Dukes County commissioners expressed their support for fellow commissioner Keith Chatinover at their meeting Wednesday afternoon, after Chatinover was the Twitter target of U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, in the social media discourse over the 50 Venezuelan migrants shipped to the Vineyard last week.
Chatinover responded to comments made by Cruz last year — coinciding with proposed legislation aiming to relocate migrants from conservative southern border states to Democratic-led states — stating that he’d welcome migrants to the Island. That prompted Cruz to call out what he called Vineyard “hypocrisy” when the move by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis was criticized.
“It created a bit of a firestorm,” Chatinover said of the recent media coverage by right leaning news organizations, throwing the Island into the spotlight.
Chatinover said he’s been subjected to threats and hateful comments by DeSantis supporters, and the nationwide attention directed at him specifically, and at the county, has been quite difficult. He thanked the county staff for their support.
“I was very proud to be a Dukes County Commissioner,” said Tristan Israel of the humanitarian efforts, and Chatinover’s advocacy. “I was very proud of our Island,” and “I’m proud of my fellow commissioner for speaking out and standing up for what’s right.”
Meanwhile, commissioners heard from county employee representative Beth Kaeka, as she presented the personnel board’s recommendation for a new pay scale for county employees in the fiscal year 2024 budget.
The request to move up the pay scale two steps, which would allow for higher hourly rates paid to employees that have been with the county longer than new hires with the same pay, was met with some resistance from commissioners.
County manager Martina Thornton relayed the reasoning for the proposed change from the personnel board, explaining that the new pay structure may help attract new hires and better retain existing employees. Thornton said the county is “a year behind” other municipalities in providing salaries in line with cost of living adjustments (COLA).
Commissioner Leon Brathwaite mentioned his concern with the proposed pay scale, and said that the request should not include COLA, as it “[puts] a burden on the retirement system by moving [staff up the pay scale] without them having had paid into the system.”
Brathwaite took issue with employees already on a high step in the pay scale, and said it wouldn’t make sense to increase their wages in the same way the structure would increase pay for newer employees. The adjusted scale would amount to an 8.45 percent increase in wages for all county employees starting July 1 of next year.
Commission chair Christine Todd noted that the proposal came as a recommendation from the personnel board after lengthy review, but due to hesitation among other commissioners, the agenda item was tabled to a later date.
The personnel board also recommended a change in the wording of the county’s bylaws, specifically advocating for employees who resign to be able to reap the benefits of adjusted, unused sick leave.
Brathwaite again took issue with the request, and said because the change would allow for former employees — via resignation — to receive accumulated sick time, similar to that of retirees, the county’s budget would not be able to handle the loss.
“Sick time was meant to be used while you’re an employee,” he said, “it doesn’t accrue like wages.” He vehemently opposed the idea of a “regular employee who decides to take another job somewhere else, and cashing them out [with] sick time.”
Thornton corrected Brathwaite, and explained that an employee who resigns would not be getting 100 percent of their accrued sick time, but 20 percent.
Brathwaite didn’t budge.
Chatinover said the commissioners were “splitting hairs” regarding the budget, and said he “continue[s] to have no problem with paying out sick time,” for resigned employees.
Commissioner Don Leopold suggested putting a cap on available leave wages, as it can be issued in exchange for unused vacation time.
Thornton said former employees are already subject to a cap in said wages.
The topic was ultimately tabled as well.
In other business, the search for a new county treasurer has remained ineffective, as commissioners have been unable to find a suitable replacement for former treasurer Ann Metcalf, following her recent departure from her position. “In spite of our continued advertising and outreach,” said Todd, the county has only received a small handful of applications. Todd said she and commissioner Peter Wharton will nevertheless begin preliminary interviewing processes at the end of the week.
“We need to find a competent county treasurer,” Todd emphasized, ”the fire is still lit under that message.”
After meeting with the state regarding the conditions of the Edgartown courthouse, specifically on how to go about making improvements on the building, Thornton said discussions on the future of the building have not been very successful or effective.
Israel, who attended the meeting with the state, said Chuck O’Brien, who was representing the state, indicated that the county needs to take on a lot of the financial responsibility for the repairs, and listed many that had already been addressed. Israel said the discussion touched upon various solutions, including selling the building.
Thornton said the county is not able to meet the demands of the state regarding improvement work, due to financial reasons, and said the goal would be to work with the state to help fund a massive improvement project. Israel said the county is expecting a letter from the state detailing plans for improvements for the next five years, and the county will respond in kind.