The Oak Bluffs select board mulled over the possibility of creating a new Wi-Fi policy in response to alleged late-night mischief in the vicinity of the town’s public library.
According to select board members, various incidents have occurred outside the Oak Bluffs library that have triggered alleged safety concerns. Those incidents, according to the board, are directly linked to the availability of the building’s Wi-Fi, which prompted them to consider a new policy at their meeting Tuesday night.
When pressed to specify the issues that motivated the discussion to begin with, select board member Brian Packish said traffic was blocked by a presumed Wi-Fi user in the parking area resulting in verbal altercations, someone who was “defecating in the side yard,” in addition to “a hatchet-wielding gentleman.” Packish said he doesn’t know what would attract people to the area in the middle of the night besides the free Wi-Fi, and so there is “a reasonable connection” to the late night unwanted behaviors.
Library director Allyson Malik vehemently opposed the board’s assumption that any illicit activity can be correlated with the internet access, a sentiment which was echoed among a handful of constituents who attended the meeting.
She emphasized the importance of providing access to the resources, unrestricted to time slots.
“The way the Wi-Fi is being discussed here sounds more like an attractive nuisance than it is a library resource,” Malik said. “We have to be very careful when we’re talking about removing library resources that already exist for our community.”
Malik questioned the volume of incidents — and their relative seriousness — mentioned by the board. She said after filing her own records request for police reports in the immediate vicinity, not only is it unclear whether those situations would even be related to the Wi-Fi, but the number of reported instances of illicit activity were less than what was being described by the board. Malik noted that the “hatchet-wielding gentlemen” took place during the library’s operating hours, in broad daylight, making the argument to restrict Wi-Fi to certain time slots irrelevant.
“Maybe cameras are the first step,” Packish said, “to start managing this unwanted behavior.” He stated that when the idea of installing cameras was brought to the attention of Malik in the past, she was reluctant. Meanwhile, Malik clarified she had never been informed of any proposed cameras, and said during Tuesday’s meeting that cameras would be “a valid solution.”
Additionally, Malik expressed frustration over the way in which the board had added discussion of a new Wi-Fi policy to the agenda without communicating with the library board and staff first.
“The library is a huge stakeholder in any discussions having to do with Wi-Fi,” she said.
On how to manage the purported issues regarding the library’s around-the-clock Wi-Fi access, Packish said the board has been “kicking this around” for over a year.
“I have nothing against free Wi-Fi,” said select board member Jason Balboni, “I have nothing against providing it to the town,” but he didn’t “necessarily know why Wi-Fi has to be on at 2 am.”
Balboni noted the government’s “affordable connectivity program” is designed to help people who cannot secure internet access for financial reasons. He said taking advantage of that resource may enable people to get “Wi-Fi access in their homes or where they live,” rather than on town property. The library and Town Hall are “still in a residential area, we have to remember that,” he said; therefore, the board needs to come to a solution that can “work for everybody.”
The select board ultimately chose to table the discussion for their Sept. 13 meeting, upon the return of select board chair Ryan Ruley — absent at Tuesday’s meeting — who was responsible for putting the item on the meeting’s agenda.
In other business, the select board discussed how to regulate electric vehicle charging stations outside Town Hall. The four chargers “originally intended to be used for town vehicles,” according to town administrator Deborah Potter, have been increasingly utilized by public EV owners.
“They’ve turned into public-access charging stations to the point where we can’t get our own cars in there to charge,” Potter said, noting that members of the public will avail themselves of the chargers for “hours on end.”
Potter said because the stations are free to use, the board should discuss how best to handle the volume of EV owners using them.
“Now that we’re getting more stations and people are getting more electric cars, [the stations] are being monopolized by people for no charge,” said select board member Gail Barmakian, adding that she is unaware of what that costs the town.
Barmakian said it seems as though EV owners are opting out of charging their cars at home, since they can do it for free at Town Hall. “I don’t know how much these things are costing, but I don’t think it’s inexpensive,” she said.
Potter said she knows that cars in need of charging are being parked in the area overnight, which presents “a potential liability issue … what happens if somebody damages one of those vehicles that are left here overnight?”
Select board member Emma Green-Beach suggested placing a sign to inform people certain charging stations are “for town vehicles only,” or allow for paid public charging between certain hours.
Packish recommended allowing public use of the stations for pay until the town can create “more solar gain” and excess energy.
Packish said taxpayers shouldn’t be burdened with charging people’s vehicles. “I don’t think it’s the taxpayers’ responsibility to fuel your Tesla, because you chose to have a Tesla,” he said.
Balboni said the idea of having “solar capabilities [to power] our buildings in town and charging as many cars as you can park there” is “fantastic.”
But, he said, “we’re not there [yet]. We’re in a place where we have vehicles that need to be charged.”
Upon inquiry from Barmakian regarding any conditions put on the town following the receipt of the funding for the charging stations, Potter said, “It does not appear that there are any type of restrictions or requirements for us to provide them to the public or not provide them to the public.”
Balboni recommended that in the short term, the town erect signage designating “town use only” charging stations, in addition to restricting use by requiring key access.
Balboni said the board should consider in the future how to increase the number of charging stations available to Oak Bluffs residents and visitors, and figure out how the energy will be distributed.
The select board made no motions, and instead tabled the discussion for a later date.
Meanwhile, the board heard from John Anderson, who had been tapped to manage the restoration paint work on Flying Horses Carousel after winning the contracting bid for the work on behalf of the Vineyard Trust in 2020. The planned restoration of the landmark’s façade and roofing had previously sparked an investigation into a Community Preservation committee (CPC) grant application from the Vineyard Trust in 2021 when irregularities were discovered in estimated quotes.
The select board mulled over a request from Anderson that would involve the temporary blocking of sidewalks outside Flying Horses while the famous landmark is getting its new coat.
Anderson said the work would take place no earlier than Indigneous Peoples Day, and would require minor blockage on Lake Avenue and Kennebec Avenue to allow for extension ladders and painting equipment.
On the timeline, Anderson said the project “would run [for] however long it takes to paint the building,” but likely within the two-month mark, with the exception of the side of the building bordering the Old Souvenir Shop, which he said is slated to be demolished, so that side will be painted in the spring.
The building hasn’t gotten a new coat of paint since 2011, Anderson said: “It’s in dire need.”
Barmakian asked for a more “predictable” timeline.
Balboni agreed. “I think it’s a lot to leave it open … it kind of restricts us from really knowing what’s going on in our downtown,” he said.
Anderson explained that freezing temperatures in the winter months present challenges regarding the paint, with work not able to be done in temperatures lower than 45°.
After Barmakian and Balboni shot off questions regarding scheduling, and concerns about impacts to nearby businesses, Packish called for approval of Anderson’s request. “We tell businesses to improve their buildings and [help] beautify downtown,” he said, noting that the board should not be hindering the restoration of “one of the diamond jewels in the center of downtown.” Additionally, “there’s no [other] businesses on the whole stretch [of sidewalk],” Packish said.