No special election for West Tisbury

Kent Healy’s absence will be filled at the regular election cycle in April. 

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West Tisbury select board chair Skipper Manter reading the meeting's agenda. — screenshot

West Tisbury will not be holding a special election to fill the vacant seat of former select board member Kent Healy, who died earlier this month. His seat will remain empty until the annual town election in April. Whoever is elected during this election will be voted in for a one-year term. The select board explored this topic during its previous meeting.

Select board chair Skipper Manter was in favor of having a special election, although he is not committed to either type of election, which could happen on Jan. 20 at the earliest, according to West Tisbury town clerk Tara Whiting-Wells. 

“I think having a full board is important. Personally, to me, the sooner we can fill that position, the empty seat, Kent’s seat, the sooner I’d have closure and move on with the full board,” Manter said. “I think the town would be better served if three of us were sitting … I’d hate for some important matter to come between Cynthia [Mitchell] and I because we can’t come to a majority vote on something that needs a vote.”

Select board member Cynthia Mitchell disagreed with trying to expedite filling the seat. There would not be a lot of time for people to reflect on whether they want the responsibility of being on the select board, especially so close to the holiday season, and if they want to actually do this.

Mitchell was also persuaded by a letter written by West Tisbury resident Prudy Burt, who wrote Healy should be properly honored in this process. 

“You [Manter] and I have been through a lot together. We can do this together, I know, for as long as we need to,” Mitchell said. “To honor Kent’s memory and his service and just letting it play out in a more natural way seems to make a lot of sense to me.” 

Burt expressed confidence that Manter and Mitchell will be able to serve the town well until April, and hoped the election process will not be rushed. 

West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand said she also received a call from a West Tisbury resident to wait and not have a special election, which would compress the time given for people to make their decisions. The caller also said he was confident in the current select board members’ abilities to serve the town until the third spot is filled in April. 

“Sure have a lot of confidence in us, don’t they, Cindy?” Manter said to Mitchell. 

Rand said the board could not take a vote to not have a special election in case a citizen’s petition came in requesting the special election, which would require 200 signatures from voters. 

In other business, the board unanimously approved the Up-Island School District’s use of West Tisbury facilities funds to cover up to 80 percent of the costs, after any reimbursements or grants were received, toward renovating West Tisbury School to be more environmentally friendly. Doug Ruskin, West Tisbury finance committee member, said a task force was made by the Up-Island School Committee for this effort. To properly understand what can and needs to be done, consultation from engineers will be necessary. Ruskin said a request for qualifications is being prepared to solicit engineering firms, and it would cost between roughly $40,000 and $50,000 to engage with the firm. Kate Warner from the task force also applied for a $25,000 Green Communities grant. 

“We thought that this would be an appropriate use of the town’s building funds, and I would suggest, and I’m not committing to this because we never discussed this at a committee level or at the task force, but I believe that it could be structured as a loan from the town that can be repaid once the project is underway,” Ruskin said. “It’ll take some time, but it doesn’t have to be an absolute grant from the town.”

West Tisbury owns the school building, so it is ultimately responsible for 80 percent of the costs. Chilmark and Aquinnah have not been approached for the other 20 percent yet, which is why Ruskin is approaching West Tisbury’s funds as a loan so it can be paid back. West Tisbury treasurer Katherine Logue said it would most likely be a loan in name, and closer to a memorandum of understanding in practice, with zero percent interest. 

Rand said it would be possible to use the facilities funds toward the school projects. 

Misty Meadows Equine Learning Center received unanimous approval from the board to put up a sign on Old County Road for two weeks. The sign was painted and made by children who are a part of Misty Meadows’s programs, and it will provide more visibility for the facility, which is tucked away in 55 Misty Meadow Lane, according to the Dilly DeBlase from the center. 

The West Tisbury annual holiday party will not be held this year. The in-person event was also canceled last year because of COVID concerns. Although other types of gatherings, such as the Halloween party or the special town meeting, were held during the year, Rand said the holiday party will be indoors in a small space, and people are most likely going to have masks off to eat food. This places partygoers at risk of COVID. Additionally, Rand pointed out that the West Tisbury board of health has not dropped the mask mandates yet, which the Island’s boards of health will all revisit in January. Mitchell agreed the town is not in a position to hold the party in a fully safe manner, and should not encourage gatherings. She also mentioned how COVID cases are on the rise again, so caution should be taken. 

“Every time that’s happened, it’s continued to rise,” Mitchell said. “I would say, as hard as it is to not be able to get together with people we want to see, it’s the wisest course, and I think we ought to set the example.” 

Mitchell “sadly moved” the motion to postpone the party for one more year. The board unanimously approved the motion. 

The board unanimously approved the resignation of West Tisbury Assistant Animal Control Officer Kate Hoffman. She will be joining Vineyard Haven as a full-time animal control officer. 

The board will not be holding its weekly meeting next Wednesday, as it is the day before Thanksgiving. Meanwhile, the Howes House committee meeting scheduled for Monday, Nov. 22, at 4:30 pm, will be rescheduled to accommodate Manter, who has a Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School budget subcommittee meeting scheduled that afternoon.