Column: STR Workgroup Should Take More Time To Make Recommendations
Chris Perry •
Chris Perry is a contributing writer for Nantucket Current
Fool me once, shame on you.
Fool me twice, shame on me.
When it comes to the the Select Board’s appointed “committee” to study the Short Term Rental issues, right now I am somewhere in the middle of being shamed once or shamed twice. Ultimately, I’d like to be proven wrong but time is running out.
Last year, and with the support of the Select Board, Town Meeting responded to Articles 42 & 43 by creating the Short Term Rental Work Group to study the issue. At the time I thought it was a good idea primarily because I did not feel like I truly understood the wide scale ramifications of the topic. Clearly, it is an important issue and I know whatever is decided at Town Meeting will have a significant impact on the island. Consequently, and wanting my vote to count, it made perfect sense to me to defer to the work group’s investigation, become a better informed voter, and wait for their recommendations in the spring.
Equally important to me was the process. We were led to believe that one year would be enough time. Regardless of the work group’s recommendations, I envisioned a larger, more educated voting mass participating in the spring of ’23 at Town Meeting. One year - Select Board appoints the work group members - complex issue - lots on the line. Count me in because I also thought the process would help restore some faith and confidence that I had lost in my local Town government over the last few years.
Roughly seven months later, have I been fooled?
Let’s start with some dates. Citizen’s Articles are due within a week to be fully vetted. Seeing that this Work Group was appointed by the Select Board, they are granted an extension. Realistically, that means mid to late January to have the Work Group’s recommendations ready to be presented to the various Boards (i.e. FinCom, Select Board, Planning Board) for consideration.
How about the players? Who’s in - Who’s out? NARAB, Planning Board, CBI, FinCom, at-large, Granicus, Zoning Board, ACK Now, Board of Health, Nantucket Together, Act Nice - the unnecessarily lengthy five month organizational process to select work group members was a bad omen from the start.
Data - Information - Money: All that and then some. The misinformation and disinformation stemming from the STR group’s work rivals Walker vs Warnock in Georgia. Data and information gets twisted to suit anyone’s fancy. With the various camps entrenched in their positions, accurate information on short-term rentals for a voter interested in learning more on this subject is hard to find, especially with so much money being invested by the players involved.
Conflict of Interest: Everywhere. Consultants, participating players and experts - you name it. I am surprised we haven’t seen Janet Wu from WCVB-TV in Boston investigating for On The Record.
Legal: How about the State’s Attorney General - The MA Supreme Court - and the MA Land Court. Cases in Lynnfield, MA to Baton Rouge, LA all impacting Nantucket’s position on short-term rentals. Who wins? The attorneys always win.
And with all of this going on, if you don’t think each side of the isle isn’t working behind closed doors with their respective constituency and legal teams to craft a response for Town Meeting in the event this all goes sideways, you better wake up. Of course they are. I would.
So, where do we go from here?
I did see a glimmer of hope at the Committee’s last meeting on Wednesday afternoon. It seemed more members were engaged this time around despite the fact the first three meetings were averaging 3+ hours in length. The drive to secure more accurate, on island information is gaining momentum. The next 2-4 weeks appears to be critical with a hybrid committee meeting tentatively scheduled for early December. Keep in mind, the goal here is to produce a realistic recommendation(s) for Town Meeting. And while I sense progress is being made, even “moderator” Stacie Smith hinted that the work group needed more time.
But, time is running out and the public - like me - is getting frustrated and disenfranchised. Working towards a consensus is critical. A unanimous recommendation would be ideal, but to pull that off in the next two months does not seem practical. And when perception becomes reality, sometimes it is best to admit the obvious and shift gears.
That shift would be an acknowledgment that this work group needs more time. As one who philosophically likes the idea of deadlines and the pressure that comes with it to make a decision, it pains me to suggest a delay is needed. However, I am not ready to give up and I don’t think the Committee is either. As we inch closer to the holidays, I believe it’s time to let a little air out of the balloon and have the work group announce to the public that we simply need more time to identify the true problems and eventually come up with a recommendation(s).
It will only hurt for a moment.
It’s OK to say the Town erred in the beginning and took too long to get this Work Group off the ground.
It’s OK to say you erred in thinking that you could produce something legitimate for the spring Town Meeting but realistically can’t now.
And, it’s OK to say that you erred in thinking that old party lines, financial interests and historic precedents wouldn’t play a significant role in “solving” this problem.
Maybe I will be proven wrong, but I think you’ll feel better if you ask for more time.
The solution is a Special Town Meeting in the fall. This extension is not for 12 more months or two years or indefinitely. We have been batting this topic around here for almost 3 years.... another six months won’t hurt especially since I do not think the public has truly been heard in the appropriate setting. It is time to draw a realistic line in the sand and grant six more months because if this work group rushes to judgement and comes up with a recommendation(s) that is proven to be folly this spring, Town Meeting will be an absolute free for all like Thunderdome where everyone goes in but nobody comes out a winner.
I can live with that.
I can live with still believing in the process. I have my doubts with regards to Moderator Smith, who has had a handful of missteps out of the gate. Trying to be the smartest person in the room and asking the Select Board to unanimously support whatever recommendation comes from the Work Group down the road even before the work group produces one like she did last Wednesday evening is not a way of currying favor with the local voters. Moreover, when newly elected Select Board member Malcolm MacNab quickly shot that request down, it simply proved a teaspoon of common sense versus a plate full of humble pie should have guided Moderator Smith before making such a request.
I can live with being in limbo for another few months somewhere between being fooled once and being fooled twice because I fondly remember the six years I served on Nantucket’s School Committee led by local icons such as Mary Beth Splaine, Ambassador McCumber, Charlene Thurston, Dr. Tim Lepore and Jeanne Diamond. That Committee could not have been more polar opposite on most educational issues. Yet, with realistic deadlines in place, it routinely worked towards unanimous solutions.
I can live with taking a break giving everyone a little time to gather some perspective. This work group needs to manage expectations. Islandwide, I am not so sure those expectations are positive right now with the saber rattling and ideal threats going on behind the scenes. Ultimately, it comes down to the voters at Town Meeting and today, it just doesn’t feel right.
To the Short Term Rental Work Group: Give yourself a little more breathing room. Take a break - collect your ribbons for participation and request a little more time. Get this right and present something to the voters of Nantucket next fall that we can live with because as Dr. Stu Prince announced to the invited quests: “Right now, this ain’t working for me....”