Rescinders Blocked

Sometimes all a writer can do is scratch her head and wonder What the hell just happened here?

At its regular meeting last night, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) considered commissioner Lenny Jason’s motion to rescind the roundabout vote. Lenny introduced a similar motion last November 3.  The tally was 6–5 in favor of rescission, but current MVC chair Chris Murphy then cast his vote, making it a 6–6 tie and thus defeating the motion. Commissioner Brian Smith, an articulate voice against the roundabout, was unavoidably out of the country at the time. Had he been present, the vote would have been 7–5 and the vote would have been rescinded.

Need we say more?

Mr. Murphy played a similar role at the initial vote on October 6, 2011. He broke a 6–6 tie to cast his vote in favor  of the roundabout — “for the Oak Bluffs selectmen,” he said. The Oak Bluffs selectmen, officially “the applicant,” are nominally responsible for this mess, but they’ve been royally enabled by, among others, MVC executive director Mark London, the Martha’s Vineyard Joint Transportation Committee, and the state Department of Transportation (MassDOT). At the time, in “Would Clicker Training Help the MVC?,” I noted that Mr. Murphy had “once again snatched stupidity from the jaws of reason” and that the word that came to mind was “schmuck.”

Anyway, Lenny Jason offered the MVC another chance to do the right thing. Once again they ducked it. Back in November, Mr. Jason noted that he was raised to believe that when one made a mistake, the honorable thing to do was acknowledge it. Several of his fellow commissioners were evidently raised differently. At the time, and again last night, they expressed concern that the MVC would lose credibility if they admitted that they’d goofed. I’m with Mr. Jason. If it turns out that my opinion of Mr. Murphy is unfair, I will certainly admit that I made a mistake.

This discussion was not a rehash of the last one, however. This time Chairman Murphy ruled Mr. Jason’s motion out of order, based on the opinion of MVC legal counsel that the MVC’s bylaws did not allow a vote to be rescinded. Counsel’s letter, which circulated at the meeting and of which I’ve just requested a copy, did not claim to be definitive, but that didn’t keep Mr. Murphy from hanging his hat on it. So Mr. Jason moved to overturn the chair’s ruling. This led to some pretty unfocused discussion, and a claim by commissioner Erik Hammarlund that a rescission vote would be illegal.

Said Sandra Lippens (right) after the meeting, “It isn’t over till the fat lady sings, and I’m the fat lady.” She runs Tilton Tents, which is ground zero for the proposed roundabout. At left is Trip Barnes. He was there too.

Mr. Hammarlund is a lawyer, which may explain why several commissioners took his opinion so seriously. Running through my mind, however, were the famous words attributed to Patrick Henry: “If this be treason, make the most of it.”

Patrick Henry isn’t on the MVC, sad to say. Four commissioners did vote to overturn the chair’s ruling and thus consider the rescission motion on its own merits: Lenny Jason, Brian Smith, Camille Rose, and Christina Brown. Bravo for them. They lost, 4–9.

No one mentioned that the move to rescind was purely symbolic, since the MVC had no standing to approve or reject the project in the first place.

The referendum results were barely mentioned: clearly the Vineyard public has no standing with the MVC.

The concerns raised by Messrs. Jason and Smith about the sloppiness of the MVC’s handling of the roundabout project were not addressed, or even acknowledged. I’m having a hard time mustering any confidence that the same sloppiness will not be repeated again. It’s probably being repeated even as I type these words.

It’s only just now dawning on some commissioners that they should have made the roundabout a development of regional impact (DRI) back in 2006 — before the Oak Bluffs board of selectmen sold our sovereignty to MassDOT for — what? not even a mess of pottage as far as I can tell.

The good news is that I came home 100% convinced that I’m doing the right thing by running for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. I can make a positive contribution to the discussion, and support the others who think clearly and understand the implications of what they do. And one more thing: Every town must have at least one elected rep on the MVC, and no town can have more than two. My town, West Tisbury, already has two. The one I have the best chance of knocking off his stool is Erik Hammarlund. It would so be my pleasure to do exactly that.

My gut still says that this thing will never be built, but it’s also not telling me how it’s going to be stopped.

P.S. For good coverage of this portion of last night’s meeting, see Sonia Groff’s story in Martha’s Vineyard Patch.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has two blogs going on WordPress. "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories" is about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard. "Write Through It" is about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
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6 Responses to Rescinders Blocked

  1. kevin j cusack says:

    Very sad ( but not surprising ) moment for the credibility of the MVC.

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  2. Ned Schrems says:

    Your gut isn’t telling you how it’s going to,be stopped? That’s easy. It simply has to be stated in a positive way. Don’t try to get them to rescind their vote; give them a positive alternative, e.g., “I move that we declare the blinker intersection a historical landmark and establish a trust to ensure its preservation. This will be a gift of history to all the present and future children of MV.”

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    • Once we defeat this thing, the blinker intersection will be a plaque-worthy historic site. Some future Vineyard kid will ask, “What’s that plaque about, Mom?” and Mom will reply, “I’m not sure, kid, but I think some dragon got slain here.”

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  3. Sara Crafts says:

    Yep, you nailed it, Susanna. Dast we mention the part where one of the commissioners felt, re DRI, that the MVC should have a list of criteria for people to follow — and, son-of-a-gun, the MVC already has such a list. Shouldn’t membership on the MVC require a modicum of homework, or at least a passing familiarity with the rules and forms that accompany them?

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  4. “The good news is that I came home 100% convinced that I’m doing the right thing by running for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.” In that case you deserve local hero status, after witnessing what you did. With this bunch, you’ll want to be fully conversant in Robert’s Rules, Open Meeting and Public Records Law, with a side order of Ethics and Conflict of Interest. (Something tells me you already are.) Good luck to you!

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    • Well, you see, the MVC doesn’t operate under Robert’s Rules. They don’t seem to operate under any procedural rules at all. What, you ask, allowed the chair to (1) break the tie that approved the roundabout in October, and then (2) create the tie that blocked the rescission vote in November? Beats me. See also Sara’s comment about the DRI criteria. It’s been there all along, that regional transportation developments trigger a DRI. No one noticed! And most of them think they’ll enhance their credibility by sticking to their original decision?? Yikes. I’m probably already more conversant in Robert’s, open meeting, and public records than several of the current members, but I’m aiming for a higher standard. :-)

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