with permission, MV Times
By Steve Myrick
Aquinnah selectmen Monday rejected a proposal from town residents James Glavin and Ted Cammann to create an outdoor performing arts center at the Aquinnah circle adjacent to the Gay Head cliffs. The divided vote followed a sharp and heated debate.
Chairman Jim Newman and Spencer Booker voted in favor of a motion to reject the proposal. Camille Rose, a strong supporter of the use of the circle as a concert venue, opposed the motion.
The selectmen met to approve a warrant for a special town meeting on May 19, when voters might have had the opportunity to take action on a proposed lease between the town and Mssrs. Glavin and Cammann for the long-term use of the circle.
An article that asked voters to decide the question of a lease was included on the draft warrant. The rejection of the proposal means the article will not appear on the special town meeting warrant.
The proposal first surfaced this winter when Mr. Glavin, owner of DECA Construction, and Mr. Cammann, a veteran producer of live music concerts, outlined their plans to create a summer concert venue at the Aquinnah circle.
They proposed to use the land’s natural topography as an amphitheater. The stage would be placed in the lower section so that the audience would be looking out in the direction of Nomans Land.
By a vote of 40-15, at a special town meeting on March 3, voters approved an article that asked selectmen to “solicit proposals to lease a portion of the Aquinnah circle for purposes of constructing a performing arts staging structure; provided, however, that any lease will be contingent on approval by a vote of a special town meeting.”
Voters were told that a special town meeting would be held in May to consider the terms of any lease.
Mr. Cammann and Mr. Glavin submitted a proposal, the only one received that called for the lease of the circle area, beginning June 1, 2009 for 10 years, with an option to renew. They said events would be held between June 1 and Sept. 30 and be limited to 2,500 tickets for each event. The town would receive $1 per year for the first two years of the lease, and $1 per ticket sold for the last eight years of the lease.
The men aimed to negotiate a ground lease, operating agreement, and enabling document establishing a citizen advisory board, which would be presented to voters on May 19.
During Monday’s meeting, chairman Jim Newman stuck fiercely to a strict interpretation of the article approved at the town meeting. He said that the board was under no obligation to accept the proposal submitted, and if it was rejected, there was no question to put before voters.
“There’s an overwhelming movement against it, against the way it’s been done in such a hasty way,” said Mr. Newman. “We don’t have a lease, we have not seen a lease. We cannot make any recommendations on the town floor.”
Mr. Glavin and Mr. Cammann said the lease and operating agreement they submitted were meant to be a starting point for negotiation, but selectmen refused to negotiate any of the terms. That point sparked a heated exchange between Mr. Newman and Mr. Glavin.
“The purpose of negotiation was to put that lease before the voters,” said Mr. Glavin.
“I do not have a lease,” said Mr. Newman.
“You have a lease,” said Mr. Glavin.
“There’s your mistake, if you’re saying to me that we have a proposal and you’re saying that proposal is a lease,” said Mr. Newman.
“You’re not a lawyer,” said Mr. Glavin.
“No, but I have discussed it with our lawyer,” said Mr. Newman.
“Then where is his opinion,” asked Mr. Glavin.
“We’re not mandated to accept a proposal if it is believed to be inadequate,” said Mr. Newman.
Ms. Rose asked pointed questions of the chairman during the short but terse debate. “Are the 40 town voters who voted for this to be ignored?” she asked.
“I have not seen anybody come out who was in favor of this since that meeting,” said Mr. Newman.
“There was a vote, have you any intention of honoring the vote,” asked Ms. Rose.
“Yes, if we had a proposal that was acceptable,” said Mr. Newman.
Mr. Booker mostly stayed out of the debate, except to assert that he thought the town should issue a more detailed request for proposals (RFP). “I personally feel the RFP we first submitted was not adequate,” he said.
Mr. Newman refused to set any timetable for future negotiation, or for issuing of a new, more detailed RFP. Ms. Rose pointed out that she did not favor the proposal as submitted, but thought it was a good basis for negotiation
Later during the meeting, in a response to a question from Wampanoag tribal administrator Tobias Vanderhoop, Ms. Rose said that by soliciting proposals, selectmen were doing only half of what voters asked them to do. “The other half was to prepare a lease,” she said. “Regardless of how that was worded, that’s what the intent of the voters was, there’s no question about it.”
Following the meeting, Mr. Newman and Mr. Booker said the proposal submitted was not adequate.
“The proposal spelled out the town’s obligation,” Mr. Newman told The Times. “It should have centered on what they were going to do. We should have had some business plan, we should have known more about what they had in mind.”
“It was put on a fast track,” said Mr. Booker. “Things were rushed and the RFP wasn’t thorough. The RFP didn’t specifically spell out we’re looking for a business plan to go with the concept. Had that been done, and had we taken the time and thought it out correctly instead of fast-tracking it, we would be in a different place than we find ourselves today. I don’t like the terms of the lease. I will not present it to the town in its current form.”
In separate conversations following the vote, Mr. Glavin and Mr. Cammann told The Times they were disappointed with the selectmen’s action.
“It’s a shame that a few negative people scream loudly,” said Mr. Cammann in a phone conversation with The Times on Wednesday. “One selectmen is able to manipulate letters and so on to make it appear there is overwhelming opposition. If he thinks that’s the case, then it should really go in front of the town for a vote. Political maneuvering and back room politics, that’s not something I thought we were going to be dealing with. I thought we were going to be dealing with forthright and honest people.”
Both men criticized a public hearing held March 30, which they said was packed with opponents.
“We weren’t allowed to respond to individual comments,” said Mr. Cammann. “I felt like we were gagged.” Mr. Cammann said at the end of the meeting, when they were ready to respond, the meeting descended into chaos. “Totally out of control. People were just getting up and talking and yelling, whoever could yell the loudest got to be heard.”
In a letter to The Times, Mr. Glavin called the selectmen’s action an effort to “co-opt the process via raw political power rationalized by some spurious semantic feints.”
In another letter to The Times, 31 people added their names to a letter opposing the plan for summer concerts.
“We do not reside in Aquinnah to fight with, to listen to, or to watch traffic and to breathe its exhaust, or to admire the many cars parking up and down Moshup Trail, or to have electronically amplified sound keep our children awake at night while blotting out the sounds of nature,” said the group in its letter. “We can get that in other places. We come here, to the far end of an Island in the middle of the ocean, for a different reason.”
Mr. Glavin and Mr. Cammann, however, said they would move forward with their plans.
“We need to sit down and try and find middle ground,” said Mr. Cammann. “I remain optimistic, maybe naively so. There’s still a great many people in town who support this. I think it’s going to happen. Our pace has been altered, but I think our objective is the same and our support is the same.”
Mr. Glavin said, “There are some people here who are diametrically opposed to it. If that’s the majority, even if it’s close to the majority, frankly, it’s not going to work. We are certainly not going to force something down the town’s throat.”