Wrong decision not to allow ballot vote

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To the Editor:

Dear Members, Tisbury select board, Tisbury School committee, and citizens of Tisbury, there is no question that Tisbury needs to address a school expansion. This letter is not written to protest the expansion, but to protest the Tisbury select board’s decision to deny its citizens the right to a ballot vote. This additional $25.6 million expenditure on the town’s elementary school project, a renovation and addition plan, has already had $55 million approved at the annual Tisbury town meeting, and passed a ballot vote in April 2020. That $55 million is still at the town’s disposal. The additional $25.6 million is a 46.5 percent increase in the cost, surely not all due to inflation. Could the original estimate have been incorrect? What causes such a huge ask? What will the next one be? We already know there will be another override.

The acting select board chair, Roy Cutrer, who is also a school employee, publicly admitted at a recent meeting that they fear that allowing the voters a say by ballot might fail. The board appealed to the state Department of Revenue to waive the Proposition 2½ requirement for a final ballot vote at the polls in order to allow this additional increase by virtue of a special town meeting with a single warrant article.

You have removed the opportunity of our citizens to exercise their right to vote on this matter at the voting booth. This is wrong; it is clearly an end run around the citizens of Tisbury. There are registered voters in Tisbury who will not go to the meeting, who will not wish to publicly oppose a project related to the school, or who won’t be here that day. The Proposition 2½ rule was created so that citizens could have the final say at the polls on how their taxes are raised, and, thus, how their money is spent. This is far too much money to be spent in one vote on one night with a warrant of one article. There is no known precedent of a single-item warrant in the town’s history, for the simple reason that it encourages supporters of that warrant article to show up in great numbers to pass it.

A recent editorial in The MV Times declared that the Tisbury select board, school committee, and building committees are not responsible for the pandemic or inflation. What happened after the failed vote in 2018 is their responsibility. The next building committee, which didn’t start meeting until the summer of 2019, was largely made up of the same people who were on the first committee, and they wanted the same things that were in the first plan. There was little reduction in scope or magnitude. The measurable anger over the failed vote of 2018 only increased their determination to get a brand-new school with everything they asked for in the first plan. The existing building will be torn apart to the brick shell/studs in order to do it.

We are informed by Amy Houghton, school committee chair, that if the article fails there will be no window replacements, etc. Isn’t this how this whole project got started? If not the school committee, superintendent, and school principal, who is responsible for the many years of neglect of our school building? 

To intimidate those who voted against the first plan is wrong. The school building committee has been unwilling to listen to the townspeople. There has been little compromise.

The least we can do is take the suggestion that we have a private vote (“Australian ballot”) at the special town meeting on Sept. 20. Otherwise, this brazen circumvention of the ballot vote will just be another exercise in the degradation of our democratic process, and set a precedent we may come to regret.

Everyone has the duty to stand up and vote for or against further burdening the town with this extra expenditure. Even if you are present and choose not to vote either way, you count.

Marie Laursen
Tisbury