Oak Bluffs selectmen on Tuesday said goodbye to a pair of longtime business owners with a combined 70 years of experience as they approved the transfer of licenses for the Ritz Café on Circuit avenue and King’s Rentals on Circuit avenue extension to new owners.
In a busy meeting, selectmen also heard plans for the dredging of a new channel in Sengekontacket Pond that could vastly improve that waterway’s tidal flow and approved a contract for town administrator Michael Dutton a full 18 months after he was hired.
The meeting started on a sentimental note when selectmen unanimously approved the transfer of a liquor license held by Janet King, the manager of the Ritz Café since 1987, to John Reveruzzi, who owns and manages David Ryan’s in Edgartown and the Sugar Shack in Oak Bluffs.
Mr. Reveruzzi said he would serve as manager of the venerable watering hole at the foot of Circuit avenue and announced he did not plan to make any substantial changes. He said the hours of operation, entertainment and ambiance of the Ritz Café would stay the same, at least for the first year or so.
“We don’t know what to expect at first, so for the first year we are going to keep everything the same as much as possible,” he said.
Mr. Reveruzzi said he did plan to reopen the kitchen and serve food at some point, but “nothing too fancy, just simple lunch and dinners.”
Ms. King, whose family has owned the Ritz since 1967, said she had mixed feelings about the sale and license transfer. While she told selectmen that she is ready to move on after working in the bar and restaurant since 1978, she later admitted she was feeling a little misty. “I think I’m going to cry,” she said as she left the meeting.
Selectmen also approved the transfer of a business license held by Cheryl King of King’s Rentals to Jason Leone allowing for the rental of up to 50 mopeds, six cars and five motorcycles. Ms. King has owned the rental agency for almost 30 years. Mr. Leone owns a moped businesses on both Block Island and in Vineyard Haven.
“We are losing 70 years of Oak Bluffs business experience here tonight,” said chairman Kerry Scott of the two transfers. “We’re seeing the end of an era here tonight.”
Selectmen advised Mr. Leone to keep the area near the exit of the Strand Theatre clear at all times. Selectman Ron DiOrio said the exit was partially blocked on several occasions last summer after customers of the rental agency dropped off mopeds or cars in front of the exit.
“We want to prevent a tragedy before it happens . . . at no time can that exit be blocked,” Mr. DiOrio said.
Several selectmen openly expressed their opposition to mopeds, and told Mr. Leone they would try to convince him to reduce the overall number of the controversial two-wheel vehicles when his license came up for renewal in April.
Mr. Dutton then gave selectmen some good news: the town has received permission to begin a dredging project in Sengekontacket to create a deeper channel running from the little bridge to the big bridge. Mr. Dutton said the project, which is a joint venture between Oak Bluffs and Edgartown, may improve the internal tidal circulation of the pond and help flush out pollutants and bacteria.
High bacteria counts caused the state Division of Marine Fisheries to close down Sengekontacket Pond for shellfishing twice this summer, first in two weeks for June and again in July. The second closure lasted through September. State officials now plan to close the pond to shellfishing for four months during the summer on a permanent basis.
Following Tuesday’s meeting, Oak Bluffs shellfish constable Dave Grunden said the dredging initiative was made possible after the two towns received permission from Massachusetts Fish and Wildlife to reauthorize several permits that previously allowed for dredging along a channel running parallel to State Beach between the two bridges.
Mr. Grunden said the project is the first step in a larger plan to reduce bacteria and improve tidal circulation in the pond. Officials are still waiting on a report from the Massachusetts Estuaries Project that he said will use computer models and other data to formulate a long-term plan for the pond.
Also on Tuesday, selectmen approved a contract for Mr. Dutton running from July 1, 2007 to June 30, 2008 that will pay him an annual salary of $99,900.
Mr. Dutton has been working without a contract since being hired as town administrator in July of 2006. Around that time, news surfaced the town had as many as 18 employees working under personal service contracts, well above the number allowed under Massachusetts General Law. The town has since eliminated all but two contracts — one for the police chief and the other for the town administrator.
Ms. Scott said Mr. Dutton agreed to go without contract until the completion of a compensation and classification from Municipal Resources Inc. of Meredith, N.H. That study was completed in December, and has allowed officials to compare the salaries of town employees to those in other towns and establish pay scales that will attract and retain qualified workers.
Selectmen agreed that all contracts in the future should be ratified by the entire board and undergo a review by the town counsel.
“Having been what we’ve been through in the past 18 months, I think this is the best approach . . . the public should be kept aware of these contracts,” Mr. Dutton said.