Oak Bluffs quashes talks of leaving MVC 

Select board chair Ruley gets the commission to the table.

Oak Bluffs select board chair Ryan Ruley brought up potentially leaving the Martha's Vineyard Commission. — Lucas thors

In a brazen display to get the attention of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, Oak Bluffs select board chair Ryan Ruley spearheaded a discussion on an item that wasn’t on the agenda Tuesday — the town’s potential withdrawal from the commission. 

Up for a vote was whether or not to present town voters at the April 11 annual town meeting with the option to authorize the select board, on behalf of the town, to petition the general court for the passage of special action to remove Oak Bluffs from membership of the regional planning and permitting agency. 

The proposition was dismissed Tuesday in a 4-1 vote, with Ruley as the lone dissenting vote. 

Select board member Gail Barmakian raised issue with the fact that the topic was not put on the agenda, and quickly stated that she’d be “strongly opposed” to putting the question on the town meeting warrant. 

She called Ruley’s proposal a “knee-jerk reaction.” 

“It wasn’t a knee-jerk reaction,” Ruley responded, “it got to exactly where I wanted it to get to.” 

He said the goal was to garner acknowledgement from the commission regarding increases in the town’s assessment, which has increased 65 percent over the last five years, largely due to legal fees. 

On his plan to get the attention of the commission, Ruley said, “It actually worked very well.” “It’s not personal,” Ruley said to MVC Executive Director Adam Turner and MVC chair Joan Malkin, both of whom were present at Tuesday’s meeting. “But if we don’t bring you to the table and we don’t force this conversation, it will never happen,” he said. “It’s part of a political discussion that has to be had,” he said, adding that’s what prompted the “uncomfortable” confrontation. 

“We cannot continue to take these massive increases on a yearly basis and put our own public services aside,” he said. If Oak Bluffs officials aren’t keeping eyes on, and questioning the town’s budget, “who is?” he said. 

Select board member Brian Packish reiterated previous sentiments on the commission. “The regulatory process is beyond broken,” he said. But, “I don’t think the timing is right for this question.” “Financially, regulatory wise, in many different ways, I’d happily vote yes to get out, as an individual person,” Packish said. But for now, “I think it’s too soon.”

The annual town meeting is a little over a month away, Packish said, and voters ought to know more before being presented with the choice. 

He said whether or not to remain in the commission is a question “the Island will ask itself in the very near future.” 

“It’s always good for the community to be questioning these things,” select board member Emma Green-Beach said, but for the cost of membership to the MVC, Oak Bluffs receives “all sorts of services out of the commission that the town would have no means of doing otherwise.”

She agreed that the timing isn’t right to put the question in front of voters. “There’s a lot of talk to be done, a lot of education to be done,” she said. 

Barmakian agreed. “We need to educate ourselves to find out what else the commission does for us,” Barmakian said, “It’s not only hearings, applications [or] DRI’s. . . It’s an enormous resource. I don’t agree with a lot of their decisions,” she said “but that doesn’t mean you do away with it.” 

Just prior to the board’s vote, MVC chair Joan Malkin offered her viewpoint. “I don’t think the public is in a place to vote with enough information to understand the implications of their vote,” she said.

Turner told the board he was “disappointed” by the situation, and said he’s open to furthering conversations with the town regarding their concerns. He pointed to a number of projects in Oak Bluffs that the commission oversaw, or took part in. 

Between the town’s planning board and the commission, Turner said, “we’re the ones getting it done.” 

Tuesday’s meeting followed several other discussions on the impact the MVC’s mounting legal fees have on the Island’s municipalities. Upon reappointing the town’s representative, Brian Smith, to the commission in December, the Oak Bluffs select board brought up similar concerns

Edgartown’s select board has also mulled over how to proceed with their involvement with the commission, with the latest of their discussions getting into specifics of how to exit the agency. No decision has been made by that town. 


  1. Selectperson Ruley..that was a cheap shot. Thank you Emma and Gail for standing up for the voters of Oak Bluffs.

    Looking at the incidence of lawsuits against the MVC I see a lot of entitled, wealthy people who sue when given guidelines they don’t like or are told no. That behavior is bullying and needs to be called out as such. MV is not for sale. Protecting our community and natural resources especially in this time of global warming is essential.

  2. One of the main problems with the commission is they have no budget. The commission does what it wants with no oversight, spends what it wants with no oversight, and then submits a bill to the towns that they have to pay. That is not a budget that is doing what they want when they want how they want. The commission needs to get out of the DRI process completely. The towns today are all well equipped to handle what comes before them. This is an antiquated, governmental body that needs to be terminated.

  3. One simple solution is that any town can use their discretion to refer any project to the MVC. No more MVC checklist or mandatory referrals.

  4. Rich people who don’t get what they want; developers who don’t get their way; and town officials who don’t like how the MVC operates all want its powers reduced or abolished altogether. The towns are not capable of reviewing projects that affect the whole Island, and that is the single most important power the MVC has. Edgartown withdrew from the Commission quite a while back, and regretted it as Katama got paved over. They got back in. The only thing worse than not getting what you want is… getting it.

  5. What good is the MVC? Is it doing the job it was created for?
    To give you a hint about my thoughts and feelings, I am beginning my 14th year as a commissioner. I began as an appointed member from the Town of Oak Bluffs, and later became an elected member. During this time, I was also the MVC Chair for 3 years.
    In my opinion, one of our biggest failings is not informing the public about all of the planning work that the MVC does for the towns. Our twelve person staff has only one person who is solely assigned to DRI’s (developments of regional impact). While the other members provide occasional support to the DRI coordinator, they are principally involved in planning projects for the towns. The simple answer is that passions are stirred by the higher profile development projects, which are regularly covered by both newspapers, and not by planning initiatives which generally have a longer gestation period and often are not as eye-catching as development projects.
    There are also many planning issues that transcend town lines but are vitally important to the island. Water quality, housing, energy, and climate action are four that I think most people can agree on, and we have staff members dedicated to those issues. There is also a staff cartographer who makes maps for the towns and other island entities. Other staff members are assisting towns with planning projects, including master plans and transportation improvement initiatives. As the regional planning body, we compile and maintain a statistical profile of the Island which town and other constituencies regularly rely on for various state-sponsored programs and grant applications.
    We all know that the island is not the same place as it was 10, 20, 30 (you pick the number) years ago. How could it be? It is not a museum exhibit stuck in a time. But when I drive around the Cape, I think that the Commission has had some measure of success in trying to preserve this island. With each decision, we weigh the probable impacts of the proposed development on the island as a whole. Would you want a regulatory body whose only concern was “is the applicant was likely to sue”? One of the changes in this modern world that has come to the island is the growing number of people who have deep pockets, are willing to take legal action to get their way, and who may not share the best interests of our community. That is not something that we can control. but we can’t just give in. While litigation can be costly, it is our responsibility as laid out in the MVC’s charter to stand up for the Island despite the deep pockets who are willing to take legal action to get their way.
    I would like to leave you with the language from the last section of the enabling legislation. Section 1, Goals
    “The purpose of the commission created by this act shall be to further protect the health, safety and general welfare of island residents and visitors by preserving and conserving for the enjoyment of present and future generations the unique natural, historical, ecological, scientific, and cultural values of Martha’s Vineyard which contribute to public enjoyment, inspiration and scientific study, by protecting these values from development and uses which would impair them, and by promoting the enhancement of sound local economies.”
    This is direction that MVC Commissioners take to heart in every decision, and has been over the nearly 50 years of the Commission’s existence.

  6. The commission should not be abolished, nor should towns seek to “get out”. They are an important regulatory body that was meant to help preserve the Vineyard and deal with planning and development scenarios that the towns would otherwise have great difficulty dealing with (katama and the triangle are two examples). That said, the DRI process, in certain cases, has lost its way. Too much subjectivity can really mess things up

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