control I would “vote” for whatever local government intervention seems necessary.

    • The voting refers to only allowing people vaccinated into town hall etc. They referenced private business only allowing vaccinated clientele but town hall etc isn’t a private building and must service all residents regardless of vaccinations status.

  3. I wonder what the rationale behind a religious exemption is.
    I don’t know of any religion that actively promotes the idea that you should not be at all concerned about how your decisions may affect other people.
    Especially when it comes to the point of not caring if you infect someone with a serious fatal disease.

    • I could be wrong, Don, but here’s the rationale. Although these novel gene therapies do not specifically contain material from abortions, nonetheless they are, in part, derived from cell lines which do contain them. Deriving benefit from abortion would be contrary to the tenets of Catholicism, Pope Francis’ secular character notwithstanding. I do not believe that any religions with which most of us are familiar have specific prohibitions against vaccines, though many have long traditions of opting out of an array of medical procedures and practices.

      • Thanks John
        Your point is well taken.

        Note that Moderna and Pfizer vaccines did not use any fetal cell lines in research and development. Please read the sources.

        Nearly every drug that has been developed in the last 30 years, ranging from treatments for AIDS to Diabetes and treatment for certain eye diseases has at some point had some fetal cell line involvement.
        https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/the-truth-about-fetal-tissue-research/ note the chart about 3 pages down.
        In my opinion, not getting a jab because of fetal cell lines is like a vegan not eating a tomato because chicken manure was used as a fertilizer.

        Having said that, I understand that some people have strongly held religious and/or moral beliefs, especially with regard to abortion.
        I would suggest to anyone with concerns about this issue, and its moral implications do some research, get the facts, and make an informed decision.
        Thanks again John.

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