Three familiar candidates will vie for two open seats on the five-member Oak Bluffs board of selectmen in the April 12 town elections. Incumbents Greg Coogan and Kathy Burton and veteran town official and former selectman Roger Wey make up the slate of candidates.
This is the first election following a major shakeup of town government that included the resignation of former town manager Michael Dutton, a search for his replacement that ended with the decision to hire new town manager Bob Whritenour, discussions about ways to economize through shared services, and efforts to right the town’s financial ship following revelations of poor financial control.
Greg Coogan has served three terms on the board of selectmen. He is a long-time math teacher at the Tisbury school, and he has been active in civic affairs.
Kathy Burton is finishing her first term, and is currently the chairman of the board of selectmen. She has a professional background in technology, and is a real estate executive.
Roger Wey served seven terms on the board, before he decided not to seek reelection in 2009. He is currently the paid town director of the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging.
As part of its election coverage, The Times sent each candidate three questions by e-mail. Their responses follow.
What town services could benefit from regionalization, and what steps would you take to combine services with other towns? Please be specific.
Mr. Coogan: I think we’ve proved with solid waste (trash) by working cooperatively with Tisbury that common needs can be met more efficiently. We should be looking at the whole Island to join forces with regards to solid waste. The last year has been a busy one. Some of these initiatives were put on hold temporarily, but I would like to re-kindle our efforts and study carefully the prospects that may exist within public safety (police, fire, ambulance and animal control). We share our large ponds with Tisbury and Edgartown and we must work together to ensure their survival.
Ms. Burton: I would evaluate and actively seek benefit from existing county and regional services. I met with our Town Administrator and Tisbury officials to discuss a combined approach to animal control. An inter-municipal program agreement has been drafted for review and implementation, hopefully this spring. I would initiate an Oak Bluffs master planning process that includes a series of public forums and a survey to determine the interest of our citizens toward additional cost saving regionalization measures.
Mr. Wey: It is well worth it to seek opportunities for the town to combine services and/or equipment with other island towns where appropriate in ways that won’t threaten each town’s autonomy. We need to aggressively continue to explore ways to economize by sharing services and/or equipment in certain departments such as the police, fire, building, highway, and health departments.
The system of business licensing and fees in Oak Bluffs has drawn criticism. What specific steps would you take to fix the system and please give a time frame for completing it?
Mr. Coogan: Everyone has to be responsible for paying their fair share in fees. In identifying them we can be sure that they abide by all the town rules. That said, we as a board have expressed to our new Town Administrator that this plan must be organized and implemented in time for this season. We think many improvements have already been made using technology and coordination with our departments and by this summer many of these issues will be resolved.
Ms. Burton: Identify all fees and fines. Our Community Development Council has completed this. Create a centralized database that supports access by all departments. I initiated this effort last summer. Identify, improve, streamline and document the business licensing process and other collection processes. That effort is in process. Analyze, update, and document policies and procedures. Review associated fees and fines for potential increase. Implement clear documented systems creating greater efficiency, accurate revenue estimates, and user friendly processes. I anticipate many components of this major project will be completed by next spring.
Mr. Wey: I would centralize the process by having a single person in charge with proper software needed to expedite the licensing and fees. The time frame, June 1.
Please describe your top three priorities for the 3-year term, and why you are the best candidate to accomplish those priorities.
Mr. Coogan: 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. I think the economy will continue to push us in the direction of shared services which will be a good thing, but that will take time. 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. Supporting that staff and making sure that our constituents are getting their needs met and the services we provide are in good working order. These are my priorities and I think my track record over the last nine years shows my commitment to the town and the voters.
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. Continue to work with a spirit of collaboration and unity with the board and Town Administrator in an open manner allowing our citizens to be informed and included in decisions affecting their town. As chairman of the board, I have worked to create a spirit of cooperation and teamwork. We have accomplished much. I am action and goal oriented and if re-elected, I will work diligently toward completion of the goals of all the citizens of the town of Oak Bluffs.
Mr. Wey: We must reduce the negative free cash balance which is close to $1 million by finding additional sources of revenue which will be used to fund fixed costs in the coming years. Paid parking with a residential exemption is an option where income would be derived mostly from seasonal visitors and could bring in hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to our town. We must find the money to maintain the high-quality education our children currently receive in the Oak Bluffs school system. Many parents struggle financially on this island just to keep their children in such a great school system and get them the best education possible, and we owe it them to keep it that way. Our high standards and services provided to the children must be a priority. Lastly, the library and senior center have always been the heart of the community and we must maintain full staff and services in these areas. Their importance to our community should never be minimalized. I have twenty one years of experience, the integrity, and the strong commitment to our community. From my decades of service I have been fortunate to make contacts at the state and federal levels and with their help and my perseverance we will get thing done.