Shakeup On Historical Commission Called "Political Hit Job"

Jason Graziadei •

Hillary Rayport’s ouster from the Nantucket Historical Commission last week prompted a deluge of criticism against the Select Board on Wednesday, as Rayport’s former colleagues and other community members blasted the decision to not reappoint her to the advisory commission.

Rayport, who had served as the commission’s chair, received just one vote from Select Board member Matt Fee. The other four board members voted to appoint Abby De Molina to the contested seat.

The decision led to a heated public comment period during Wednesday night’s Select Board meeting, when more than a dozen island residents spoke out to say they were “shocked, “disappointed,” “stunned,” and “ashamed” that Rayport was passed over.

“This shakeup appears to be all about silencing voices of preservation,” said Tom Montgomery, a member of the Historical Commission. “This board got rid of Rayport and appointed a person who barely has any experience with Nantucket, let alone architecture history or historic preservation. This is an attack on preservation on Nantucket. The Select Board is cutting off the head of the Historical Commission and hoping it goes away or stops being effective. This was a political hit job motivated by people who want to silence Rayport because she's capable, smart, and not afraid to speak her mind. What kind of a town is this that pushes out talented people who are excelling at civic leadership?”

Rayport’s former colleagues, including Montgomery, Georgia Raysman, Clement Durkes, and Angus MacLeod, all praised her leadership, work ethic, and the wisdom she exhibited while on the commission. They repeatedly asked the Select Board to reconsider its decision as they lauded Rayport and questioned the credentials of De Molina.

“Why was it that the Select Board chose to decapitate us? Why? It’s just baffling,” Raysman said. “My question is what more powerful interests can be at work than the common interest of historic preservation that determines why people come here?...I’m deeply shocked and very disappointed in this decision and I urge you to rectify it immediately.”

Other community members, including Dr. George Butterworth, Meghan Perry and Eve Messing, joined the chorus of criticism against the Select Board.

“I was just stunned to see four members of the Select Board vote to essentially decapitate the commission, which is basically telling the commission to go sit in the corner and be quiet as far as I can see,” Butterworth said. “It seemed like a huge power play to tell the commission ‘we don’t like what you’re doing’ and when it seemed like they were doing a really good job.”

Rayport has led the Nantucket Historical Commission - which is charged with advising the Select Board on matters of preservation - for the past three years and helped lead the charge for the town earning its Certified Local Government (CLG) designation. She has steered the commission to advocate on matters of signage, pavement and the condition of the island’s lighthouses. But Rayport ruffled feathers in local government circles over the past year by sponsoring a citizen petition to change the makeup and structure of the Nantucket Planning & Economic Development Commission (NP&EDC). The article was tabled for further study by Town Meeting voters in early May, but town staff members and other appointed and elected officials criticized Rayport’s approach in proposing the changes.

On Wednesday, after more than a dozen people spoke out in support of her and urged the Select Board to reconsider its vote, Rayport also approached the microphone to address the board. She pointed to her citizen petition to change the NP&EDC as the root cause behind her ouster from the Historical Commission.

“I do feel a bit like I’m at my own funeral,” Rayport said. “I can’t help but think that when we participate in government and try to make change, that it can really come back to roost. And it’s sad...I brought a citizen’s warrant article that was not popular with (the) planning (department), and I brought it because I felt it was the right thing to do and it was important. To the extent that colored your confidence in my leadership on the Historical Commission, I think that’s really unfortunate because you should be looking at what we got done.”

While the Select Board - per its own policy with regard to public comments - declined to respond to the criticism it received on Wednesday, several members shared their thoughts with the Current on Thursday about the situation.

Both chairman Jason Bridges and vice chair Dawn Hill Holdgate said the board would not reconsider its decision.

“Frankly, I responded to an email from Hillary before we took the vote and let her know why, which she has failed to mention, and told her numerous times over the years that it’s the way she works with other people,” Hill Holdgate said. “She’s really done a lot of damage with her relationships with numerous town employees who are, of course, scared to talk about it, as well as working with other boards. She’s gone around people, called the state, filed public information requests rather than getting the information from staff because it didn’t come fast enough. She has an inability to work effectively in many ways, even though she’s done good things that I did thank her for. I just, for me, felt like Abby is more collaborative.”

Bridges told the Current that he and other members of the Select Board were expecting the feedback they received on Wednesday, but they all listened and took the time to digest the criticism.

“Sometimes we make the right decision and sometimes we don’t, but that’s what public comment is for,” Bridges said. “I don't think we’ll revisit any votes. The appointment process was redone last year, and the system was sound and the votes were put in. One thing I did not like about last (Wednesday) night is multiple public comments that started to disparage other candidates and why they weren’t qualified. That was inappropriate. That will discourage people from running in the future.”

Bridges added: “We made the right decisions. Experience alone is not the only factor. It's why when you send a resume in, they interview you. It’s not just experience, it’s building the best team and how you work with others.”

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