Chris Perry Column: Let's Get Ready To Rumble

Chris Perry •

Photo by Kit Noble

Well, that was fun…

Three nights of Town Meeting and then the weekend to reflect. I think I might call Dr. Roberts about that root canal after all.

It’s hard to rationalize something like Town Meeting that commands so much time and energy yet can be forgotten so quickly by so many.

Night one was a five-and-a-half-hour confusing march through only nine warrant articles. The meeting ground to a halt at 10:30 p.m. with everyone scratching their heads when the debate surrounding the acquisition of the old youth hostel at 31 Western Avenue was abruptly suspended with assistant moderator Shantaw Bloise-Murphy at the helm.

Night two was another five-and-a-half-hour marathon but under a noticeably different feel and tone in the room despite the fact several of the articles called centered around hot-button zoning issues and affordable housing.

Night three lasted “only” four-and-a-half hours with a bent toward environmental issues such as Article 69 and the coastal resilience districts. Thankfully, the final bell sounded around 9:30 p.m. even though there was a philosophical scrum developing between present town counsel John Giorgio and former town counsel Paul Derensis over amending Nantucket’s charter.

Historically, Nantucket Town Meetings have had plenty of drama, humorous sidebars, and anticipated heavy-weight battles. This time around, it was no different with the fight card starting early when Bill Cassidy’s motion to move Article 59 to the front of the line quickly passed (923 - 448) resulting in the introduction of Steven Cohen's short-term rental zoning article first. All that was missing was famous ringside announcer Michael Bumper pumping up the crowd with his trademark “Let’s get ready to rumble” call. But that void was quickly filled by Charity Benz whose opening comments were borderline offensive at several points to many who supported the article.

The Town Meeting discussion is too easy of a target. We all know something has to change, but at the same time, there are no easy solutions. Even though Town officials anticipated an uptick in interest for Town Meeting due to Article 59, I don’t think anyone would have predicted that roughly 1500 patrons would bottleneck their way through the turnstiles as voters, with non-voters scattered about the building.

Using the backdrop of the high school, Brian Borgeson might have summed it up best when he said, “We all know remote education was awful….. Remote voting is worse.”

The irony is obvious. Complaints of overcrowding were nowhere to be heard on nights two and three when the attendance figure steadily dropped from 700 to 500 to under 300 dedicated voters comfortably seated in the main auditorium for the final night. By then, the most common subplot was the rhetorical frustration felt by many who questioned: How could only 300 voters decide the fate of the entire Nantucket population?

Before we start to think about the Special Town Meeting scheduled for September, I thought I would pass along a few random comments and observations offered in no particular order as we pick up the pieces as a community and march toward Memorial Day Weekend.

Melissa Murphy gets this year’s Star Trek Award. During the debate on Article 59, she “boldly went where no man has gone before” and questioned Nat Philbrick’s perspective on Nantucket’s history regarding short-term rentals. That’s the Captain James T. Kirk of Nantucket history that she had in her sights but it certainly got a supportive chuckle out of me.

One topic that piqued my interest was Article 64 and a bylaw amendment regarding car rental agencies and registration. For example, I was unaware that there are 700 taxi medallions issued on-island, of which somewhere between 100 to 200 are intentionally held back by the holder.

Additionally, it was reported that there are roughly 150 “Turo” vehicles being rented out on-island.

It is a topic that has interested me for a while, but due to historical practices and behaviors, it is generally taboo to talk about it on the record.

Several parties seemed motivated to take the subject up to the next level including Select Board members. I guess if we are going to address Aaardvarks, Kingfish, East Creek, Chiefs, Pirates, and Shorelines, then it’s a good idea to bring everyone involved together.

Rising to speak in favor of Article 78, I would be remiss if I did not offer a quick comment. It’s no secret that I have been a vocal critic of the Good Neighbor Agreement (GNA) with Vineyard Wind while still supporting reliable, affordable, clean energy options. However, the devil is in the details of the GNA and I would venture to say that most of you have not read the GNA even though you are, in effect, a co-signer.

You should.

Don’t worry. It’s not "War & Peace." It is a nine-page document that outlines the specifics including the responsibilities and obligations of the Nantucket community to "support and promote" Vineyard Wind initiatives for decades to come.

I believe the Select Board can do better and the majority of voters felt the same way too. Article 78 does not stifle discussion, in fact, it encourages debate in an open forum without fear of intimidation. That’s the epitome of a successful Town Meeting. If future Good Neighbor Agreements are not brought up for discussion on Town Meeting floor as outlined in Article 78, I suspect it would be political suicide for those Select Board members who mischievously worked behind closed doors to deny the will of the voters.

A decisive winner by knockout is always better than going to the referee’s cards. It would have been terrific theater if the developing catfight between Nantucket’s former town counsel Paul DeRensis and current town counsel John Giorgio had played out. The exchange of legal body blows was halted when referee Alger stepped in and stopped the fight in the 92nd round.

DeRensis appeared to be part of an occasional circus sideshow down in the front of the auditorium and the antagonist throughout Town Meeting who seemed to not want to let go while current counsel Giorgio sounded annoyed but tried to appear as if he was holding on firmly.

Every golfer gets a mulligan on the first tee and something tells me that Madame Moderator would have liked a mulligan on the first night. Strategically, moving Article 59 to the leadoff position seemed like a wise move to many who pushed it through by more than a 2 to 1 vote. However, everyone was immediately forced to jump into the fray without the benefit of getting warmed up. It’s tough to develop any rhythm that way and I sense that it impacted Tuesday night.

Obviously, everyone will remember 59’s final vote. However, the first night was also highlighted by choppy distractions such as motions on the fly, voters shuffling in and out of the auditorium and gym, last-second recommendations and updates by town boards, technical motions, voter confusion, an openly aggressive reconsider threat, an awkward finish and Nantucket’s version of Africa’s Great Migration which commenced at 7:49 pm when article 59 was defeated.

Despite dealing with a bout of laryngitis on night two, Madame Moderator gamely eased Town Meeting into a better stride on Wednesday and through Thursday till the end. For $175., it’s the best deal in town.

This year, Tobias Glidden nosed out Select Board member Matt Fee for the King Louis XVI Award. Fee’s comment of “Let me dumb it down for islanders” appears to have been a poor attempt at a self-deprecating approach to Article 69, for which, he later apologized on Facebook.

Nevertheless, Glidden still takes the cake this time around when he seriously summed up his position on Article 20 with a checkbook-busting “$45 million is nothing” comment resulting in gasps in the audience. With local taxpayers' frustrations rising with the passing of each funding article and feeling like their voices are not being heard, the former Select Board member appeared out of touch with many in the Nantucket community who are simply trying to survive and make ends meet.

And finally, you gotta love Dewey Jones.

Over a three-day period, our community searched for paths to follow on dozens of topics. But when it came time to debate coastal resiliency and erosion control -  specifically touching on the Washington Street area - Dewey humorously nailed it from his heart and soul.

He was able to combine local knowledge, construction experience, some historic perspective, a call for fiscal restraint, some practical understanding, a touch of physical grit, a dash of common sense and several humorous offshoots including one in which he needed to reassure his wife, Helena, that their house had not washed away to capture my attention and the attention of 100 percent of those in attendance.

That feat alone is not easy, and I think if he threw down the mic, a majority of the crowd would have walked out with him.

Now that would have been a Town Meeting night to remember.

Loading Ad
Loading Ad
Loading Ad

Current Opinion