Town Council seeking civil penalty
The Town of New Shoreham wants to go lightly on violators of its new dune protection ordinance, seeking to impose a civil penalty rather than a criminal violation; a move that could lead the town to revise penalties for some of its other ordinances. The Town Council unanimously rejected (4-0) the ordinance as written with a criminal violation at its Nov. 19 meeting.
Councilor Martha Ball made the motion that was seconded by Second Warden André Boudreau. Councilor Chris Willi was absent. The council will revise, readvertise and hold a public hearing concerning the dune ordinance.
A violation of the town’s dune ordinance is stipulated as “any person entering upon or crossing over any dune on town property, whether by walking or in a vehicle, including bicycles, except at an authorized marked crossover or designated beach access. It is unlawful for any person to destroy, move or alter the dunes, or its plantings, sand fencing, or other protective measures, in any manner.”
Former New Shoreham Police Chief Bill McCombe, who has been in attendance at the council’s meetings when the topic was discussed, said, “A civil violation would be equivalent to a parking ticket and not be punishable by jail time. A fine is a good way to go, as a civil violation. I don’t think the council’s intent was to make it a criminal offense.”
Councilor Sven Risom suggested that the council review penalties for enforcement of other ordinances as well, such as the recently approved ban of single-use plastic bags at retail stores, and balloons, at one of its meetings in December.
During the meeting, a debate began after Town Manager Ed Roberge seemed to favor use of a general penalty for dune ordinance violations, noting that the police would have “flexibility to do the work they do. It works. We’ve seen some fairly decent compliance,” he said, referring to the plastic bag and balloon ban ordinances.
Roberge said the council could either accept the ordinance as written with the general penalty, a criminal offense, or consider imposing a civil violation.
“I’m not comfortable with the way that it’s written,” said Ball. “I know this was brought up by the former police chief at the previous meeting. And I don’t distrust the police force, but I think we would be leaving the door open.”
Ball read a letter from homeowner Mike Hickey, who wrote: “I would point out that a misdemeanor charge effectively precludes a hiring in many professional fields. You won’t even get your resume looked at after they do a background check. You won’t even get a chance to explain the charge during an interview, and the resume goes right into the trashcan. I doubt the council really wants that for that offense.”
Risom said he agreed with Ball, and didn’t “want the violation to go on someone’s record.” He said per a discussion with Police Chief Vin Carlone that “the idea was for the police to be able to have a dialogue with a violator.” Risom added that a civil fine could be “I’ll throw a number out there — $50 — a very small number that could be handled in the warden’s court.”
Resident Chris Littlefield agreed with Hickey and said, “It should hurt them a little bit, because we don’t want people” violating the ordinance. “But it shouldn’t go on their permanent record.”
Resident David Lewis said he was “glad to hear the conversation turned in the direction that Martha and Sven turned it.” Lewis said the “penalty should match the objective of passing the rule in the first place,” and the town doesn’t do a good job of enforcing rules it has in place. “If we’re going to pass rules then we should enforce them. We shouldn’t be passing rules that we have no intention of enforcing.”
Resident Doug Michel agreed, and said the fine “should be on the light side. We’re not trying to put people in jail; you don’t want to screw up anybody’s life. It’s basically an educational thing. The police don’t want to go locking people up, and arresting everyone. It costs the town too, because you have to send the town solicitor to court. In that case, nobody wins.”
Lewis asked if the $50 fine would “automatically invoke the warden’s court.”
“Does anyone know that answer?” asked Ball.
McCombe said a civil penalty carries with it a set fine a violator would pay. “They would be given a summons. They can either pay it, like a parking ticket, or appeal it, and have it heard in the warden’s court.”
Cars at Old Harbor
Roberge said the town was going to address the issue of abandoned cars parked near the Harbormaster’s shack at Old Harbor. Resident Chris Blane brought the matter to the council’s attention saying that it “doesn’t look good,” and needs to be “cleaned up.”
“We’re going to take action to clean it up,” said Roberge. “I share Chris’s frustration. We really have no jurisdiction, but today I ordered those cars removed. I don’t care how we’re going to do it, but we’re going to do it. Those cars are going to be out of there by the end of the (Thanksgiving) week. What’s embarrassing is the blight that puts on this town. That’s our front door. It’s unfortunate that this seems to be a common dumping point.”
(Update: Roberge told The Times that some cars have been removed, and he hopes to have the area cleaned up as soon as possible.)
The council unanimously approved directing the town manager and town solicitor to explore drafting a resolution supporting creation of an exemption for real estate taxes for the Manissean Tribal Council, for its nonprofit, island-based property located on Beacon Hill. Maryann Matthews, a tribal member, said the goal is to have a “self-sustaining” museum type property that could be used for cultural programs and educational purposes.
The council unanimously approved forming a five to seven member search committee for selecting a new Land Use Attorney to replace the retiring Don Packer. Roberge said the committee would consist of Packer, Land Use Officer Jenn Brady, two Town Council members, and one member each from the Planning and Zoning Boards. Roberge would serves as an ex-officio member. Selection of a new solicitor would be made around the first of the year.
The council appointed Kirk Littlefield to the Deer Task Force, George Davis to the Shellfish Commission, and Sven Risom as an alternate to the Hodge Management Commission.
The council unanimously approved the request for an increase in water and sewer allocation made by the Harbor Church for its four affordable housing units.
The next Town Council meeting is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 3 at 7 p.m.