For the second time in two weeks, Theophilus Nix Jr., an Oak Bluffs attorney, has come before selectmen holding a petition that could give voters a chance to pull their town out of the Martha's Vineyard Commission.
And twice, Mr. Nix, who is angry over the MVC decision to deny plans for a private golf course in the Southern Woodlands, has opted not to present the petition. The petition also has yet to be submitted to the town clerk for certification of about 400 signatures. If presented with at least 200 signatures, it would force selectmen to schedule a town meeting.
This week, selectmen, aware that Mr. Nix would not officially submit the petition, nevertheless gave him top billing on the agenda and a bully pulpit to present his reasons for wanting Oak Bluffs out of the commission.
Even board chairman Michael Dutton, in his opening remarks to introduce Mr. Nix, seemed to acknowledge just how odd it was to pave the way for Mr. Nix alone to take center stage.
"This is a particularly sensitive issue," Mr. Dutton said. "I ask you to save your vocal response for special town meeting where you can hash it out left and right, back and forth. I ask your indulgence. This is designed for Mr. Nix to explain his rationale behind this."
But not everyone was so happy to indulge. During public comment, which comes at the conclusion of the meeting, Renée Balter, president of the Oak Bluffs Association, criticized selectmen for letting Mr. Nix dominate the meeting.
"I'm very disappointed, sad and angry," she said. "I'm angry about giving time to Theo Nix when there are so many issues and things we need to do in town. We're losing out when we take up time with hurtful and negative comments."
While Mr. Nix's comments took listeners over familiar turf, his rhetoric was often biting and accusatory. Reading from a prepared statement, he told selectmen that his sadness over the recent tragedies in this country "continue with what I have to share tonight."
He was most critical of the MVC and what he termed its attempts at "genetic engineering." He accused commission members of cutting deals to allow a new golf course in Edgartown, while holding "secret meetings" to defeat the proposed Down Island Golf Club in Oak Bluffs.
"I have sensed a real, quiet anger from people in our town," he said, arguing that people are fed up with the commission dictating what should happen in Oak Bluffs.
When Mr. Nix finished his speech some 15 minutes later, selectman Roger Wey posed a series of pointed questions and made clear his own opposite stance on the issue. Mr. Wey also tried to get Mr. Nix to reveal his intentions with the petition.
"Will you wait until after the commission takes a vote?" he asked, referring to the next round of MVC hearings on the new golf proposal set to begin Oct. 18.
"There's a lot happening. It's a very fluid issue," said Mr. Nix, refusing to commit to a time line.
Then Mr. Wey bluntly asked Mr. Nix, "Have you ever been employed in any manner by [golf course developer] Corey Kupersmith or any of his corporations?"
At this question, a member of the audience, Kevin Cusack, jumped to his feet, crying out, "Point of order, point of order." Mr. Dutton did not attempt to quiet Mr. Cusack, a former member of the conservation commission. Mr. Cusack continued on with his objection, saying, "Roger Wey has done this before. It's totally unfair. That's bull, Roger."
It was never clear what Mr. Cusack's point of order was, but Mr. Nix answered the question by denying he had ever worked for the golf developer from Connecticut.
Mr. Wey went on to defend the work of the commission to secure grants for the town and to protect it from over-development. He also criticized Mr. Kupersmith's tactics.
"His threat to bankrupt the town with a low-income housing development, his attempt to eliminate members of the Martha's Vineyard Commission through . . . the state ethics commission and now the withdrawal from the commission," he said. "Does this show he's a good neighbor? Why not just run on the merits of the new plan?"
Mr. Nix jumped back into the debate, arguing that the only two choices now for the more than 270 acres in the Southern Woodlands are the housing plan for some 366 units and the golf course. "I don't think you can prevent housing there," he said. "You have to cut your best deal when you have the leverage."
Selectman Richard Combra steered clear of debating golf, but he did encourage Mr. Nix to consider the people who signed the petition. "Four hundred citizens want this petition to go forward," he said. "Do you control the destiny or do they?"
At the end of the meeting, during public comment, residents got their chance to speak.
"I was disappointed to hear Theo bring up old, divisive issues. I thought we were beyond that and should be," said Paul Strauss, a member of the conservation commission. Mr. Strauss also declared himself skeptical that the town would save money by leaving the commission and hiring its own planner.
Ann Margetson also criticized selectmen for turning over so much of the meeting to Mr. Nix. "What I resent most of all is the amount of time given, both now and in the past," she said. "You would never let me go on like that."