Tisbury Town Counsel Declares Contract with Hospital Illegal

BY JOSHUA SABATINI

Tisbury's town counsel said this week the controversial amended contract among Island towns, the county and Martha's Vineyard Hospital is not a legal document.

David Doneski, of the Boston law firm Kopelman and Paige, sent his legal opinion to the Tisbury selectmen Monday afternoon.

County manager Carol Borer asked to address the town's concerns at a selectmen's meeting Tuesday after learning last week that the board questioned the legality of the agreement.

Ms. Borer told the board she was there because "the town appeared to have some questions about the agreement."

Ms. Borer explained that the town entered into the intermunicipal agreement with the passing of Article 17 at the town's special town meeting on April 24, 2001.

Selectman Thomas Pachico asked, "But how did a one-year contract turn into a three-year contract?"

Ms. Borer said that the procurement committee, in charge of managing the contract between the towns and the county, voted to change the contract's duration. The committee changed the contract in March 2001 by a unanimous vote.

Mr. Doneski stated in his opinion: "The procurement committee did not have the authority to bind the town of Tisbury to participation in a three-year agreement or any agreement extending beyond June 30, 2001."

Mr. Pachico said he also had a problem with the fact that the amendment appeared in "fine print" and that nobody at the April 24, 2001 special town meeting was informed of the three-year term.

Selectman Tristan Israel said the board was not even going to put the article on the town meeting floor in April, unless the agreement was for only one year.

Mr. Israel said the board always wanted an end date for the contract and wanted the opportunity to revisit the contract after fiscal year 2002.

"We were told that it would be good for one year, to go do it, to try it. That was what was pitched. So why are you fighting semantics with us, if the intent was to look at it after one year?" wondered Mr. Israel.

"You pitched it as a one-year deal and then changed it to a three-year deal without even telling us," Mr. Pachico charged.

Ms. Borer repeated again that the committee voted to amend the contract. "Where are the minutes?" asked Mr. Pachico.

"I gave them to Mr. Dennis Luttrell," said Ms. Borer. But Mr. Luttrell said all he had were notes, nothing signed, nothing with a record of the vote or who made the motion.

Mr. Doneski stated that the town entered into the emergency medical services agreement after a town vote on April 11, 2000, but was not bound after fiscal year 2001, even after Article 17 passed. Also, Mr. Doneski said the committee's vote is not binding because "no formal amendment to the agreement has been executed by the respective boards of selectmen and the board of county commissioners."

What the committee did do was "create a new document with a term of three years and attached to it the signature pages" from the May 2000 agreement.

"Right now the funds are being held hostage," said Mr. Luttrell. "It is our intent to get these funds out." He advised drafting a new agreement and doing it quickly.

"The Article [17] authorizes us to [sign the agreement]. But it still sits on our three's discretion. There is no agreement as far as we are concerned. I suggest you go back and clean it up," said Mr. Pachico.

Ms. Borer said she would go back to the procurement committee, but was quickly interrupted by Mr. Pachico who said, "The committee is not valid now."

"Then how do I do it?" said Ms. Borer.

"That is not our problem," answered selectman Raymond LaPorte.

"We want to pay," said Mr. Israel. "We need a new agreement in order for us to pay the money."