While other towns agonized over their town meetings, Edgartown residents breezed through theirs on Tuesday night, approving a $24 million annual town budget in minutes and working through 67 warrant articles in a little over two hours.
In an impressive display of support for the priorities of town authorities, the 200-odd residents who turned out for the meeting failed to approve only a few of the measures put before them.
There were only two minor delays to the process of approving the 112 line items in the budget - one question about spending on an administrator for the computer system and a call for more to be spent on nets for two basketball hoops - before the $23.95 million budget was unanimously approved.
The meeting began at 7:30 p.m. with a quick, 15-minute, special meeting comprising 17 minor items for the current financial year, which was all but over by the time many people had taken their seats.
The annual meeting began at 7:45 p.m., and moderator Philip J. Norton Jr. guided the first seven articles through in quick time before the first extended debate of the night, over a move by the personnel board to remove a bylaw which allowed town employees to work up to half their earned vacation, and be paid for it.
Edgartown harbor master Charles J. Blair said that by voting to reject the article, the meeting would preserve a system that has worked for years.
"Some of us don't work 8 to 5," he said. "Some of us work lots of holidays. I just worked Easter, not by choice, I got called out. I get a free day for every holiday I work. If I take these free days plus my vacation time, you guys won't see me for two months or longer." He continued:
"The old system allowed you to basically sell back to the town two weeks of your vacation time, which I've done every year since I've been harbor master, because I have too many days.
"So far in my research I've found only about six employees out of 125 are affected by this. I'm one of them and I urge you to vote no."
Shellfish constable Paul Bagnall said the only holidays he took were Christmas and New Year's Day, and he backed Mr. Blair on the practicality of the current system for those who worked irregular hours.
Despite arguments from the personnel board that Edgartown was the only community which had the system, that it amounted to paying people twice and that the change would save some $25,000, the meeting voted a resounding no.
The personnel board suffered another defeat with a second proposal which would have required employees to take their accrued vacation in the 12 months following the year in which it was earned, except in emergencies. The article was indefinitely postponed, on a motion by David Rossi.
The meeting then raced through the next 13 articles, including the town budget. When Mr. Norton the moderator made it through the reading of all 112 line items with only one call of pass (signifying a desire to return to it for further discussion), he hailed it as unprecedented.
When there was a call from the back to add item 77 to that, Mr. Norton said: "You had to do that, didn't you?"
But the discussion was brief and light, and the budget went through on the voices.
The proceedings slowed somewhat when Janet Hathaway, chairman of the Edgartown resident homesite committee, rose to speak in favor of spending $300,000 of Community Preservation funds on the Jenney Way affordable housing project.
She spoke at length. Eventually, as she paused to ask for questions, Mr. Norton offered a hurry-up: "You're snatching defeat from the jaws of victory here," he said.
She finished to applause, and the article passed unanimously.
The most animated debate of the evening was over a proposal to alter the attendance rules for members of boards, committees or commissions so that the absence of a member for one session did not disqualify that person from voting, provided they had seen a record of proceedings.
The proposal was put up by the town planning board, conservation commission and board of health. Planning board chairman Alan Wilson said the change was allowed by state statute and had been approved by some other towns. "Really for the convenience of an applicant," he said.
Taking the planning board as an example, he said that to get a special permit, an applicant needed four of five votes. Applicants could be inconvenienced if they turned up to a continued hearing, only to find members of the board were absent and the matter had to be rescheduled.
The proposed change would mean the meeting could continue and allow an absent member to review a video or audio tape of the proceedings. It could only happen once per member, he said.
But the chairman of the board of selectmen, Michael Donaroma, argued strongly against the change.
"I don't like this because I've stood in front of many boards and I've sat on many boards, and the most important thing about the whole thing that goes on at a public meeting is that the applicant gets a real shot at presenting his proposal or his case and also the abutters of anybody in the public," he said, adding:
"I think it's important there be eye-to-eye, person-to-person contact. I don't think it's strong enough to say ‘I read the minutes' because you really miss the feeling that's in the room that night."
Pia Webster doubted the boards would pay to have videos or transcripts done, meaning members would wind up listening to a poor quality tape.
"I don't know why here in Edgartown we would want to throw out the public hearing process for somebody's convenience," she said. "I think it's an abomination."
The matter was indefinitely postponed.
The mood lightened during discussion of proposed spending by the shellfish department, which included $10,000 to fund a quahaug depuration relay program.
Mr. Norton asked Mr. Bagnall what depuration meant and was told it meant moving shellfish from polluted waters to cleaner ones to free them from impurities.
"It's like immigration," interpreted Mr. Norton.
There was some discussion over town plans to construct a bike path on Meshacket Road for $279,400. The proposal was not supported by the financial advisory committee, and residents wanted to know why.
The reason: that the committee considered the plan not sufficiently advanced, a judgment confirmed when highway superintendent Stuart Fuller proposed an amendment to reduce spending to $30,000 to plan, survey engineer and design the path.
"This is going to be a difficult bike path to build," he said, adding:
"The state has an easement on the east side of the Morning Glory Farm property and the land bank has a restriction on the west side, and those are going to require some work to get through them."
Town administrator Pam Dolby defended the highway department, rebutting complaints about the slow progress on the problem, which also came up at last year's meeting.
The reduced expenditure was unanimously voted.
Internal disagreement among town officials emerged in the discussion over a request for $1.5 million to put toward the cost of sewering various private ways in the Edgartown Great Pond watershed.
Wastewater treatment manager Joe Alosso spoke strongly in favor of the plan, which would be paid half and half by residents and the town, as an important part of efforts to reduce the leaching of nitrogen into the Great Pond.
But water department superintendent Fred Domont demanded to know what science backed the assertions about the nitrogen leaching.
"There was a study done back in 1999," Mr. Alosso said, "performed by Bill Wilcox of the Martha's Vineyard Commission and it specifically stated what the problems were. It made the recommendation that these areas be sewered."
His explanation appeared not to satisfy Mr. Domont.
The article passed, with Mr. Domont dissenting.
And that was the last contentious issue. A few minutes later, Mr. Norton declared the meeting ended. It was 9.50 p.m.