Editorial : An opportunity lost
The news this morning is that attendance has been poor at public hearings convened by the Dukes County Charter Study Commission to discuss with Island residents the decisions the commission has made about the future of county government. Actually, that's generous. You can count the lay attendance on two hands.
Perhaps Islanders, exhilarated by the countless hours of televised meetings of the study commission, were uneasy about exposing themselves to more of such stimulating debate. Perhaps, but it's more likely that voters haven't paid much attention to the fruitless work of the study commission, as they have for years paid little attention to the floundering of county government
Times contributing editor Dan Cabot reports that, as one of the study commission's hearings was about to be gaveled to order, Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel, who is a member of the DCCSC, as well as a county commissioner, drove up in his pickup, saw that few, including few study commission members, were in attendance, and he decided to go home. "The meeting was cancelled for lack of a quorum and lack of public interest," Mr. Cabot writes.
The charter study commission, created by Island voters profoundly disappointed by the expensive, inconsequential antics of the sitting county commissioners, is near the end of its 18-month mission. Disappointed though they were, voters had learned not to expect much of Dukes County government. What they expected of the charter study commission is difficult to estimate, but certainly they expected meaningful changes. Or, if no way could be found to breathe life into the county carcass, they wanted it put out of their misery.
Voters must now accept that they will be disappointed by the charter study commission. The study commission members have resolved upon one structural change in the county charter, eliminating the expensive county manager in favor of an executive selected by the sitting commissioners from among their membership. The study commission members will also make non-binding recommendations to the sitting county commissioners concerning the county appointment processes, the County Advisory Board, the county's relationship with town governments, accountability of Dukes County commissioners, recruiting new commissioners, county revenues, residency requirements for county administrators, and a charter study commission every eight years. These recommendations will not be presented to voters in November for approval, nor can they be counted on to change the nature of county government. The structural change proposed for county management will face voter scrutiny.
The proposal to modify the county charter, by replacing the manager with a part-time administrator chosen from the elected commissioners, may save money - certainly a good thing - but it emasculates the existing county charter, which was designed with professional management to under-gird efforts to expand the county's role in solving Vineyard problems that cross town borders. The structural change the study commission proposes is in fact a retreat from a charter that was designed with the future in mind.
It turns out that Islanders who expected little of county government and expected little from the county charter study commission got exactly what they expected.