West Tisbury selectmen on Wednesday revisited the idea of creating a town bylaw that would prohibit registered sex offenders from living or loitering near public spaces like schools and playgrounds — but tabled the matter after emotional debate.
Selectman Richard Knabel questioned the need for the bylaw, stating he preferred a preventive rather then reactive approach to address the problem. The two other selectmen — Dianne Powers and Jeffrey (Skipper) Manter — said the draft bylaw needs more work and legal review by town counsel Ronald Rappaport.
The five-page bylaw was drafted by town resident Kelly Wilson with guidance from police chief Beth Toomey. Ms. Wilson once again presented the plan on Wednesday, and argued the law will give authorities the ability to remove sexual offenders from certain public places.
She said the bylaw is still a work in progress. “I was starting small. I am new to this,” Ms. Wilson said.
The draft version of the bylaw would restrict level 2 and level 3 sex offenders from living within a mile-and-a-half radius of a school and prohibit them from loitering in that same area for more than 10 minutes. The bylaw would restrict offenders from living within a half mile of a day-care center, children’s park or public park.
Violators would be fined $250 for the first violation. The state sex offender registry would also be notified and the person would have 30 days to move. A second violation would carry a fine of $500 with a similar notification to the sex offender board.
At the selectmen’s meeting Wednesday members of the public questioned the need.
“There is no question child abuse is a serious problem . . . but shouldn’t we be doing more to identify the [offenders],” said Cynthia Riggs. “We don’t know who they are, but we know they are out there.”
Town resident Paddy Moore urged caution in adopting a bylaw that could create enforcement problems while doing little to address the problem: “I think we need to know more about the need for this before we move forward.”
Ms. Powers suggested that town counsel examine the draft bylaw to make sure it could be approved by the state attorney general’s office. She said she agrees with the general concept of a sexual offender bylaw.
“This isn’t going to prevent that first [incident] from happening . . . but it puts people on notice that the town is serious about this,” she said.
Ms. Powers also cited a story in The Boston Globe which reported town officials in Marlborough credited a similar bylaw as a reason for fewer sex offenders in town.
Mr. Manter said he also supports the concept of a sex offender bylaw, but he agreed more work needs to be done. He suggested the matter be discussed by the all-Island selectmen’s association when it reconvenes in October.
Mr. Knabel said the bylaw is quite preliminary.
“I think we need to hear from a broader spectrum of the community on this . . . I fully support a comprehensive approach to addressing the problem. To me, the answer is prevention not reaction . . . I need to be persuaded this will be a deterrent,” he said.