Editorial: Recommendations to voters

Greg Coogan and Kathy Burton in Oak Bluffs

Oak Bluffs voters and taxpayers have a good thing going. The five incumbent selectmen have — better late that never — confronted the fiscal and personnel mismanagement that has, sadly, harmed their town. They have found a way to work together as the joint chief executives of this picturesque and diverse community, and to work with other town leaders, to begin exercising control over town finances and budgeting. They’ve hired an administrator to help them do this work, a man experienced and dependable at the work. They have begun to recreate a reliable financial team, and they appear better equipped today to deal with the economic uncertainty that continues to hobble every small town and every resident in the bargain.

This accounting of the town’s recent progress does not mean to whitewash the challenges that remain, challenges that are the direct consequence of failed chief executive leadership in the past. But, just as the past was pockmarked by failures — many of them catalogued by the management letter prepared by the town’s independent auditors — the successes of this year suggest that what has passed will not be prologue. The town will be better led and better managed.

What can voters do to be sure this optimism proves to be justified? They can return two selectmen, board chairman Kathy Burton and three-term incumbent Greg Coogan to office. This is no time to take a step backward, no time to regress, no time to take a nick out of the prospects for change and improvement in a town that is faced squarely with the former and continues in great need of the latter.

What’s on Mr. Coogan’s agenda, if voters reseat him? “My first priority is and always has been working to build consensus within the board, sharing ideas and keeping the town moving in a positive direction… We have a good staff in town and now with our new accountant in place I think our financial team will continue to clear up our financial picture.”

And, for Ms. Burton? “Continue to improve the town’s financial stability through careful analysis, budgetary oversight, efficiency, a fiscally conservative approach, elimination of our free cash deficit, review of departments for cost savings, and a plan to correct audit findings. Initiate short- and long-term planning including updates of town policies and procedures, infrastructure maintenance and capital improvements planning …”

Ms. Burton and Mr. Coogan see clearly what Oak Bluffs needs and where leadership’s focus must be. Voters ought to understand the town’s needs in precisely the same terms and return both of these leaders to the board of selectmen.

Yes, Island-wide, for the Roundabout

Whether the results of the upcoming referendum on the proposed Roundabout at the Blinker will have an effect on the planned construction is uncertain. The voters’ decision is not binding, the design of the traffic circle is well advanced, the money is available, the needed permissions have been given, and none of the uncounted opponents have the wherewithal or the will to sustain a lawsuit to block construction.

So, what’s the point?

The roundabout is a question this spring for Island voters, because Oak Bluffs selectmen and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, staff and members, made a ham-handed, decade-long error in approaching the repair of this unusual intersection on the Island’s most unusual road — a highway, sort of.

Oak Bluffs ought to have recognized 10 years ago that making a plan to reconfigure this peculiar intersection was a regional question. The town ought to have drawn its neighboring communities and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission into a public review of the planning as a development of regional impact. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which worked hand in hand with Oak Bluffs to develop the roundabout project, ought to have recognized it for what it was and given it the full regional consideration it deserved. The failure to do so, on the town’s part and on the part of the commission, is a failure of the leadership role granted by Oak Bluffs voters and voters Island-wide to the town selectmen and the regional commissioners.

For several reasons, some incidental some essential, this page urges Island voters to endorse the roundabout plan. For one, it’s time, indeed way past time, to move on. A solid majority in favor of the roundabout project will not derail the opposition — goodness knows, a hundred years driving through the roundabout will probably not do that — but it will mute the uproar for a while, perhaps long enough to get the damn thing built.

And, despite a fair hearing accorded that point of view, it is just not reasonable to believe that the change represented by the reconstruction of the Blinker intersection will degrade the unique character of Martha’s Vineyard. One could add that an important reason why this common argument fails to command allegiance is that the unique character of Martha’s Vineyard is elusive and certainly is not defined by a place where two roads cross.

It’s also the case that, however the roundabout may have been cast early on — as a safety improvement, a lifesaving change, or a what-the-heck freebie that the someone else is paying for — the current plan suggests that, in fact, traffic will move more quickly and smoothly through the intersection. That, after all, is what roundabouts accomplish.

And revisions to the plan appear to offer some safety protection to varied users of the path that runs along the west side of the road, as well as a thought-through provision for VTA buses to load and unload in relative safety near the intersection. These two issues, inadequately addressed early on, have been considered in the later stages of discussion of the project, and while the safety of multi-path users will not be enhanced by the installation of the roundabout, in which traffic is always moving, reasonable efforts have been made to offset the safety threat the roundabout system implies. The Roundabout ought to be approved.

Yes on beer and wine sales in West Tisbury

West Tisbury did not follow the broad, careful, approach used by Tisbury to study the possible effects of allowing dining establishments to serve beer and wine with meals. The Tisbury selectmen established a committee to consider the change. The committee, after interviewing townspeople, public officials, and officials in similar towns off-Island concluded that the change would not be damaging to the spirit of the town, nor would it repair the fortunes of troubled restaurants longing for the chance to improve the dining experience for their customers. Both judgments have proven to be accurate.

In West Tisbury, there has not been a lot of debate or controversy about the proposal, which voters will decide this month. There may be intense attitudes in favor or against, but neither side has been especially noisy or flavorful in its partisanship. That may be because there are only three restaurants at the moment that would appear to qualify as establishments that could apply for beer and win licenses. Or, it may be because voters trust the town leadership, and particularly the selectmen who would grant licenses, to act vigorously to make the new rules and enforce them.

Of course, it is possible too that the three restaurants identified as candidates today may be joined by other restaurants in the future, but who’s to know. And, in any case, voters, by their bylaws, zoning laws, and regulations could certainly move to dim the prospects for any ambitious business owner who wanted to add his establishment to the list of licensees.

The view here remains that allowing limited beer and wine sales, according to rules carefully tailored by the selectmen to fit the kind of town West Tisbury is, will be a convenience to town residents, an enhancement to town visitors, and a modest boost for a few businesses, all without changing West Tisbury significantly, except perhaps for the better.