Four seek county commission seat
The Dukes County commissioners were scheduled to interview four candidates at last night's regular commission meeting to fill a vacant seat on the seven-member elected board. A vote was expected at the conclusion of the meeting.
The appointment process is being closely watched. It comes at a time when the county commissioners are trying to restore the county's political reputation following a series of controversies and missteps over the years. Among the most notable of these was a costly legal battle that saw the county commission and its appointed airport commission square off over control of the Martha's Vineyard Airport. Voter anger ultimately led to a review of county government and the creation of the Dukes County Charter Study Commission.
The county appointment comes just before a November vote on recommendations made by the Charter Study Commission. In its final report, the charter study commission recommended shortening the term of county commissioners from four years to two, in part to hold commissioners more accountable to voters.
In a letter to the commissioners from three Islanders active in civic affairs, Tip Kenyon of Chilmark and Margaret Logue and Susan Wasserman of West Tisbury called the appointment the "pivot between the past and the future."
"We urge you, the commissioners, to assure the electorate that the procedure will be transparent and fair," wrote Mr. Kenyon, Ms. Logue, and Ms. Wasserman, who describe themselves in the letter as friends of the county.
They asked for interviews and discussions of the candidates' credentials in open session of the county commission meeting.
"The three of us were concerned with past history," said Mr. Kenyon in a conversation with the Times yesterday. "We wanted to make sure that the commissioners make every effort to make this process an open one and a fair one, not something that pops out of the box, which was the feeling many people had over the past few years, so that people will be more likely to be supportive of regional county government. We didn't want a snap decision."
Commission chairman Leslie Leland of West Tisbury said the interviews and deliberation will be conducted in public. "We're doing that," he said. "Our meetings are public, the interviews are public. We make our decisions based on our thoughts and views and knowledge of the individual's background or service. Those are all factors."
"I think that's certainly encouraging," said Mr. Kenyon. "I don't know whether they're going to discuss criteria for making their choice. That remains to be seen."
Both Mr. Kenyon and Ms. Logue, in a separate conversation with The Times, said they were concerned that critics of county government will view an immediate vote on the appointment with skepticism. Ms. Logue said her interest is to improve the public perception of the county commission.
"It doesn't happen if they misbehave in fairly obvious ways," she said.
The vacancy occurs because of the resignation of commissioner Paul Strauss of Oak Bluffs on July 1. Under the county charter, the commissioners have authority to appoint, by majority vote, someone to fill his unexpired term, which ends the first Wednesday in January 2011. By state law, the county clerk, Joseph Sollitto Jr., will join the remaining six county commissioners to vote for the appointment, in order to avoid the possibility of a 3-3 deadlock.
"It's the fourth time I've done it," said Mr. Sollitto, a 32-year veteran of the county clerk's position.
Four people responded to newspaper advertisements seeking candidates.
Christopher Knowles is the special projects manager at Martha's Vineyard Hospital. He served as the director of the Martha's Vineyard Community Services' Visiting Nurse Service. He is a resident of Tisbury.
"I have a lengthy relationship with the commissioners, going back to April 1995 when I approached you to ask the commissioners to create what is now referred to as the Dukes County Health Council," said Mr. Knowles in his letter to the commission.
Jesse "Jack" Law 3rd of Oak Bluffs is a former Oak Bluffs selectman and former Dukes County Airport Commissioner. He is a manager at the R.M. Packer Company. "I would be pleased to serve our county in this capacity and humbly request your consideration," wrote Mr. Law.
Melinda Loberg is an active volunteer in many Island organizations, including the Tisbury Ambulance Service. She has worked as a teacher, therapist, and school counselor. Formerly a summer resident, she moved to Vineyard Haven in 1999.
"Having been encouraged by colleagues and others who hold similar positions in local government, I am persuaded that serving on the commission demands that I give up standing on the sidelines cheering others on and offer to take on some of the load," said Ms. Loberg.
Stephanie Michalczyk of Oak Bluffs is a gardener and artist who has lived on the Island full-time for the past two years, after summering here for more than 50 years.
"You need new eyes and ears. I expect you would not be prejudiced against acquiring a new perspective," Ms. Michalczyk told the commissioners in her letter.
The current elected county commissioners are Mr. Leland, vice-chairman Roger Wey of Oak Bluffs, Tristan Israel of Tisbury, John Alley of West Tisbury, Carlene Gatting of Edgartown and Leonard Jason Jr. of Chilmark.