Special town meetings in June are supposed to be humdrum affairs, but the one coming up Tuesday in Oak Bluffs puts voters face-to-face with two of the most controversial issues in town and on the Island - cigarettes and mopeds.
In both cases, voters will get to flex considerable muscle, deciding on bylaw proposals that would ban smoking in bars and cut back the number of moped rental outlets allowed in their town.
The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the Oak Bluffs School cafeteria.
Smoking could well be the more hotly debated topic, especially if the rhetoric among town leaders is any indication.
On one side is selectman Ken Rusczyk, who adamantly favors restoring the ban on smoking in bars. On the other side is Joe Alosso, chairman of the board of health, which voted just over two weeks ago to lift the ban and immediately allow smokers back into bars on Circuit avenue.
"This is about a healthy policy on secondhand smoke," said Mr. Rusczyk, who pushed for the bylaw proposal as a counterattack against the health board's action. "You have to agree that secondhand smoke has an incredible amount of carcinogens."
Voters can expect to hear arguments that the ban simply shifted the smoking problem out onto the sidewalks of Oak Bluff's main street.
That's what Mr. Alosso and fellow board member Sari Budrow said when they voted to end the ban. In their view, smokers forced outside were doing damage to the family-friendly atmosphere downtown.
"The [cigarette] butts are a major problem, and so is the language you hear," said Mr. Alosso shortly before his board voted. "They've taken the bar atmosphere and put it in the street."
But the board's action came two months after voters at the annual town meeting endorsed a nonbinding referendum instructing the board of health to keep bars smoke-free.
Mr. Alosso, however, was not convinced by the vote. In his view, a separate vote - 105 to 65 - that exempted private clubs from the ban really showed how voters felt about smoking.
"I don't believe the town voted on a public-health issue," the chairman said, reading from a one-page typed statement. "If they did, they would have banned smoking everywhere."
But Mr. Rusczyk, shocked by the health board chairman's statements, said the town has to choose public health over concern about smokers on the sidewalks.
"If it's a decision between crowds on the street and a healthy atmosphere," he said. "We need to make the healthy choice, and we'll deal with the crowds."
Mr. Rusczyk also disputes Mr. Alosso's perception of the annual town meeting vote: "If that's how he sees it, then we were at different town meetings."
The selectman is concerned that Tuesday's vote on smoking could hurt the town's image if voters support smoking in bars. The recent controversy, he said, has already attracted media coverage from the Washington Post and Rush Limbaugh's radio show.
"This is not how we want to be held in the national limelight," said Mr. Rusczyk.
Five years ago, boards of health across the Vineyard banned smoking in restaurants, but let bars remain the last bastion for smokers. Last year, both Edgartown and Oak Bluffs extended the ban to bars.
Shifting from cigarettes to mopeds, voters will be asked to approve three separate bylaws aimed at reducing the number of mopeds rented in town.
One proposal would give selectmen authority to issue just five moped rental licenses a year; currently, they are allowed to issue eight such licenses. For the last decade, no more than seven dealerships have operated in town.
The action comes after a year that was supposed to bring improved safety measures to moped riders. Dealers and moped opponents met in the winter and spring of 2001 and agreed to produce and show safety videos and create forms that informed renters of the risks of riding mopeds on the Island.
But by mid-summer last year, one rider was dead and another one was left with permanent brain damage after two separate accidents on mopeds rented in Oak Bluffs.
Selectmen promised action, and just over a month ago, they proposed reducing not only the numbers of mopeds rented but also the number of dealerships that could operate.
Last year, the seven dealers in town could have rented up to 539 mopeds all told. Under new regulations, selectmen decided to limit dealerships to the number of mopeds they could fit on their lots and charged them new fees based on that number.
Now, with the bylaw proposal, the number of dealerships could be reduced to five, effectively eliminating both Porthole Mopeds and Harbor Bike and Mopeds, which were run by Colin Young on Circuit avenue extension.
A second proposal would cap the total number of mopeds rented in town at 450, but selectman Roger Wey said he plans to amend that number down to 308, since that is the most accurate reflection of the number of mopeds currently for rent at the five dealerships.
Finally, a third bylaw voters will be asked to support would impose a height requirement of at least four feet, eight inches, for any child riding on a moped with an adult.
Other articles deal with a new job description for the town administrator and creating new policies that allow selectmen to take over personnel issues. Police are looking for voters to approve a bylaw that would make it illegal to throw balls or Frisbees in the downtown area.