Article 83: The Political Hot Potato That Won't Cool Off

Jason Graziadei •

Hillary Rayport
Hillary Hedges Rayport at the 2023 Annual Town Meeting in May.

It passed by just a single vote at Town Meeting, but the fight over Article 83 isn’t over. Not by a long shot.

The citizen home rule petition sponsored by Hillary Hedges Rayport to change the makeup of the Nantucket Planning & Economic Development Commission (NP&EDC) was vigorously opposed by members of the commission and others on Town Meeting floor.

But the article passed 183 to 182, and survived a bid to reconsider the vote. Typically such home rule petitions are then sent up to the State House in Boston for consideration by the legislature with little fanfare.

Not Article 83. On Monday, the NP&EDC voted 8-1 to send a letter to the Select Board outlining its members’ concerns with the home rule petition, and to recommend that they defer sending it to the state legislature until after the 2024 Annual Town Meeting.

The motion, put forward by NP&EDC member Barry Rector who said “I have some real issues with Article 83…I ask for a little time to flesh this out.”

Rector said he had three areas of concern regarding the home rule petition, including its implementation of term limits, removing the entire membership of the Planning Board as automatic appointees to the NP&EDC, and what he described as its lack of specificity on administration, structure, and financing.

After an extensive debate - in which some NP&EDC members expressed reservations over the public perceiving the move as going against the will of Town Meeting - the commission nonetheless endorsed Rector’s motion almost unanimously. Only Wendy Hudson voted to oppose it, while Select Board member Dawn Hill Holdgate and Planning Board chair John Trudel abstained from the vote.

“The intention is not to stop it from going to the state,” said NP&EDC member David Iverson. “It’s to have a moment to really understand it - have a timeout and understand it before we put it up.”

Rayport, who was unable to attend the portion of the meeting in which her petition was discussed, told the Current this week that vote by the NP&EDC was “pretty disappointing,” and said its members should be reaching out to her for a discussion about the proposal.

“Town meeting said this is what we think should happen,” Rayport said. “The article passed because many people from the community expressed dismay about not having comprehensive community planning by this commission. Many years have passed and we continue to grow and change without a plan. If they think their current structure is best, they should articulate that to people and tell the state why they think they’re doing a great job and why Town Meeting is wrong. We didn’t hear any of that.”

Seth Engelbourg, the Conservation Commission’s representative on the NP&EDC, once again offered his criticisms of Article 83 on Monday, but also shared reservations about Rector’s motion. Engelbourg was under the belief that if Town Meeting votes for a home rule petition, it was automatically sent up to Boston. But Planning Director Andrew Vorce said the process allows the Select Board to review, make changes, and ultimately decide whether or not to send a home rule petition to the state legislature.

“As much as I don't like the article, I also don't like interference in democratic process,” Engelbourg said. “So if we could, as part of that discussion, invite the article sponsor to the table as well and try to re-convince them of all the things we’re already doing and how what we’re doing is going to lead to much better long-range planning and sustainability for this commission, then I think we need to try..Even if thought it was only by one vote, town meeting did voice affirmation for this article. So to just completely interfere with the process and sort of stonewall the system by not offering them a seat at the table, is bad government. That being said, I think the article is not good. It has a lot of problems.”

Planning Board and NP&EDC member Nat Lowell emphasized his belief that many people were confused by the article at Town Meeting, and that sending a home rule petition to alter a state-created agency required greater community support than what Article 83 received.

“One vote is certainly not a mandate,” Lowell said. “If (the late) Jack Gardner had had term limits he would have been done in 1983. That sums up everything doesn’t it?..This is a long battle.”

On Wednesday, as the Select Board reviewed post-Town Meeting action items, the NP&EDC’s vote on Article 83 came up, and two members of the board expressed their own reservations about granting the request.

“Have we ever gone against a vote of Town Meeting as a board?” Select Board member Matt Fee asked town manager Libby Gibson.

“I don't recall that you have done that,” Gibson responded.

“I don’t either,” Fee said. “If the NP&EDC wants to make a recommendation and blow it up at the state level, that would be appropriate. But to get us to do their bidding for them I think would be irregular.”

Malcolm MacNab added, simply, “That’s not what the vote was.”

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