In a return to form of sorts, Oak Bluffs selectmen on Tuesday clashed over what seemed like a relatively harmless plan to allow principal assessor Dianne Wilson to work a three-day work week with longer days instead of a traditional five-day work week.
Citing the Island’s high cost of living, Ms. Wilson and her husband recently sold their home and plan to move off Island in the coming weeks. Ms. Wilson has said she wants to keep her position with the town, but has asked if she could work a three-day work week with 12-hour days to ease her commute from the mainland.
Ms. Wilson has agreed to pay for her commuting costs, and has not asked for any additional compensation.
While most selectmen on Tuesday said they supported allowing Ms. Wilson taking a three-day work week — called flextime — they disagreed on the terms she be allowed to do so.
All five selectmen supported a plan from the town personnel committee which recommended that Ms. Wilson be granted flextime on a temporary basis while selectmen work to develop a flextime policy for all employees. But selectmen were divided on the committee’s suggestion that Ms. Wilson’s employment status be revisited at the end of this year after the triennial real estate revaluation was completed.
Selectmen Duncan Ross and Gregory Coogan said they opposed imposing what amounts to an artificial deadline, and said the town should not do anything that would lead to losing a skilled employee like Ms. Wilson.
Mr. Coogan said: “I think it’s a huge mistake to create this artificial deadline . . . this is a unique position and we have already gone to great lengths to train this person. We need to take care of people who take care of us.”
Jesse B. (Jack) Law 3rd, chairman of the board of assessors, said he first sent a letter to selectmen back in May informing them that Ms. Wilson had requested a flextime schedule, and questioned why the board was making a decision now.
“Here it is September and we haven’t made a decision,” Mr. Law said. “I am appalled at the way this has come down . . . now we’re talking about this deadline that just looks bad for the town. It looks to me like we’re saying you can work for the town until the end of December because we need you; but after that it’s see you later.”
Selectman Don DiOrio said he supported a flextime policy but said the discussion had little to do with Ms. Wilson herself.
“This isn’t about one employee . . . it’s about all the employees,” Mr. DiOrio said. “I am a big believer that we should not allow one employee to have a benefit not available to another. Frankly, I am a supporter of flextime. When I hear these criticisms it seems to come from the assumption we will not support a flextime policy, and I’m not sure that’s the case.”
The most heated exchange came after Mr. Coogan proposed an amendment to extend the deadline for Ms. Wilson’s flextime to June 30, 2008. Selectmen voted 3-2 to defeat the amendment, with chairman Kerry Scott, Roger Wey and Mr. DiOrio casting the dissenting votes.
Mr. Ross questioned whether Mr. Wey, a town employee who is director of the town senior center, should be voting on a matter regarding town employment.
“What’s this got to do with the senior center? We’re talking about the town assessor,” Mr. Wey asked.
“It’s an employment matter. And as a town employee I think you should recuse yourself,” Mr. Ross responded.
After Mr. Wey indicated he wouldn’t recuse himself, Mr. Ross replied, “I think the [state] ethics board would have something to say about that.”
Things settled down after that. As a show of compromise, selectmen agreed that Ms. Wilson should be granted flextime until April 30, after which selectmen would evaluate her employment status within the context of the town’s new flextime policy, which would be completed by that time.
In other developments:
• Mr. Ross criticized the way the town and Island were portrayed in the recent broadcast of the Monster Shark Tournament on Spike TV. For the past three years, the three-day event was broadcast on ESPN, although the world-wide sports network pulled out this year for unknown reasons.
Mr. Ross, a proponent of the Monster Shark Tournament in the past, said he was shocked at the way the tournament and town were portrayed by Spike TV, the so-called network for men best known for airing repeats of Star Trek and the bloody Ultimate Fighting Championships.
A clip from the program — called The Hunt For Monster Sharks — on the Spike TV Web site downplayed the educational and competitive aspects of the tournament, choosing instead to show spectators drinking alcohol and fisherman baiting the water with bloody chum or cutting sharks open.
“It was disgusting,” Mr. Ross said. “It was all blood and booze.”
• Selectmen retracted a previous proposal to change the name of the Inkwell and pay beach to the single moniker of Town Beach. The name change would be part of a plan to improve and revitalize the beach, but selectmen Tuesday said they heard criticism after they approved the name change two weeks ago.
Mr. Ross said he had heard a wide range of opinions about the name change, and urged selectmen to consider any change more carefully before acting.
“Even if we have 51 percent in agreement of a name that means we will have 49 percent of people in disagreement,” he said.
Mr. Coogan said selectmen should not have focused on a single name when it first came up at their last meeting.
“We seem to get in trouble when we take up an issue and start considering our options before we think it over,” he said.
Selectmen unanimously agreed to put plans for the name change on hold.
• Resident Bettye Baker urged selectmen to revisit a plan to change Canonicus avenue into a one-way street. Ms. Baker, who lives on the avenue, presented selectmen with a petition from 2003 in favor of the change, and a more recent letter written after a speeding motorist hit and killed a dog.
“It made us all worry that [the dog] might just have easily been a small child,” Ms. Baker said. “Traffic on this street has always been a problem, and as more and more people visit our Island in the summer that problem has only become exaggerated. Now people have realized they can use it as a short cut.”
Mr. Ross said he supported the plan, but warned that selectmen ran into problems in 2003 when they first considered turning the avenue into a one-way street. The road is large enough to support two lanes, and it also connects to a state highway, making a change to a one-way street difficult.
Selectmen agreed to refer the matter to the town parking and traffic commission.
• Carol Grant, the Martha’s Vineyard parking clerk appointed by the six Island towns, appeared before selectmen to announce that the state legislature had increased the maximum amount for parking tickets allowed under Massachusetts General Laws. Ms. Grant said she was simply presenting selectmen with options.
“Contrary to popular belief, I am not out to chase tourists for additional $10 for each ticket,” she said. “I am strictly here for informational purposes.”
Ms. Grant said it was up to the town to decide if they wanted higher parking tickets. The basic overtime parking ticket in Oak Bluffs is still $10, she said, and many people see that as a small price to pay for leaving their car for all day and taking the ferry off-Island.
“Most people think it’s a bargain for $10 to leave their car and take the boat to go shopping. Then they come back and their car is right there. Meanwhile people who want to go shopping in town can’t find a parking spot,” she said.
Police chief Erik G. Blake said parking ticket fines haven’t been increased in at least 12 years, but warned selectmen not to raise the fines for the wrong reasons.
“I’m not an advocate for raising them just to generate revenue, but I do think some increases are warranted,” he said.
Selectmen agreed any increase should be thoroughly vetted by the parking and traffic commission and also by residents at a public hearing.