The news for Oak Bluffs voters and taxpayers gets worse. Override requests that failed, bid law issues, accounting issues, a chronic shortage of appropriations — and revenue to back them up — and lately the hole where free cash ought to have been. Every choice, for voters, taxpayers, and town officials, is an unhappy one.
What often happens in government is that difficult problems that might be slain if tackled quickly and cooperatively become insurmountable in a fruitless haze of political attacks and counterattacks. Fussing with the numbers to make them appear to make sense is no longer an option. The broadly based town committee created by selectmen to help them make a new plan is working on the problems, but time’s running on, and the selectmen need to lead and speed the effort.
This page has argued repeatedly that the town’s leaders must lead, and the first step is to trim substantially the cost of town government and do so intelligently and without delay. In July, no normal person wants to wade into the fiscal 2013 budget issues that will present themselves in January, next year. That’s understandable. But, town leaders don’t get the summer off this year. There’s too much to do.
The work of the ad hoc committee needs encouragement, and it needs to advance more quickly. The ad hoc committee, the finance committee, and the selectmen need solid financial information right now, and certainly by fall. That information — including especially cautious, realistic revenue estimates — is rock-bottom important for any plan developed by these three groups of leaders. Those estimates, plus a careful budget analysis are critical tools. Without them, there will be no plan.
Oak Bluffs needs an accountant — a sharp, experienced, capable municipal accountant — whose first job must be to gather and organize the data that will be indispensable to town leadership. There is a forensic dimension to the problem as well as a prophetic one, so the chosen professional must be from the top shelf.
The Oak Bluffs selectmen, in addition to taking quick, smart steps to set town government aright, have another equally important job. They need to work together and show voters that they are doing so. They need to put aside political feuding, to which Oak Bluffs is inclined in the best of times, and fend off the nattering of undermining interest groups and concentrate on themselves and the cohesion that can cut big problems down to size.
They need to settle on their executive secretary and help him succeed or dismiss him and get another. Their equivocation over him and the vicious criticism of his performance that selectmen have not countered do the five municipal chief executives no credit, and they multiply the decline in public confidence in their leadership. Voters and taxpayers need clarifying action by the selectmen, action that demonstrates that, as difficult as the town’s troubles seem, the five selectmen can sort out the issues and make sound — if not universally approved — decisions.
They might start by revisiting the issue of amplified music in restaurants, particularly those along the waterfront. Oak Bluffs is a busy, entertaining, summer destination. It’s not tidy Edgartown or homelike Vineyard Haven. It’s exciting and freewheeling. Music is a part of the scene, a welcome part. And, it’s good for business. Oak Bluffs businesses need business. Taken all in all, the selectmen ought to adopt a thoughtful set of policies, allowing music, including amplified music, then hold the restaurant owners to the requirements. And, they ought to do it before summer becomes fall. Make the right decision and get that issue, at least, off the agenda.