Candidate Challenge Fails in Tisbury Clash

Town Registrar Board Rules in Favor of James Douglas and Douglas Dias's Right to Run for Selectman Post

By JONATHAN BURKE

The candidacies of James Douglas and Douglas Dias in Tisbury's upcoming selectmen's race survived challenges Monday night.

The burden was on the challengers to prove that Mr. Douglas and Mr. Dias are not residents of Tisbury. In each case, the town's four-member board of registrars deadlocked 2-2, which meant the challenges failed.

"The objector did not prove that Jamie Douglas was not a resident of Tisbury. The vote on the motion was 2-2. That means that Jamie Douglas remains on the ballot," declared Kay Mayhew, chairman of the board of registrars; the same result followed Mr. Dias's hearing.

The courtroom-style hearings were lively. Though they lost their challenges, Joanna Jernegan and Woody Williams proved many of the facts they had alleged in their objections. For their part, Mr. Douglas and Mr. Dias stood up for their claims to Tisbury residency.

"I've grown up in Vineyard Haven and it's been a critical part of my life," said Mr. Douglas in his opening statement. "My civil life, my job, my business. Everything I do is in the town of Tisbury . . . to think otherwise is just foolishness."

Several times, Mr. Douglas said he would retain an attorney if the board ruled against him. He brought case law with him to bolster his position, and at one point declared the proceedings a witch hunt.

Mr. Douglas acknowledged that, except for the last week, he has lived above the Black Dog's store in Edgartown since November. He said he has only spent five of the last 365 nights at the address given on his election papers - 20 Beach street extension. Nonetheless, he persuaded the board that was his rightful home. He told the board the center of his civic, social and business life is in Tisbury.

To prove his case, he produced evidence that he receives his mail in Tisbury; he registers his cars in Tisbury; he eats most of his meals in Tisbury (at the Black Dog); his bank account is in Tisbury; and he works in Tisbury. He told the board he lives in Tisbury approximately five months out of the year. During the summer, he is captain of his family's schooner, the Alabama.

He called his father to testify on his behalf. The senior Mr. Douglas defended his son's right to maintain a residence in Tisbury in spite of the fact that he is often some place else. "He's an unmarried 30-year old. He moves around a lot," said the father.

In the end, some people in attendance, including his challenger, Ms. Jernegan, were left wondering where Mr. Douglas would be entitled to vote and run for public office if not in Tisbury.

"I actually was given information during the hearing that changed my opinion. . . . Jamie has no other home. If you don't allow him to call Tisbury his voting address, then he has no other voting address," she said.

Ms. Jernegan said that it was her assumption when she filed her objection that Mr. Douglas would testify that most of his time was spent at his parents' West Tisbury home.

The hearing on Mr. Douglas's residency was the first challenge to a bid for selectman in Tisbury's history. The objection to Mr. Dias's bid was the second.

Like Mr. Douglas, Mr. Dias claims Tisbury his rightful town. He told the board that he receives his mail at his mother's house on Daggett avenue there; he watches television with his mother regularly; his kids went to school in Tisbury; he sits on the town finance committee; and he eats many of his meals in town (at the Woodlawn Grill).

But like Mr. Douglas, the residence that Mr. Dias listed on his election papers was not where he regularly sleeps. Mr. Dias has a place of work with an apartment in Oak Bluffs, at 21 Holmes Hole Road. He once listed 21 Holmes Hole Road as his Tisbury residence on a town voting record.

Yet, as in the case of Mr. Douglas, Mr. Dias persuaded the board that his roots were in Tisbury. His brother Robert, the record head of household at 27 Daggett avenue, would only testify to Doug Dias's overnight presence at the abode once in the past year, but the brother's mother, Mary Dias, said Doug Dias spent many nights there.

"My mother is the center of my life," joked Doug Dias.

At the close of the hearing, Doug Dias said, "To challenge a genuine, interested party with nothing personal to gain . . . it kind of discourages me. I hope we can all move on and get to better things."

Mr. Williams, the challenger, said he continues to believe that Mr. Dias is not properly a resident of Tisbury. He said he proved that Mr. Dias's election papers were not properly filed. But, said Mr. Williams, "I presented my case of why I disagreed and I still feel the same way. . . . Other than that, I wish him luck."

Another person who figured into the proceedings and emerged unscathed was Robert Douglas Sr. In prior conversations with the Gazette, Mr. Douglas said, "I sleep in West Tisbury but I have been voting in Tisbury for 40 years."

During the hearing, after being called by his son to testify, one of the registrars asked the senior Mr. Douglas if his statement as quoted in the Gazette was accurate. He said yes. He said he had discussed the inconsistency between his abode and his voting residency with the town clerk for the past 10 years.

Ms. Mayhew then attempted to ask Mr. Douglas whether he would agree to remove his name from the town voting roles. Town counsel stepped in and said the question was inappropriate.