A long-serving member of Tisbury’s sewer advisory committee didn’t get reappointed Wednesday in a move by Tisbury select board chair Jeff Kristal that had the appearance of retribution.
Kristal derailed a nomination for John Best made by fellow select board member Roy Cutrer and, instead, voted to appoint two new people to the committee, Tomar Waldman and Chris Scott. Kristal embraced a remark made by fellow board member Larry Gomez that the sewer advisory committee needed “new blood.”
Best had previously described the dismissal of former Tisbury wastewater superintendent David Thompson, the discovery of groundwater from the Mansion House being pumped into the town’s sewer system, and Tisbury’s management of those matters as “scandalous.” Best has been repeatedly critical of Kristal’s stances and behavior about Thompson and the Mansion House.
“Jeff and I have been at odds for years,” Best told The Times after the meeting. “It’s not just the Mansion House. He knows I’m onto him.”
Best has questioned sewer flow allocations, promoted by Kristal, that have come before the board because the town’s wastewater treatment plant is near capacity. The advisory board makes recommendations to the select board, which then acts on them as the town’s sewer commissioners.
As chair, Kristal presided over the select board Zoom meeting Wednesday night. Best was present, but Kristal declined to let him talk. “John, I’m not taking comments. Sorry,” he said.
Best has served on the town’s sewer advisory committee since 2016. Cutrer thought he should continue to serve. “I’d like to see if we can consider John Best,” Cutrer told the board.
“I’d like to see some new people on this committee to get some new-blood-kind-of-thing going,” Gomez said. “That’s just my opinion.”
Kristal said the town was under a previous misconception that the sewer advisory board required an appointee made by the conservation commission.
Best later told The Times the conservation commission has never appointed anyone to the sewer advisory committee.
“So the reason John was on the committee in the past is everybody thought we needed a conservation commission person on the committee, and that’s not true,” Kristal told the board. “After Christina and I did some work to find out who was on the committee, and Pam [Bennett] can vouch for this, there’s not a conservation commission person on the committee. In the past we had Tomar Waldman, who was on the committee. She also had been with the DPW board prior as well.”
Kristal also claimed Best was tardy with his application to the board.
“And you know, we put this out there,” Kristal said. “John Best didn’t return his application prior to this being posted. We moved our meetings, don’t forget, to Wednesday, which allowed people to comment over the weekend. Instead of posting a meeting on a Friday afternoon for Tuesday, our meetings became posted Monday for a Wednesday meeting. And we still didn’t have anybody else, except for these individuals that are here, prior to the meeting post.”
“I submitted mine on Monday,” Best later said. He said he did so because he got a letter from town hall staffer Pam Bennett stating the town discovered Best wasn’t appointed by the conservation commission but by the select board. In light of that he would have to submit a letter of interest. Best alleges nobody else had to write such a letter.
An email sent out Sept. 14 and received by The Times cast doubt on Best being tardy in his application for appointment to the sewer advisory board.
“The town of Tisbury is seeking Tisbury residents to serve on the town committees, including the new climate committee.” the email reads. “There are vacancies on the new climate committee, M.V. Cultural Council, CVEC, Cape Light, and the sewer advisory board. Please submit letters of interest including address, experience, and knowledge. We look forward to hearing from you. Please submit letter by Sept. 30th to Human Resources, located at 51 Spring St., or email email@example.com.”
Cutrer told the board he believed Best submitted his letter of intent earlier than Chris Scott. However, Kristal said the sewer advisory board needs someone who represents a user of the sewer system. Scott is the general manager of Safe Harbor, previously known as Prime Marina. His appointment appeared to replace Josh Goldstein, who represented the Mansion House, another user of the sewer system. Goldstein’s name was not on the list of members appointed to the board.
Reached at the hotel Thursday, Goldstein told The Times, “I decided not to seek reappointment. I have no comment. You’ll have to talk to the select board.”
During the board meeting, the discussion of when Best submitted his application continued.
“When I looked at the day of the email chain,” Cutrer said, “John Best’s email is dated the 20th and Chis is dated the 21st.”
“He’s a user on the system, so he’s basically the only one that’s qualified for that as well, so I believe he had conversation with Pam [Bennett] prior,” Kristal said.
“That is true,” Cutrer said. “He is a user on the system, and we need a user member, I understand.”
“Yup,” Kristal said. “And you know what? I agree with Larry. If one of you two want to replace me, we can put your name here as well. Be happy to step aside — Roy, if you want to take that — more than welcome.”
“I’m not sure that’s necessary,” Cutrer said.
“I just — I agree with Larry,” Kristal said. “To inject some new blood into it is always good. I think Tomar is an extremely positive, knowledgeable individual who reached out, who wants to get back engaged. She’s not quite sure why she was not on the Community Preservation committee. That was another one that we kind of — not quite sure how she got off of that one. But I think Tomar would be a great addition to the sewer advisory committee. And Mr. Best serves on several other committees in town as well, so, Tomar doesn’t.”
“I don’t know Tomar at all,” Curter said. “Is Tomar here?”
“I don’t think so,” Kristal said.
Best claimed Kristal cut off the projection of his video when he started shaking his head at Kristal’s comments.
The vote was taken after Gomez read the full slate of people to be appointed to the sewer advisor committee, including Kristal, who didn’t recuse himself, and voted in favor of the appointments, including himself.
The appointments passed 2-1, with Cutrer the dissenting vote.
Best said he brought a lot of experience to the sewer advisory committee. Best said he has long been involved with wastewater, having worked in the town of Oak Bluffs in the early 1980s as a “wastewater liaison” and later “started the wastewater coalition” in the 1990s to fight a “massive two-town sewer” for Oak Bluffs and Vineyard Haven with a joint treatment and leaching area “right on top of the aquifer behind Goodale’s.” Best said the coalition, which he was chair of, “managed to torpedo that whole thing.”
Later Best said he served on the predecessor to the sewer advisory board that helped devise the sewer system for Tisbury.
Best said Kristal’s influence runs deep in other areas of town government besides the select board and sewer advisory board. He alleged Kristal promised to resign from the zoning board of appeals when he was elected to the select board. “Far from it, he runs it like a fiefdom,” he said.
Kristal didn’t immediately return a voicemail seeking comment. Town administrator Jay Grande couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on why the town would advertise that it was seeking applications through Sept. 30 and then make appointments to those committees on Sept. 22.
George Brennan contributed to this story.