If it's bad news, gripes and complaints, Oak Bluffs selectmen don't want to hear it. This week they scrapped the annual meeting for the town's nonvoting taxpayers, saying they were in no mood to weather another barrage of criticism from the town's summer people.
The move ends a tradition selectmen started back in 1994 when board members decided they should hear from the people who shoulder more than half the town's tax burden.
But at last summer's session, summer residents told selectmen they were outraged by the delays, costs and the visual impact of the town wastewater project.
"I sat here for two hours and was lambasted. Nothing constructive took place," said selectman Richard Combra. "It was offensive to me. Two people suggested I was incompetent to serve as selectman. I have no intention of sitting here through another bashing of Oak Bluffs selectmen."
"I was really upset after last year's meeting," said selectman Ken Rusczyk. "That meeting is long gone and not missed."
Selectmen, in fact, had no intention of even mentioning the topic of the summer meeting for seasonal residents. They just weren't going to schedule one. But at the end of their regular Tuesday night meeting, the executive director of the Oak Bluffs Association, Renee Balter, asked selectmen when the meeting was slated to happen.
Todd Rebello, chairman of the selectmen, simply said, "On any given night we meet, seasonal taxpayers are welcome to come."
Mrs. Balter said it was important to make a special effort to listen to the summer residents. And selectman Roger Wey also objected to ending the traditional meeting.
"I'm a little upset. I thought this was in the works," he said. "They make up a good percentage of this community. These people pay taxes, and we need to give them a chance to voice their concerns."
Mr. Rebello said last summer's meeting was "ill-attended;" in fact, the session held last August drew more than 50 people. Also, the summer meeting routinely involved more than just selectmen. Town officials and department heads were also asked to attend so seasonal residents could have questions answered on a range of topics.
But Mr. Rebello said this week that "Tuesday night is a welcome atmosphere for anybody."
Again, Mr. Wey argued that the board reconsider its decision.
"It's our job to listen to all the people in town," he said. "To judge this on one year is a mistake. I would hate to see this pushed aside."
Joanne Philbrick, a town resident, advised selectmen they need to be able to listen to different viewpoints. "If we don't agree with you, it doesn't mean we don't like you," she said.
Kenneth Walker, a seasonal resident of Oak Bluffs from Rhode Island, said the summer meetings gave him the chance to meet town officials.
"Some individuals made disparaging remarks that were very difficult to listen to," he said. "But individuals should have an opportunity to express themselves."
Last year, summer residents were angry and let selectmen know it. While they applauded selectmen's effort to confront moped dealers and limit rentals and thanked the park crews for cleaning up the town beach, the nonvoting taxpayers said they were confused and frustrated about the municipal sewer project.
And their dissatisfaction involved more than the 37 electric panel boxes that had sprouted on street corners and sidewalks downtown. They wanted answers about how much their sewer bills would be and how they could avoid getting gouged by plumbers when the time came to hook up to the sewer lines.
Harold Jackson questioned the competence of selectmen who allowed the sewer panel boxes to be installed. "You guys don't know what you're doing," he said last year, winning applause from many in the audience.
But much of what was heard were simply questions: Would grinder pumps make noise? Had this system been tried anywhere else in the country?
For the past eight years, seasonal residents have been given the chance to ask any question they wanted, ranging from skunks to speeding cars and the impact of late tax bills.
But selectmen are still smarting from last year's event. "Unfairly, this board was criticized," said Mr. Combra. "This year all we would hear about is the terrible parking plan we put in place."