Editorial : Settling for a nip and a tuck
In November, voters will choose between Sen. John McCain and either Sen. Hillary Clinton or Sen. Barack Obama. It's a big question. No matter how the election turns out, the next eight years won't be like the past eight.
Voters will also get to decide between the present county system with two-year terms for commissioners - that's the change the county charter study commission favors - and the present system with four-year terms. After a year and a half of deliberations by Dukes County's charter study commission, charged with deciding the future of county government, the choice offered voters promises little change.
Now, county commissioners serve four-year terms, with three elected in one biennial state election year and four in the next. If voters accept the study commission's recommendation, all county commissioners will have to answer to the voters every other year.
This page has been disappointed with the work of the charter study commission. We think voters will be also. Vineyard voters had learned not to expect much of Dukes County government. What they expected of the charter study commission is only a guess, but it would have been reasonable to expect suggestions for meaningful changes. Or, if no way could be found to breathe life into the county carcass, it should have been given a decent burial.
But, there very well may have been another way. In defending the work of the charter study commission, Paddy Moore, study commission co-chairman, has cited "political realities" as the reason for the limited nature of the study commission's recommendations for small changes in county government.
"Some charter commissioners," Ms. Moore wrote in a May 8 OpEd column in these pages, "would prefer Dukes County to have a custom charter (as do Barnstable and Nantucket), and not be forced into one of the three pre-approved forms defined in statute for county governance. None of those three forms fits Dukes County precisely, given its small size and unique status as several islands with seven towns. The unfortunate reality is that writing a custom charter would require another 18 months, and then the approval of the legislature, before the voters got their say at the earliest in November 2010. Implementation, assuming the voters adopted the charter then, would not occur until January 1, 2013, at the earliest. For better or worse, the DCCSC chose not to go that lengthy route."
Worse, we think. The conclusion suggested by this defense is that a county government that might have suited the Vineyard would take too much time and work, so we'll stick with the form that has proven imperfect.
The study commission correctly analyzed the structural deficiency in the organization of Dukes County government, but instead of dealing with it, the members preferred to believe that the county's past failings could be corrected by getting rid of the sitting county commissioners and replacing them with topnotch folks. And in the end, although they came to this conclusion, they could make no meaningful changes to ensure that such an upgrade of elected personnel will certainly take place. Take a nip here, the study commission decided, and a tuck there, then add some nonbinding recommendations, and we can go on fitting this square peg of a government into the round county hole.
This edition of the Dukes County charter study commission is a lost opportunity and a failure of imagination and determination.