Change in Oak Bluffs: Mike Santoro and Walter Vail


Given its persistent budget problems and what has been a clear failure to address structural impediments to more economical and efficient government operations, it’s time for change in Oak Bluffs.

Two candidates, neither an incumbent, can help effect that change.

Mike Santoro, a longtime resident and business operator in town, belongs on the five-member board of selectmen, which today does not include a day-in, day-out business presence of a great many years among its number. Mr. Santoro will add a voice for business interest, but with a solid record as an involved citizen with an eye for finances and for a balance between government’s costs and the burden imposed on residents by government’s need for revenue.

Walter Vail, long a summer resident of the town, trained in economics and retired from a lifetime in business and finance, brings considerable experience serving on municipal school, zoning, and private nonprofit boards. But, most important, he offers an instinct for collegiality, something that has often been missing among the members of the Oak Bluffs selectmen. Lone wolves and outliers have harmed Oak Bluffs’ ability to deal effectively with difficult governance questions.

And, such questions, when fiscal health is added to the list, are the most important questions that Oak Bluffs residents face.

So, Mr. Santoro’s view is appealing. “We need a more common sense business approach that does not spend more taxpayer dollars but gets more out of the dollars we spend,” he told a Times reporter. “We need to be more proactive than reactive … We must stop using taxes as an increase in revenue in this economic downturn, as our seniors, young families, and people on fixed incomes are at the breaking point. We must work as a team with our department heads, employees, and listen to our Fin Com to finds ways to reduce costs.”

And, Mr. Vail, answering the same question, which asked, in effect, whether Oak Bluffs is condemned to annual budget crises, replied, “No. Oak Bluffs taxpayers should expect their elected officials to produce a balanced budget, without the difficulties experienced the last few years. These are challenging economic times, and predictions are that recovery will be slow, but with hard work and an attentive, hands-on board, we can do a better job managing our finances.”

Mr. Vail offers suggestions. “The board must see to it that a town accountant is in place as soon as possible, to assure a smoother budget process next year and to maintain the proper checks and balances. The board must work more closely with the finance committee.”

And, he adds something about how elected chief executives, which is what the five selectmen are, must do their work.

“I pledge,” he says, “to work diligently with all parties involved in the budget process to produce a budget acceptable to the board and to an informed taxpayer public.”

And, this page admires the “yes, but” attitude of both candidates toward the possibility of combining police with Tisbury.

“Yes,” Mr. Santoro says, “consolidation of police and other services should be considered but only after more review of the proposal … Will we lose control of the budgeting process as a town with the proposed police department oversight committee taking control? Will there be more traffic generated at the current Oak Bluffs police station? Not a quick fix to our budget woes but something we should continue to explore.”

And, from Mr. Vail, “Yes. In order to create a forum which affords full public participation and complete transparency, the merger discussion should be an active agenda item for the selectmen. With a merger recommendation from the MMA Consulting Group, the issue must now receive a full hearing from the board and the public, to determine whether the merits of a merger outweigh any negative implications.”

Oak Bluffs needs a chief executive body that works thoughtfully together to focus on the serious issues of organization, efficiency, and fiscal good sense that plague what is a beautiful, varied, and spirited community. Mr. Vail and Mr. Santoro appear qualified to help in that effort.