Hospital Contract Changes Questioned

Tisbury Leaders Charge Shady Moves in Amended Contract; Turn Matter Over to Town Counsel for Study

By JOSHUA SABATINI

Tisbury selectmen this week asked town counsel to study a controversial amended contract among Island towns, the county and Martha's Vineyard Hospital for possible legal problems.

At a Tisbury selectmen's meeting Tuesday evening, selectman Thomas Pachico said there seems to be "something shady" in the agreement administered by the subcommittee in charge of the dealings.

Several weeks ago, selectman Tristan Israel said he did not believe Tisbury had entered into the extended agreement and therefore did not have to pay the first charge of about $37,000 which the county said was due Oct. 1.

Town administrator Dennis Luttrell said that at town meeting in April, voters decided to grant the board the authority to enter into the intermunicipal agreement for fiscal year 2002. But since that town meeting, selectmen said, they have not signed anything that would bind them into an agreement for the next year.

The intermunicipal agreement was designed to funnel $500,000 in taxpayer dollars from the six Island towns to the Martha's Vineyard Hospital.

Then on Oct. 1, after Tisbury contested the county bill, the selectmen received a fax from the Dukes County administrator's office. The board was struck by the only change made to the language in the agreement, a line appearing on the fourth page of the faxed document: "This agreement shall be for a term of three years from the date hereof."

Beneath the alteration is a notation: "Amended from one year to three years by vote of the committee, March, 2001."

Mr. Luttrell said there was no discussion of the amended language at the April town meeting and that the board in fact had never seen the amendment prior to the arrival of the fax last week. Mr. Luttrell said he wondered why Tisbury would even bother to hold a town meeting if the committee could unilaterally extend the contract by three years.

The contract document faxed to the Tisbury selectmen is dated May 1, 2000, and was apparently signed around that time, but its amendment of the term from one to three years is dated almost a year later, in March of 2001. The contract bears the signatures of selectmen from the six Island towns - two of whom, Herbert Hancock of Chilmark and Edmond Coogan of Vineyard Haven, have since died.

The selectmen this week turned the document over to their town counsel and are awaiting a response.

In other business this week, Tisbury selectmen objected to the more than 4,000 hours logged by special officers in the 2001 fiscal year.

Last night, the board decided to grant police chief John McCarthy permission to fill a recent vacancy on the staff and begin operating with an 11-man department again, while sending a clear message: The hours of specials must come down.

Thomas Pachico said the selectmen decided to cut the police force to an 11-man department earlier in the year, after realizing that on some days up to seven employees were working a shift.

Mr. Pachico said, "When we went to an 11-man department, more specials were just added. The hours of specials went up."

Prior to voting for the eleventh officer, selectman Tristan Israel said, "I cannot vote for this and let this use of specials continue. Really, it is like a 14-man department. There is not anything morally wrong here, but this was not our intent of going to an 11-man department."

Special officers contributed an average 81 hours a week from July 2000 through June 2001. Mr. Pachico said that specials should not be used as patrolmen because they are neither academy trained nor EMTs. Each week there are 21 shifts that need sufficient coverage. The board advised the chief to have two men per shift. "You should cover the shifts with the 11 men you have," Mr. Pachico told Chief McCarthy. "If someone calls to go on vacation, then a special can come in. If someone calls in sick, then a special fills in. It should be something like this."

"I feel like I am pulling rabbits out of a hat to keep things running as balanced as they are running. I am operating within my budget. I am going through extremely difficult circumstances having been short on manpower, which you all know about," said Mr. McCarthy. "I have the feeling you are saying that I am doing something inappropriate."

Mr. Israel was quick to state, "No one is saying you are doing something inappropriate."

Mr. Israel went on to say that the board "understands it's not the department size you want, it's not the manpower you want, we understand that. But we are asking the department to work with that."

The board voted to have the use of special officers cut dramatically, used only as specials are intended to be used, and if used in any other way, town administrator Dennis Luttrell must be notified.