Best bets in three towns
Margaret Serpa in Edgartown
Edgartown voters and taxpayers have benefited from the careful, devoted, and fiscally conservative leadership of Margaret Serpa for nine years. Continuing her in office for another term is the wise choice.
Ms. Serpa coupled lifelong residency in Edgartown with a 34-year career as administrative assistant at the Regional High School. Her involvement in the school budget process over all that time has sharpened her natural instincts to watch spending and budget cautiously. She has applied that natural instinct and long, professional practice to her work on the board of selectmen. When Ms. Serpa describes herself as "the best candidate because of my knowledge of municipal finances and strong fiscal management skills" she is not overstating her case.
Edgartown has a history of being a well-run town, financially strong and able to manage what has been rapid and impressive growth. Municipal services, planning for capital needs, and sensible support for business growth: in all these ways, Edgartown has managed its affairs shrewdly. Ms. Serpa has played an important part in this careful stewardship.
There are no looming crises facing Edgartown, but there are important matters to settle, including especially the requirement that the town fund its obligations for retirement benefits for its former employees. This is a puzzle tailor-made for Ms. Serpa's brand of fiscal leadership. Taxpayers and voters will benefit.
Duncan Ross and Hans von Steiger in Oak Bluffs
Oak Bluffs voters and taxpayers face important choices in this year's contest for two seats on the board of selectmen. The questions that should govern their decisions arise mainly because costs are rising faster than real estate tax revenues. Some of the cost push comes from quarters where danger lurked but was overlooked - the need to fund town employee retirement obligations, for instance. Some of the push comes from growth, adding costs without adding commensurate revenue. Some comes from organizational inefficiencies.
Dealing with these expensive and difficult questions requires leadership that is missing on the board today. Voters will have a chance next week to retain a sound, thoughtful, and experienced selectman in Duncan Ross and to add an experienced finance committee member, Hans von Steiger, to the town's five-person executive. Although the selectmen have achieved a sort of détente in their relations, the interests and special abilities of the trio who find themselves in the majority most of the time do not lend themselves to the financial decision making that will be required over the next three years. Mr. von Steiger will add that particular skill and resoluteness. Mr. Ross, a veteran of Oak Bluffs affairs, is realistic about the town's need to increase its revenues, and his background makes him a reliable support for municipal employees who need a say in how they are managed and how the town's municipal organization may be adjusted to make it more efficient.
Mr. Ross places crucial emphasis on raising non-tax revenue, and Mr. von Steiger sharpens his focus on understanding and controlling costs. These ought to be the deciding issues for Oak Bluffs voters next week, and if they are Mr. Ross and Mr. von Steiger are the candidates who recommend themselves.
Richard Knabel in West Tisbury
Since his retirement to the Vineyard in 1999, Richard Knabel has served on the West Tisbury finance committee, the Dukes County Charter Study Commission, and the town energy committee. He is a well-prepared inquisitor on the finance committee and a careful researcher on the study commission. His approach is reasonable, cautious, and disciplined.
This page has often found that selectman candidates who have entered town government through the finance committee are unusually well prepared for executive leadership. As Mr. Knabel says, "Three budget cycles with the finance committee have alerted me to real fiscal problems not far down the road. I'm concerned that both young and old alike won't be able to afford West Tisbury, unless we as a town set some priorities and stick with them." He is exactly right, of course, and West Tisbury voters and taxpayers will require thoughtful leadership from their selectmen to find the most economical and practical way forward.
Mr. Knabel also recognizes what has been, sadly, a hallmark of West Tisbury affairs over the past few years. He says, "The atmosphere in town is once again needlessly tense between taxpayers and elected officials because of inadequate communication and a lack of leadership."
In addition, Mr. Knabel contemplates the possibility that careful reorganization of town government, with an eye to better coordinating decision making and the availability of timely advice to decision makers. Such a review is a worthwhile undertaking for a community's chief executives, and Mr. Knabel appears capable of accomplishing such a task in a constructive and consultative manner. Mr. Knabel is the best choice for West Tisbury voters.