Oak Bluffs lambastes state delegation on moped bylaw

New home-rule petition will appear on special town meeting warrant.

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Mopeds for rent in Oak Bluffs. The town is working to place a new home-rule petition on its special town meeting warrant. — Brian Dowd

Updated 4 pm

At their meeting Tuesday evening, the Oak Bluffs select board vented their frustration and criticism about comments concerning a moped rental ban made by state Sen. Julian Cyr, D-Truro, and state Rep Dylan Fernandes, D-Falmouth, in a Times article last month, following a fatal moped crash in Chilmark.

In response, a home-rule petition to ban moped rentals will once again appear on an Oak Bluffs town warrant at the Nov. 9 special town meeting.

A similar home-rule petition to ban moped rentals was approved by Oak Bluffs town meeting in 2018, but never made it past a legislative committee, and died with the end of the legislative session, Fernandes told The Times last month.

Massachusetts municipalities have the power to create home-rule petitions, such as enacting a new tax or regulation. If passed locally, the home-rule petition is sent to its state representatives and senators, who then seek to pass it at the legislature as a state law that would only affect that municipality.

Former Chilmark Police Chief Tim Rich, a member of the group Mopeds Are Dangerous Action Committee, appeared before the board to discuss how to move forward. “I can’t believe we are sitting here having this conversation again,” Rich said of the home-rule petition. “When is this insanity going to end? Our legislators are idiots. They did not put any heart or soul into passing this.”

Rich also took issue with Cyr’s recommendation that all six Island towns put together a home-rule petition to ban moped rentals. “This guy is an idiot. He’s speaking like he knows something and defending himself, but he offered no solutions,” Rich said. “Good government should have solved this problem 41 years ago when I started bringing the rental moped issue up, and here we sit — a young woman is dead, killed in front of her parents, her boyfriend is probably going to lose pieces of his arms, and here we are.”

Select board chair Brian Packish said Rich was “100 percent right,” and the onus was on Cyr and Fernandes. “In my personal opinion, I find their actions and the energy they’ve dedicated to this to be dismal and disappointing,” Packish said. He asked why the town was just now hearing that additional action was needed.

“I wish that our legislative delegation were as passionate about this as they were about the housing bank,” Packish said. “They went ahead and filed bills before the Island even voted, but here we are today … at the end of the day, it got lost in the train wreck of lobbyists.”

Select board member Jason Balboni said he was in complete agreement. “We have to hold them accountable for what they’re not doing,” Balboni said.

Select board member Ryan Ruley also agreed and said it was “disturbing” that Cyr and Fernandes were placing the blame on the town for not doing enough. He suggested inviting the legislators to town meeting to speak on the moped rental ban.

Speaking to The Times by phone, Fernandes said if invited to town meeting to speak to voters, he would attend. He said he advocated for the legislation during a hearing at the State House when the home-rule petition was first introduced, but that three other people showed up, all in opposition to the bill. 

“If you want to fundamentally change Chapter 90 and set a new statewide precedent, it’s going to take a little more significant effort,” Fernandes said. “It probably makes sense to partner with other Island towns. Banning mopeds in one town won’t necessarily change the fact of having mopeds on the Island.”

Speaking to The Times by phone, Cyr said he was disappointed in the comments made by the select board, and that more legwork needed to be done at committee hearings once the petition is filed. “I represent 20 towns. It’s not Dylan’s and my job to handhold the select board … to make sure they do their part in what are routine legislative matters,” Cyr said. “For this to be successful, we’re going to need the town to not only refile the petition, but have more skin in the game, to make sure our committee and colleagues are hearing from our constituents that it’s important.”

Home-rule petitions need to be refiled every two years if they do not pass. He said he had not heard anything from the town, and suggested they reach out to him to discuss the issue. “They need to get it passed and sent back up to us,” Cyr said. “An effective strategy to get this done is not to drop the ball and blame the legislative delegation.”

“I think the select board should consider writing a rebuttal letter to them as well, from our office, with how disappointed we are with their comments in the paper, and that’s not an accurate account of what’s happened in the past five to seven years,” Ruley said.

He later added that Cyr and Fernandes didn’t even start the conversation at the state level. “The complete lack of effort, and then the follow-up in the paper to almost pin it on the local government, is pretty pathetic,” Ruley said. “It’s actually very disrespectful to us … they’ve got to at least try.”

Select board member Emma Green-Beach also said the town has been watching this for too long, and action was needed.

While she didn’t disagree with another home-rule petition, select board member Gail Barmakian offered a different perspective, and said realistically, the legislation was tough to pass, and suggested a more holistic approach. “It’s not important to them,” Barmakian said. “And to think two people are going to shove this through is unrealistic. Additional work needs to be done at the state level, and maybe get other towns on the Island on board.”

Packish said he is working with town administrator Deborah Potter to create another home-rule petition.

“I’d like my representative, I’d like my senator, to be exhausted from the work that they’ve done around an issue that’s been so publicly vetted here on Martha’s Vineyard. They come here on their stump, they raise a lot of money when they’re in our community,” Packish said. “If that was their greatest attempt, then maybe they should move on to different seats somewhere else.”

Updated with reaction from Cyr and Fernandes. 

4 COMMENTS

  1. I fail to see how all this finger pointing, on both sides, accomplishes anything besides creating unnecessary animosity and a hostile climate. Getting anything through the legislature requires determination, persistence, vigilance, and lots of lobbying. Home rule petitions are more successful when there is no opposition, but there is bound to be some over banning mopeds. When there is a hearing before a committee the town bringing the petition needs to have a vocal delegation present. The state representative and senator can only do so much, and if the petition isn’t voted out of committee it is dead, dead, dead. It would help a great deal if all six towns spoke with one voice on this issue, but that is a rare event, and takes a lot of determination and persistence all on its own to make it happen.

  2. Gail fails to take a leadership role and just observes and punts, as she usually does. Cyr just doesn’t care about Island issues.

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