PROVINCETOWN — An attorney for two fishermen whose dockage fees were raised this year is charging the Public Pier Corp. with Open Meeting Law violations and with changing the rules in the middle of a pandemic.
In a virtual meeting set for Thursday, June 11 at 1 p.m., Bill Henchy, who is representing Jeff Souza and David Flattery, will argue that his clients and other commercial fishermen were unfairly reclassified as “limited commercial” by the Pier Corp., thereby doubling their dockage fees. Last week, the Pier Corp. denied the reclassification appeals of two other fishermen, John Browne and Leo Rose.
All four men are among seven who have been reclassified this year by the Pier Corp., which is making an effort to “professionalize” the business of running a town-owned pier after years of “lax management,” according to Leslie Sandberg, who was recently hired for $100 an hour to be a public relations strategist for the Pier Corp.
Henchy is claiming that deliberations about new policies and classification criteria were made during meetings that cannot be reviewed by the public, because there have been no published minutes of Pier Corp. meetings for nine months.
“Neither the board nor its subcommittee have approved any minutes since September 2019,” Henchy stated in his formal complaint to state Attorney General Maura Healey. “The subcommittee met, deliberated, and rendered decisions without providing notice of its meetings, without keeping minutes, and without providing minutes.”
Pier Corp. members are preparing a response to Henchy’s complaints. Sandberg said Henchy is wrong on both counts. There have been no changes to the definition of commercial fishing in the harbor regulations, she said.
“The harbor regulations specify that on the application for renewal of a dockage slip, a person must provide ‘sufficient information’ to help the [Pier Corp.] determine commercial fisherman status ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ and that they spend ‘a major portion of their annual working time fishing/working said license,’ ” Sandberg said.
What did change in 2020, she added, was actual enforcement of the rules.
“Due to the lax management of MacMillan Pier by the former harbormaster [Rex McKinsey] for close to 15 years, many tenants did not properly follow harbor regulations because they were not made aware of the proper criteria for their application,” she said.
To help all tenants follow the harbor regulations, a new “checklist listing the information needed was sent out with the 2020 dockage applications,” she said. “We are trying to professionalize the process.”
But Henchy said this effectively has changed the rules. In Pier Manager Doug Boulanger’s March 28 email sent to dock tenants with the 2020 applications, his language makes clear that something new will be expected of the slip holders.
“We have new documentation requirements that this memo will describe what is necessary to supply with your renewal application,” Boulanger wrote in the email.
Sandberg said Henchy is incorrect about the minutes, too. They were actually posted on the town’s website through Jan. 14, she said. The others had not been approved or posted because of delays related to Covid-19. But the Pier Corp. took care of that on June 8 by approving all the minutes from February going forward, and they will be posted by town staff as soon as possible, she said.
She added that all Pier Corp. meetings have been recorded and are available for viewing on PTV, like most other town meetings.