Comedian finds harbor committee a tough crowd

Select board accommodates Jen and Lenny Clarke on slip issue.

Lenny Clarke, pictured, and his wife Capt. Jen Clarke, came before the Chilmark select board Tuesday night during a Zoom meeting to seek a workaround to a boat slip issue.

Chilmark’s select board voted unanimously Tuesday night to make what turned out to be a celebrity exception to a waterways regulation governing the number of slip holders in a household. Specifically, the board permitted charter boat operator Capt. Jen Clarke to retain her boat slip on the Charter Dock, and her husband Lenny Clarke, after being on a list for more than two decades, to acquire a West Dock boat slip. The decision came with Harbormaster Ryan Rossi’s endorsement, but went against the wishes of the harbor advisory committee.

Capt. Clarke told the board that after waiting years on a list, her husband Lenny got a West Dock slip across the harbor from her. However, she was informed by the harbormaster that meant the two would have to make a choice. 

“To be honest with you, and that’s what I always am, I had no idea the rules had changed so that two people in the same household on two different lists, all of a sudden when they got two different slips, had to combine those two slips into one,” Capt. Clarke said. She said if she were to give up her Charter Dock slip and move her charter business across the harbor to the West Dock, it would “adversely affect” that business in several ways, including presenting parking, loading and unloading, and fileting challenges. Capt. Clarke said she also got the impression other slipholders wouldn’t like a charter business on that side of the harbor. 

Capt. Clarke put forth three ideas to address the problem: moving her charter business to the West Dock, keeping both slips with the understanding that one is residential and the other, hers, is commercial, or letting the next person on the list take her husband’s slip, and waiting.

“It’s a lot of ideas,” she said. “I’m not trying to make myself or my husband or both of us appear to be any people who think we’re of any importance. I’m just trying to move forward with a business that I absolutely love and that has, I think, been great for the town and great for a lot of people for a lot of years. And I don’t really know how to go about doing that, and where the rules are hard and fast and where they’re not.”

Lenny Clarke said he’s been on the waitlist for a slip for 25 years, and was looking forward to using the slip in his retirement years. 

“I got on the list, and I thought it was a fair list, and I waited and waited and waited and I couldn’t believe when my time came up,” Clarke said. “And I’m so excited about it. But I don’t want to, in any way, jeopardize my wife’s business.”

Clarke said his wife not only runs a “thriving business” but she gives a lot back to veterans. “We’re just two people who really love living here in the community,” Clarke said. “We respect all your decisions. We’re just trying to play by the rules.”

Clarke asked if there was any example of two people in a household with a similar situation who were granted a “pardon.”

“We do currently have two members of the Charter Dock who do reside in the same household,” Harbormaster Rossi said. “When that decision was made to grant those slips to those two individuals is beyond my knowledge, and the decision was made before my tenure. I don’t quite know the history on that decision, or whether or not those two individuals were living within the same household when those slips were issued. I don’t have a whole lot of information on that. I’m not even quite sure when exactly those two slips were issued. Since 2019, when I came on, however, we haven’t had anybody on the waiting list for the Charter Dock. So we don’t have anybody in line to take another Charter Dock slip.”

Clarke said he “was not looking for special treatment,” and appeared to suggest it would be unfair to deny him the slip. “I’m not trying to start any trouble with anybody,” Clarke said. “What’s fair is fair.” 

He went on to say, “I love living on the Island. The only reason I’m not here more is I’m working to pay so I can stay here forever. And I don’t want to see Jennifer punished at all by me. I mean, that’s not what I’m doing. And I don’t want to make it difficult for all you fine people that take the time to put all this together. So I’m just throwing myself at your mercy.”

Jeff Maida, chair of the harbor advisory committee, told the board that “Chilmark waterways rules and regulations clearly state that it’s one slip per household, and we feel that the rules and regulations should be enforced.”

Maida said the harbor advisory committee had a long discussion about the two-slip situation and decided to play it by the book. Maida also said he believed the one slip per household regulation was nothing new, and that even if there isn’t anybody on the waitlist for the Charter Dock, should Jennifer Clarke move elsewhere, her slip can always be rented out to transient boaters. He also said waterways regulations were in place to ensure the best for Menemsha and the best for the taxpayers of Chilmark.

“But Jeff, those rules didn’t exist when I applied for my slip,” Lenny Clarke said.

“I don’t know …” Maida began to say, but Clarke cut him off.

“Well I do, I do know,” Clarke said.

Maida said he believed when the regulation went into effect was “irrelevant” to the situation. 

“I mean, the rules are on the town website,” Maida said. “Anybody can read them at any time and stay up on the rules.”

Capt. Clarke said she had learned that in 2008 the regulation arose due to an alleged conflict with members of the Carroll family. When she started her business, however, that regulation wasn’t in place, she said. 

“So Jeffrey, since you’re such a stickler for the rules,” Lenny Clarke said, “which is what you’re implying to me, are you going to go back and look at whoever is on the docks that live in one house?”

Maida said the harbor committee was only an advisory committee, and that would be a call made by the harbormaster and the select board.

“I don’t want to go there either, Lenny,” select board chair Bill Rossi said.

“The deck is stacked,” Lenny Clarke said. “I see. I understand. Thanks, Jeffrey.”

“I look at the Charter Dock as a separate entity than the west side dock personal boat slips,” Bill Rossi said. Bill Rossi also said a charter business run out of Lenny Clarke’s new slip would defeat the purpose of his slip. 

“I really don’t look at this as we’re bending the rules for anyone,” Bill Rossi said. “I look at this as Jennifer’s running a business out of the Charter Dock. When she no longer does that, she won’t be able to use the Charter Dock … I don’t really have a problem with someone who’s been waiting on that list …” 

“I feel that the Charter Dock is there for charter business, and I think that Jen’s charter business should stay on the Charter Dock,” select board member Warren Doty said. “That’s where the business works. We have four active charter fishermen right there.” 

Doty went on to say nobody is waiting for a charter slip. “How we resolve the other issue, I’m not sure,” Doty said. 

Harbormaster Rossi said not only were there no newcomers waiting to use the Charter Dock, but the criteria to use that dock in Chilmark are extensive.

Harbormaster Rossi acknowledged the harbor advisory committee deemed the matter a cut-and-dry violation of regulations. However, he saw it as a situation “where we may need to make a decision based on ethics rather than policy.” 

Select board member Jim Malkin described the Charter Dock as “separate and distinct” from the other side of the harbor. Malkin supported Capt. Clarke keeping her slip and “the next person on the list,” Lenny Clarke, getting his residential slip.

The board went on to take its unanimous vote.

In other business, the board heard a report from human resources board member Don Leopold about the organizational structure of town government. Leopold said he conducted confidential interviews with town employees to learn how things worked and didn’t work in town government. Part of the impetus for the work, Malkin said, was the board learning that when treasurer Dawn Barnes came into the role recently, she found little in the way of policy, procedure, or guidelines about her position. 

Among the deficiencies Leopold said he uncovered was a “lack of fundamental processes” in town hall, ill-defined roles, and unnecessary repetition of work. However, Leopold also said the work that comes out of town hall was nevertheless done well, and that town hall employees were held in high esteem by others and each other. 

Leopold suggested town administrator Tim Carroll, Bill Rossi, and perhaps himself, try to map out how to rectify some of the deficiencies in town hall. 

The board took Leopold’s report under advisement.