Tisbury executive session minutes brought to light

Town had been lax in approving and releasing them.

A request for executive session minutes resulted in Tisbury approving and releasing some dating back to 2009. -Rich Saltzberg

Following requests by the Martha’s Vineyard Times, the Tisbury select board released about 50 sets of executive session minutes, spanning 2009 to 2015. Releases were done in three stages between October and December, and required votes both to approve the minutes and to release them. The Times has waited several months to see if the town would post these minutes online for the public to view. While not obligated to do so under Massachusetts Open Meeting Law, posting the minutes would offer public access to them. Tisbury hasn’t posted the minutes. Tisbury select board chair Jeff Kristal couldn’t immediately be reached for comment on why they haven’t been posted or why they took so long to release — 12 years, in some instances. Town administrator Jay Grande didn’t respond to several voicemails seeking comment. Select board member Larry Gomez said he had “no idea” why the minutes weren’t posted.

“I don’t have any control over that,” Gomez said. He also said he had “no idea” why the minutes took so long to be released: “That’s above my pay grade.”

The Tisbury select board executive session minutes obtained by The Times cover a broad range of topics including the Tashmoo overlook, fire chief compensation, harbormaster issues, refuse logistics, early emergency center matters, solar array development, and the Stop & Shop expansion project, among other things. The executive session minutes also include a great number of police matters.The Times initially requested the minutes as part of ongoing investigations into the Tisbury Police Department, notably the response to crimes committed by David Thrift in 2011. As The Times previously reported, some of these executive session minutes revealed the Tisbury select board’s deliberations over discipline of officers who failed to protect a teenager from a violent rape. Each of the sets of minutes, to some degree, covers one or more police subjects. 

These police subjects encompass the exodus of Tisbury Police Chief John Cashin, the installation of Tisbury Police Chief Dan Hanavan, opinions by police consultant Robert Wasserman, an attempt to merge the Tisbury Police Department with the Oak Bluffs Police Department, several matters related to Kelly Kershaw, and union negotiations. The minutes also reveal a police settlement based on allegations of false arrest. The settlement and reasons behind it appear to have never before been made public. Executive session minutes from Sept. 29, 2009, show the town and its insurer paid $15,000 to settle a claim made against the Tisbury Police Department and Tisbury Special Police Officer Joseph Ballotte for what was alleged to have been an illegal stop and arrest in 2008. Ballotte pursued a dump truck into neighboring West Tisbury after a report of a hit and run (utility pole), according to a police report, and arrested the driver in West Tisbury for not having a valid driver’s license. A subsequent legal letter to the town shows the driver retained former Tisbury Police Chief Ted Saulnier, a lawyer, for a lawsuit. Dated May 6, 2009, the letter alleges that the driver was “negligently and unlawfully detained, assaulted, battered, arrested, and imprisoned by an officer or officers of the Tisbury Police Department …” It’s unclear if Saulnier’s case made it to court. Neither he nor Ballotte responded to calls for comment. 

Tisbury Police Chief Chris Habekost, who was a member of the department in 2008, but not chief, told The Times Ballotte should have gotten an OK from the West Tisbury Police to conduct the stop, and should have informed the officer in charge in West Tisbury, or the Massachusetts State Police, before the driver was arrested. “It was an error in judgment,’ Chief Habekost said.

Acquiring the minutes

Executive sessions allow select boards and other governmental bodies a confidential forum to deliberate and vote on matters such as real estate acquisitions, contract negotiations, disciplinary issues, collective bargaining, and a variety of legal subjects including litigation — any of which could be undermined in a regular public session. Executive session minutes are the official record of what happened at an executive session. Executive session minutes must be reviewed for accuracy and approved in a timely manner. The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has defined a timely manner to be within the next three meetings or within 30 days (whichever is longer), unless there’s a good reason for a delay. However, approval constitutes only the first step in the process of preparing executive session minutes for possible public release. Executive session minutes can be kept from public disclosure “as long as publication may defeat the lawful purposes of the executive session, but no longer,” the law states. The law further states executive session minutes must be reviewed at “reasonable intervals” by a public body, or its chair or designee” to determine if withholding the minutes is still warranted. When withholding the minutes is no longer warranted, a select board or other body is obligated to release the minutes. The attorney general’s office has indicated Open Meeting Law doesn’t define “reasonable intervals,” but has found quarterly or six-month reviews to be in line with the law. 

Tisbury doesn’t appear to have come anywhere close to “reasonable intervals” in its reviews. 

Of the 2009–2013 executive session minutes originally identified by town hall staff following a request by The Times in September, 11 had a status categorized as “unknown” for both approval status and release status, 9 were categorized as approved but with an unknown release status, four were categorized as approved but with police matters not released, 25 were categorized as approved but unreleased, and one was listed as approved and released. Status ahead of release wasn’t provided for another three sets.  

The Times made its initial request for executive session minutes in the form of an Open Meeting Law complaint. However, The Times erred in not placing the complaint on the proper state form. The attorney general’s office, which governs Massachusetts Open Meeting Law, determined Tisbury wasn’t required to respond to the complaint. However, per its Oct. 20, 2021, regular session minutes, the select board found a response to The Times allegation that it violated Open Meeting Law was “appropriate.”

The board went on to describe The Times complaint as a public records request, and released the minutes over the course of several meetings. Public records requests are governed by a different set of state laws, and overseen by the supervisor of records in the office of the secretary of state. The board used public records law to justify redactions made to some sections of the minutes it released. The Times has requested the town eliminate those redactions. The town has yet to respond to that request. The Times filed a second Open Meeting Law complaint against the select board in February over 2017 and 2018 minutes specifically related to former Tisbury Police Officer Mark Santon.

Independent and internal investigations previously revealed that Santon allegedly exhibited a “blatant disregard for the truth,” allegedly left a female prisoner unattended in a cruiser where she nearly committed suicide, and allegedly filed a false police report that resulted in OUI charges against an out-of-state motorist, among other allegations. Santon was terminated in 2017. The minutes may shed further light on misconduct Santon was accused of, and offer a window into how the select board dealt with that alleged misconduct behind the scenes.  

The select board, which previously voted not to release the executive session minutes on Santon, is expected to respond to The Times complaint by March 23.

The executive session minutes

Jan. 27, 2009

Feb. 10, 2009

Feb 24, 2009

May 19, 2009

June 2, 2009

June 16, 2009

Aug. 6, 2009

Aug. 25, 2009

Sept. 17, 2009

Sept. 22, 2009

Sept. 29, 2009

Jan. 7, 2010

Jan. 26, 2010

Feb. 9, 2010

Feb. 23, 2010

May 11, 2010

May 19, 2010

June 8, 2010 

June 15, 2010

Aug. 23, 2010

Sept. 21, 2010

Dec. 14, 2010

June 28. 2011

July 26, 2011

Aug. 8, 2011

Aug. 23, 2011 

Oct. 4, 2011

Dec. 13, 2011

Jan. 24, 2012

March 6, 2012

July 7, 2012

July 24, 2012

Sept. 4, 2012

Oct. 16, 2012

Nov. 27, 2012

Dec. 4, 2012

Jan. 22, 2013

April 2, 2013

April 23, 2013

May 7, 2013

June 4, 2013

July 2, 2013

July 9, 2013

July 30, 2013

Sept. 17, 2013

Nov. 5, 2013

Dec. 3, 2013

Feb. 25, 2014

April 22, 2014

May 6, 2014

Nov. 3, 2015



  1. Outstanding Rich! Will be very interesting what you come up with.
    A lot of questions have been hanging out there for many years!

  2. Amazing… selectman Gomez does not realize he has been voted into the top spot of town government and clearly it is right at his ‘pay grade’ to know why minutes haven’t been released! It will more than likely become apparent when these minutes are read through what other brilliant statements Gomez has uttered. No surprise that the Grande and Cry-still have kept quiet, just let Larry do the talking!
    Of course it is clearly apparent why these minutes have been ‘sheltered’… more police malfeasance, false arrests and settled law suits. The ‘cheap’ of police weighing in that the false arrest was an ‘error in judgement’??? No, it’s not an error in judgement it’s just continued rights violating nonsense and extremely unprofessional conduct by the ‘Tis-bury those minutes please’ constabulary. ‘Cheap’ Habekost was a part of the crew when that incident went down… how many more ‘errors in judgement’ will surface?
    Can’t wait to read them all and see what other nonsense the ‘brainy bunch’ is trying to hide!!!!

  3. Rich, I am now hoping you continue to keep on going after the Nov. 3, 2015 sessions and continue getting them `To Date` as they are extremely interesting!
    This is a great important service for us that we have never seen before on this island especially when it comes time to vote for our leaders. We need this information!
    Some of the things that go on in executive sessions is ridiculous Especially the stuff that is totally Blackened out like it is “Classified”. I can see when that happens with victims names being blackened out but whole sections without any explanations why is unacceptable!
    I also believe it will encourage more Tisbury citizens to run for these positions because of what is going on in those sessions and them thinking that it will never see the light of day!
    I am looking for the next batch of documents and hope that they wont fight you so hard to grant your pending and /or future requests!

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