Sparks flew at the Aquinnah selectmen’s meeting Tuesday night when one board member clashed with a town businessman, claiming that he had knowingly acted outside the law this summer by storing alcohol in a truck on his property.
The board held off on renewing Matthew (Cully) Vanderhoop’s liquor license for the Aquinnah Shop restaurant after selectman Camille Rose said she could not in good conscience approve the request for someone who had repeatedly failed to follow the law.
Ms. Rose said Mr. Vanderhoop had parked a truck with a refrigerator unit outside the restaurant throughout the summer, storing beer and wine. She said the truck and its refrigerator unit were unlawful and unsightly, and that while Mr. Vanderhoop had been notified that he apply for a permit, he never did.
Mr. Vanderhoop defended himself, saying he had been preoccupied during the busy summer season and had simply never gotten around to applying for the permit. “I intended to make the application when I had time. It’s not a permanent fixture, it’s never been a permanent fixture . . . It was not my intention to disrupt anything,” he said.
He said he needed the refrigerator unit to hold beer and wine for the restaurant because there was no space to store it inside the building.
Selectman and board chairman Spencer Booker and selectman Jim Newman took a more lenient approach to Mr. Vanderhoop’s infraction. Mr. Booker suggested changing the town’s liquor storage policy. “We could amend the current regulations to say that liquor must be stored inside. That eliminates all of this for next season,” he said.
Mr. Newman asked Mr. Vanderhoop to explore making changes to the Aquinnah Shop building to allow for storage of beer and wine.
But Ms. Rose accused Mr. Vanderhoop of acting in bad faith. ”It’s just that I don’t trust him. He’ll break any rules and regulations,” she said.
Mr. Vanderhoop protested the characterization. “I’m not the outlaw I’m made out to be,” he said. “Sign the application if you want to. If you don’t want to sign it, don’t sign it. I’ll be back. This place, you make a mountain out of a molehill,” he said.
Selectmen agreed to revisit the issue before the liquor license renewal is due to go to the state, at the end of the year. Meanwhile they asked Mr. Vanderhoop to move apace with obtaining the necessary permits for the refrigerator unit.
Selectmen did approve a liquor license renewal request for the Outermost Inn, the only other restaurant in Aquinnah that serves alcohol following a vote by the town two years ago to allow beer and wine sales in restaurants with more than 30 seats.
Jeffrey Madison also appeared at the meeting as Mr. Vanderhoop’s attorney on a separate matter. Mr. Madison asked that vehicles be allowed to drive up the access road to the Aquinnah Shop to conduct business during the day, even during the summer season when there is heavy foot traffic in the area. He said such vehicle access falls well in line with the way Aquinnah Shop employees have traditionally used the road, dating back to 1945 when vendor Napoleon Madison built the road so tourists could have access to his refreshments shop.
The town has restricted vehicles from using the roadway between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m., as a safety measure to protect pedestrians. Ms. Rose said Mr. Vanderhoop and his employees have ignored the rule and continue to drive up the road during restricted hours. “There has just been blatant disregard for the law,” she said. “Nobody said they can’t use it. The conditions are that between 10 and four that they not use that roadway. It’s just like everybody else up there. They can walk up the hill between 10 and four.”
Mr. Newman suggested a compromise, and the board agreed to meeting with other area businesses to discuss the matter. “What we’re trying to do is reach an accommodation,” he said.
In other business, selectmen postponed indefinitely the opening of commercial scallop season depending on a recommendation from the town shellfish committee. The committee will monitor family scalloping to determine if there are enough scallops to open commercial fishing. The selectmen will revisit the issue at their next meeting, Nov. 17.
And Mr. Newman suggested the town obtain a forensic audit of its financial affairs. “I’m concerned about the condition of our finances and record keeping,” he said. “I think that we need to find out what’s going on,” he said.
Town coordinator Jeffrey Burgoyne explained that a forensic audit is generally done only when there is a suspicion of inappropriate or illegal activity.
In 2006, the state Department of Revenue performed a management evaluation of the town at the selectmen’s request, to evaluate the town’s resource usage, and make suggestions on managing finances.
Since then the town has paid for yearly audits by Bob Brown Associates of Mendon. Mr. Newman said he still feels that the town is not operating as efficiently as it should, given that they have not yet closed the books on the past two fiscal years. “We [need to] get ourselves in the situation where we are really a business that operates in a timely fashion,” he said.