Chris Perry Column: Who Will Unite The Clans?

Chris Perry •

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I lied.

It was less than four weeks ago, right after Town Meeting, that I wrote the following line about the short-term rental debate: “Like Town Meeting, it is time to give this matter a rest…”

Primarily due to Article 60 and the polarizing effect that it has had on our community, I was feeling burnt out on the subject and I sensed the Nantucket community was feeling the same way too. The angst felt by so many - neighbors pitted against neighbors, misinformation, and hard feelings - just a nasty undertone for everyone involved as we head into the chaotic summer season.

In effect, the vote (378 - 558) kicked the subject down the road and directly back into the Short-Term Rental Work Group’s lap. Maybe that was the plan all along as they secured another few months to debate the matter. But with the release of the work group’s draft proposal which will be the basis for what the Nantucket community will consider at a Special Town Meeting on November 7th, my brief rest is over.

From Day 1, it’s no secret that I have been less than enthusiastic about the Short-Term Rental Work Group’s mission. When a committee such as this takes longer to form and come to order than the Yalta Conference took to reshape post World War 2 Europe, then you know you are not off to a good start. Add to that a suspicious makeup of committee members, a dominating off island moderator and vast sums of money invested on both sides of the equation and what you get is a quagmire of mistrust and a situation that I believe has now become a crisis in leadership for the Town of Nantucket.

This is no longer about short-term rentals or commercial greed or negative impacts on neighborhoods or property rights or zoning restrictions or the housing market. In my mind, the majority of the Nantucket community is well past that now. I know I am.

To me, this is about a void in leadership.

Since Town Meeting, and despite what I said about “giving it a rest,” I have been trying to figure out the underlying issue. I am not looking to solve short-term rentals. Instead, I am trying to figure out why one of our town leaders has not taken the bull by the horns and vociferously grabbed the opportunity to create consensus among the warring parties and champion a true compromise that would work. It seems no one wants to take that risk; and yet, isn’t that what we want to see from our town leaders?

Now, before some of you start to scream at me, I acknowledge the fact that the Short-Term Rental Work Group was formed to do just that. In fact, the STRWG will be hosting a virtual public input session tomorrow at 6 PM.

Having said that, the timing of tomorrow’s meeting and the work group’s proposed schedule is very curious to me. If the collated feedback from the last public session took six weeks to get back to the STRWG for their review and tomorrow’s meeting is 4 weeks from the Work Group’s presentation of their final warrant article recommendation(s) to the Select Board on June 28, then how can anyone attending tomorrow’s public session be assured that their input will be vetted and taken seriously enough to be part of that final draft?

Nevertheless, you will need to register in advance; and then, you will receive an email containing the draft policy proposals a day in advance (today). It is advertised as a “highly interactive meeting where participants will engage in small group discussions about draft policy ideas that are being considered by the STRWG.”

I plan on participating tomorrow night because I want a ribbon too. If this group is going to produce a warrant article for November’s Town Meeting, I want to be a better educated voter. Gone are the days when I could simply scan the Town Meeting crowd - look for my brother - and simply vote the other way knowing that my vote counted. But as I have said several times before, this work group has been doomed from day one unless they reach a unanimous compromise and show a united front for those to see at Town Meeting.

With ACK Now already voicing some serious reservations about the current draft proposal, securing a crucial consensus from all parties involved prior to November’s Special Town Meeting appears to be a bridge too far. Whether you like it or not, and even though ACK Now was in the minority at last month’s Town Meeting, their constituency must be brought to the table along with several other factions and be part of a larger compromise. If not, you could hold the Special Town Meeting tomorrow, but with the entrenched parties dug in, nothing significant will change.

Is there still time?

Certainly, we are still five months away from November’s Special Town Meeting but the STRWG is looking more and more like paralysis through analysis. Moreover, with each passing day, we are that much closer to the Massachusetts courts deciding this for us. Maybe that’s a better and a more finite outcome than five months of saber rattling. Nevertheless, it just seems like something is missing. And until we figure that out, don’t expect much.

Consequently, I don’t see the Short-Term Rental Work Group uniting the clans. Don’t look to the Sistine Chapel because there’s no white smoke coming from the Papal Conclave or the STRWG unless someone stands up and leads us.

And there you have it… Step 1.

Nantucket desperately needs someone to step forward and fix our community’s feelings of ambivalence towards its leaders. Not a committee or a work group or a board but a true leader in every sense of the word. In my head and in my heart, I would like to believe that there is a capable individual out there who could fill the leadership void with actions not words.

All we need is one because the cracks are starting to grow. From the shenanigans at the NP&EDC to efforts to restructure the Town Charter to Articles 83 and 63 to the retirement of the Town Planner, the misinformed and marginalized Nantucket voter can sense the crisis in leadership and they just can’t take any more of the bickering.

In the movie Braveheart, William Wallace tells the squabbling nobles: “Men don’t follow titles - they follow courage…”

Who in this town has the courage to unite this community?

Wallace continues and pleads with Robert VIII de Bruce: “If you would just lead us, we would follow…”

Granted, this is not 13th century Scotland and the Battle of Bannockburn but it seems Nantucket could use its own version of Robert the Bruce about now. Wallace was right back then and he would be right again today.

If someone would just step up and lead us, the disenfranchised would follow.

And so would I.

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