On Wednesday, the Tisbury select board voted unanimously to ask the state legislature for permission to move the annual town meeting outside the borders of the town. The select board has set its sights on the Performing Arts Center (PAC) at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. The reason cited for the change of venue was because the Tisbury School, where town meetings are typically held, will be a construction zone, and therefore an unsuitable meeting site.
Town administrator Jay Grande told the board it would need to file town meeting legislation “quickly” in order for it to be considered and voted on at the state level in a timely manner.
Town counsel David Doneski told the board that with the elapse of executive orders that made such a change of venue easier during much of the pandemic, a special act was necessary to hold the meeting outside the geographical borders of Tisbury.
“And typically when a town requests legislation, it would do so first through a vote of town meeting, but for time and practicality — and logistics — we wouldn’t want to convene a meeting just to take the vote to request that legislation.”
However, Doneski said, there was a method found in the state constitution that would allow a request for a special act without holding a town meeting.
Grande said the options of holding town meeting outside in heated tents on the school grounds or at 55 West William St. existed, but he advised against it.
Town moderator Deborah Medders told the board she thought a meeting outside Tisbury was advisable to spare voters the potential of dealing with bad weather under a tent. She advocated for a Saturday meeting date. Select board chair Jeff Kristal said the town had secured the PAC for April 30 (which is a Saturday). Medders and Grande verified that date was set aside for the town at the PAC.
Town clerk Hillary Conklin expressed concern the legislature might not come through in time, and leave Tisbury in limbo for town meeting. She said that town hall staffers are already very busy preparing the warrant and addressing matters related to it, and when a meeting is delayed, it piles on added stress they don’t need.
“So I’m really on the fence …” Conklin said. However, she acknowledged the town needed to make a decision.
Doneski advised the board not to vote to change the town meeting date from April 12, when it is slated to occur now, to April 30, until a better picture forms about when the legislature will address the special act requested by the town. He advised the board only to vote on the special act. The board did so.
Grande took a moment to laud the “extraordinary effort” made by town employees during and after the recent nor’easter.
Grande thanked the fire department for opening the Emergency Services Building as a warming and charging station and for access to water. Grande also thanked Joyce Stiles-Tucker, director of the Tisbury Council on Aging, and the Police Department for reaching out to seniors, including having police officers do door-to-door wellness checks.
Select board member Larry Gomez asked what would happen in such a weather event if the town’s water system fails “completely.”
Grande noted that potable water stations were set up at the Emergency Services Building.
Grande added that he would have to look into the effects to the water system in such an event.
Kristal suggested making inquiries to the water superintendent. Now was a good time to plan, he said.
“I’m bringing it up,” Gomez said, “because my power here on Greenwood Avenue was out for four-plus days, and I do know people who had their power out for six days. That’s a concern to elderly people who are not mobile, and so on and so forth.”
Gomez said he understood the nor’easter not to be a “once in a lifetime storm” but something that will be part of new climate patterns.
Medders posed some storm questions to the board.
“Where did one need to go to get updated information?” she asked.
Grande said the town’s website and the Dukes County website.
Tisbury emergency management director Christina Colorusso said the town also sent out a Code Red alert.
“I would encourage community residents to go on the town website — there’s a red banner at the top to sign up for those Code Red alerts that I can push through to your phones, at your home, or email addresses that you provide.”
Colorusso said if one wasn’t signed up for Code Red alerts, they were also available via social media.
Kristal said he was signed up, but all four phones under his plan didn’t receive Cod Red messages other than from Falmouth.
Grande said only one Cod Red message was issued during the storm. He said he was appreciative it did go out, but overall a review is needed.
Medders said she had worked in emergency management and at the Red Cross for about 20 years and advised taking the nor’easter as a “teachable moment.”
“It’s not to point fingers,” she said, “but I did go on the Dukes County website, I did go on the town website, and I called the police station, and there was nothing. Now being self-sufficient, I can take care of myself, and I can take care of my aging neighbors. And yet I think we have an opportunity here to use this as an example of how to prepare for [the next storm].”
Kristal suggested a banner across Main Street to get folks to sign up for Code Red.
“That’s an excellent suggestion,” Grande said.
Kristal and Gomez also suggested regular tests of the Code Red system.
Select board member Roy Cutrer suggested putting a Cod Red link on the town’s social media page.
In other business, the board unanimously appointed Jason Davey as a full-time EMT and Corey Medieros as a special police officer.