After Its Disbanding, Sign Advisory Council Gets Reinstated By Select Board

Jason Graziadei •

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Just weeks after the town abruptly disbanded the Historic District Commission’s appointed Sign Advisory Council - the Select Board voted Wednesday to reinstate it, effective immediately.

The Sign Advisory Council and the HDC’s other advisory committees were shut down in mid-August following a legal opinion from town counsel John Giorgio in which he asserted they had no legal basis, despite the fact they had been operating for decades. Planning and Land Use Services director Andrew Vorce said he consulted with town manager Libby Gibson in making the decision to act on the legal opinion, a move which has been criticized by preservation advocates.

Giorgio’s legal opinion asserted that the HDC had no legal authority to create the advisory committees. The Select Board, however, does have that appointing authority, and the solution its members settled on Wednesday night was to simply reappoint the Sign Advisory Council themselves. The 3-1 vote reinstated all of the existing members of the council to terms that end in June 2023, and the Select Board committed to gathering recommendations from the HDC on the council’s membership during a formal appointment process next year.

“The idea is they (the HDC) would recommend the membership and we would ratify it,” said Select Board vice chair Dawn Hill Holdgate.

The members of the Select Board acknowledged that in reinstating the council’s members immediately, they were bypassing their normal committee appointment process. But they felt a sense of urgency to bring the Sign Advisory Council back given the workload of the Historic District Commission, and how its elected members have come to rely on its work.

In the 3-1 vote, Matt Fee cast the only dissent, even though he was critical of the decision to disband the committees throughout the discussion.

“Everyone was blindsided by this,” Fee said. “The first thing is understanding how this happened, and why. This was something that didn’t need to happen, that did. We weren’t asked or consulted. Any one of us couldn't do this unilaterally. The process was not sufficient.”

Both Fee and former Nantucket Historical Commission chair Hillary Hedges Rayport were adamant that the appointing authority for the advisory committees should remain with the elected Historic District Commission, not the Select Board.

“It’s extremely confusing and irregular to go down a path where the Select Board is appointing advisors to the historic district,” Rayport said. “I’m going to say this is going to sound provocative, I don’t mean it that way but this is a manufactured crisis to create a new precedent for the Select Board appointing advisors to the historic district.”

Rayport also claimed that the decision came directly from Vorce, and that the legal opinion had existed for some time and did not originally contain the suggestion that the advisory committees be disbanded and cease their meetings. Rayport said there should have been no rush to act immediately to disband them. Vorce pushed back on Rayport’s assertions strenuously.

“I consulted with the town manager throughout this process,” Vorce said. “I did not take this action until I received the opinion from town counsel that said they shouldn’t meet until they were legally corrected.”

Vorce added that “there were some unfortunate things happening at that sign committee” and rejected the idea of ignoring the legal advice from town counsel.

“Somebody needed to take responsibility to reconstitute that board in a legal away,” Vorce said. “I’m not someone to get an opinion from town counsel and ignore that and take a side trip around that. I ask you, would you do that?”

All of the recent developments have come in the wake of several recent controversies involving the HDC’s Sign Advisory Council, including its sign dispute with NanTaco and discussion of a potential crackdown on faux flower installations.

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