West Tisbury may style itself the Athens of the Island, but the truth is that Island voters in all six towns may shed their workaday selves and behave like Athenians (pre-European debt debacle Athenians, that is) at annual town meetings beginning next week. It’s a select democratic fraternity.
To be helpful, The Times publishes this morning an extensive collection of information about the decisions that voters face. Town meeting warrants, town meeting rules, interviews with candidates, news stories that describe the significant issues bearing on the several towns, and suggestions in some cases of what the best answer may be to some of the questions. The latter, suggestions for voters on the Roundabout referendum, the beer/wine decision in West Tisbury, and the Oak Bluffs contest for selectman, appear in The Times’ special town meeting section this morning.
The Athenians of the modern age, the warriors of civil affairs who do their own hard work face-to-face, friend and neighbor, decide the hard questions on their own, rather than sending representatives to do the difficult work of government. This, despite the daunting requirement that to have one’s say at town meeting, one must stand, identify oneself, and speak one’s mind, uncertain of the reception and often in the face of swift, critical, and piercing disagreement. Town meeting participation requires bravery.
The issues facing Island voters this spring are, as is often the case, difficult, expensive, and controversial. It has been a rough several years, with declining real estate values, failing businesses, declining tax revenues, and town budgets exhibiting their natural urges to grow. So, choices will not be easy. Every choice imposes costs — human, financial, and cultural — and few costs fall equally upon each and every taxpayer and voter. Consider sympathetically the question West Tisbury voters must answer concerning dogs visiting Lambert’s Cove Beach. It’s a small issue, as issues go, but it’s big, measured in cultural, traditional, and neighbor accommodating neighbor terms. It’s no easy thing.
As honorable as the town meeting’s work is, voters have over time found reasons to evade their responsibility. But, not you, one hopes.
Men or women, young or old, plumber, shopkeeper, insurance agent, retiree, trucker, carpenter, newspaperman: each voter who attends town meeting has had a busy day. Each has hurried through supper. Some have placed their children with a babysitter. Some have put aside a favorite book. Others have turned off the TV, and taken a couple more Advil. They’ve left the dishes soaking in the sink and put on their go to meeting clothes. Some, and here I mean the women in the family, have insisted that their husbands clean up, wolf some wholesome dinner, and get off their duffs.
Doing all this, they ennoble themselves. From just plain folks, they become legislators, and we all benefit.
It’s always stunning, and it always hurts, when a longtime colleague in a small organization dies before her time, as Linda Anne Wood did on March 28. She was just 47.
Linda, during her eight years as The Times’ receptionist, was also the classified advertising salesperson, the subscriptions chief, a part-time proofreader, the darts league reporter, and the mistress of so many mysterious, technical arts that the rest of us never learned.
Most important, she was a staunch friend to all of us and, in her work, the main representative of The Times to the largest plurality of Times customers, who found they could depend on her unhesitatingly, as we did. Her absence will reshape us all.