W.T. diversity task force allowed increased membership

Board to send letter objecting to herbicide use around power lines.

West Tisbury task force against discrimination member Susanna Sturgis explaining why more members are needed.

The West Tisbury select board unanimously voted to allow up to 10 members on the West Tisbury task force against discrimination, also known as the diversity task force, during a Wednesday meeting. Six task force members must gather to form a quorum.

During the previous meeting, the board tabled Ted Jochsberger’s appointment to the task force because it was not advertised. Additionally, a larger conversation about how many members should be allowed, and a need to determine the group’s name arose. 

According to Susanna Sturgis, a member of the task force, “task force against discrimination” is the name that has been used both in minutes and the diversity statement. West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand said this was fine, and corrections would be made where needed. The board unanimously approved this codification. 

Moving on to the number of members, Sturgis pointed out that the diversity statement does not set a membership size limit for the task force. 

“We have discussed what would be an ideal number, just in general, and sort of settled in around 10 to 12, depending on the people,” Sturgis said. “Is there some town bylaw that says that committees can only be so large?”

West Tisbury select board chair Cynthia Mitchell said “there isn’t a bylaw … limiting or describing committee size.” The common practice is to keep membership sizes “as small as possible.” 

“Five members, seven members, like that,” Mitchell said. 

Sturgis explained why the group wanted more members. “We are a fairly diverse group, but we are always looking for more diversity, and would like to do that without jettisoning any of the current members of the group because we have a pretty good working team there,” Sturgis said. “We don’t want it to get unwieldy, but we do want to represent as many constituencies in the town as we can without deciding who’s more diverse than whom.” 

The diversity statement does address how the task force “consists of members which may include a member of the clergy, a law enforcement officer, an attorney or educator, and concerned citizens appointed yearly.” Sturgis said the task force currently does not have a clergy member or an attorney. 

“One of the things we’re talking about maybe doing is something along the lines of what the NAACP does, called ‘legal redress,’ which is not just about lawyers. It’s basically about having point people available for people in the community to come to if they have a problem. That person would not have to be an attorney … but we would have to know how to refer people who need legal help to the right people,” Sturgis said, adding that the task force wants to be “inclusive enough both to represent the community” alongside having the skills within the group to carry out their tasks. 

Currently, there are six members on the task force. Select board member Skipper Manter said he preferred around seven members, the number the task force would be if Jochsberger joins, as a starting point.

“We used to have a committee with nine [members] in town. It was extremely challenging to get quorums,” Manter said. 

Meanwhile, board member Jessica Miller was in favor of allowing more members. “It is a fairly diverse group, but there are other sectors of our community that I personally would like to reach out to, if the task force felt comfortable with me doing so, to kind of try to add some of the diverse elements of our community into [the task force] without having to get rid of someone else,” Miller said, saying 10 people may be the number. 

After more discussion, the cap of 10 members was decided on. Those who want to join the task force can send letters of interest to Rand at townadmin@westtisbury-ma.gov. A full list of board and committee openings are available at bit.ly/3SBf0CQ

In other business, the board unanimously voted to follow through with Protect Our Cape Cod Aquifer’s request for a letter to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources commenting against Eversource’s plan to use herbicides to manage vegetation and overgrowth on the right-of-way for power lines. 

The board unanimously appointed Adrian Higgins of Aquinnah and Susan Murphy of Chilmark to the Howes House building committee. 

The board received a letter from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission explaining their high legal budget. Rand said the commission is “putting us on notice that when they come in for budget season, there might be a very different request this year than past years.”