Oak Bluffs selectmen took a formal complaint about moped rental companies under advisement Tuesday after nearly two hours of hearings detailing the ins and outs of the town’s moped bylaws and arguments about whether town rental companies have complied with bylaws.

With a standing-room only crowd of about 40 people, including representatives from three moped rentals companies in town and a community action group against mopeds, the board and town counsel heard evidence presented by the moped rental companies arguing they were not in violation of bylaws and licenses that had been issued by the town for years.

Former selectman Todd Rebello acted as a spokesman for the moped rental companies and read a letter from the town stating that they had a valid permit to operate. “I just don’t know how you can go backwards, when saying it’s good one day and meeting all the requirements,” Mr. Rebello said.

But a sticking issue was a part of the bylaw requiring a test track on the premises, which has been the subject of discussion in recent weeks. The moped rental companies have argued they are exempt from that provision because they were grandfathered in as existing businesses. Town counsel Ronald H. Rappaport, who attended the meeting Tuesday, said it did not appear that any grandfathering regulations were written into the moped bylaw.

The complaint filed in January by the Mopeds Are Dangerous Action Committee asked the town to declare the licenses for Island Hoppers, King of Rentals of MV, and Ride On moped rentals null and void because of what they said were license discrepancies and failure to comply with the town’s bylaws.

Todd Rebello (center) acted as the moped spokesperson. Jason Leone (right) owns three Oak Bluffs moped companies. — Mark Lovewell

Earlier this month town counsel issued a detailed public document suggesting a public hearing about the complaint to give a chance for the moped companies to present further information.

Prior to the hearing the town received formal notice of a legal claim from a lawyer representing a woman who lost part of her leg in a moped accident last summer in Oak Bluffs.

Daniel J. Murphy, representing Noelle Lambert, said in his March 23 letter that the town “has consistently disregarded its own by-laws with respect to moped rentals,” and because of that Ms. Lambert “was placed in a dangerous and avoidable situation, which led to her accident.”

Town administrator Robert Whritenour said the claim would be forwarded to the town liability insurance carrier. "They will appoint a qualified defense firm to defend the town, and the town's legal defense firm will handle the case," he said in an email Thursday.

The hearing Tuesday focused on the factual basis of the MADAC complaint.

Mr. Rappaport said he would review what was said and issue advice to selectmen at a public meeting. Echoing part of the earlier document given to the town, he noted that they are limited by state law when it comes to getting rid of moped rentals entirely. “We cannot go down to zero moped rentals because that is an effective prohibition,” he said.

Aguimar Carlos (left) is a co-owner of Ride On moped rentals. — Mark Lovewell

One by one selectmen focused on concerns about the three businesses, which are all owned by Jason Leone; Aguimar Carlos co-owns Ride On moped rentals. Allegations detailed in the complaint included whether licenses were transferred without approval from selectmen, whether the business changed locations without approval, and whether licenses were on file or had been paid for in a timely manner. Most of the complaints and the information provided was the same for each of the businesses.

Mr. Rebello presented minutes from past board of selectmen meetings, copies of cancelled checks, and several years of issued licenses that he said refuted points of the complaint. He said different addresses may have been listed on the moped licenses but the physical location had not changed, and in some cases the businesses had been in the same location since the 1970s.

Another point in the complaint alleged that the three businesses have not operated on-site test tracks as required by the town bylaw. Two weeks ago Mr. Rebello asked for a waiver of that requirement on behalf of the businesses, though he maintained that they were exempt from the provision because they were grandfathered in. He withdrew the request for a waiver at the previous meeting and it was not clear whether the businesses were exempt.

“The testiest point in this whole issue is the issue of the training track,” Mr. Rebello said. He said that as a selectman at the time that the training track requirement was written into the bylaw, the board did not intend for the provision to apply to the existing businesses. “We knew when we wrote [the bylaw] that it was about future movement,” he said, adding that he didn’t want to put families out of business and that licenses have been issued since 2002 “and this requirement was never enforced.”

He added that other measures were introduced, including training videos and other requirements. “We’re in 2017 and we want to go back and redo what we allowed to happen since 2002,” he said. “But you essentially are zoning them out of business if you enforce this.”

Mr. Rappaport said he was interested in facts, asking for more information about training programs.

Mr. Leone said the companies make sure renters meet age and safety requirements, and they watch a video prior to getting on a moped.

“Within five to 10 feet, if that person could not ride that moped you would know immediately whether they could use it or not,” he said. If the person is able to ride the moped at first they continue to practice on streets around the rental company with a person watching, he said. “If we don’t think you know how to do it we’ll take you off.”

The rental company owners said they could provide information about the number of refunds they’ve issued prior to rentals because the renter could not complete the safety information, which Mr. Rebello said was in the tens of thousands of dollars. Selectmen asked for three years’ worth of those records.

Mr. Rappaport said Tuesday that the town’s moped regulations do not specifically mention grandfathering, a statement that drew applause from some in the audience. “There are specific statutes which deal with grandfathering...but a host of cases say, if no mention of grandfathering there is none.”

He said Mr. Rebello seemed to be arguing that issuing licenses was a waiver. ”There is no grandfathering of regulations,” he said, asking for facts that can be applied to the regulations.

Others questioned the town’s liability when training takes place on town roads. Mr. Rebello said the mopeds are officially rented prior to training and the renters have the legal right to be on the roads at that point.

Katherine Kavanaugh, a commercial driver, said she was concerned about training on public roads. “I’ve almost hit drivers...wobbling down the road,” she said. “It scares the heck out of me.”

As the meeting wrapped up Mr. Rebello made an appeal for the board to issue a decision soon, as the companies were preparing for the summer season. “At some point it affects their revenue,” he said. “Once it starts costing them money then we’re in a bad spot.”

Mr. Rappaport and selectmen said they needed time to review information and come to a decision. With town meeting in two weeks, they agreed to take the matter under advisement with tentative plans to come to a decision on April 25.

“This is an issue of significant concern to the applicant and the complainants, but [also] to the Island,” Mr. Rappaport said. “I don’t want to rush through this.”

In other business Tuesday, selectmen deferred a decision on an appeal filed by Stanley Johnson, whose application for a taxi license was rejected by police. The board asked Mr. Johnson to further discuss the issue with members of the police department.

Selectmen also accepted a $1,000 donation to the town park commission from the Oak Bluffs fireman’s civic association, and approved a request to hold the 25th annual Ride the Vineyard benefit on May 6.