Good news, bad news – what do you want first?


Start with the good news. The first quarter in real estate sales saw closed transactions increase 38 percent over the same period a year ago. The value of those deals rose 10 percent. The busyness index for Martha’s Vineyard real estate in the first quarter of 2012 was high and encouraging.

That’s good because the real estate industry is a powerful force for the economic well-being of Martha’s Vineyard, and the industry has been horribly depressed for half a decade. Today, the inventory of properties for sale remains nearly three times as large as it typically was in the years leading up to the Great Calamity. Inventory needs to sell, and the pace of sales needs to accelerate, before prices can begin to rise.

Unhappily, the real estate price recovery is sputtering. The median value of a first quarter 2012 real estate transaction was about $560,000, or nine percent lower than it was for the same period a year ago. And, the average value of transaction for the period was about $1.160 million, or about 20 percent less than in the same 2011 quarter.

The numbers are what they are, but there are intangibles that seem hopeful, in some cases remarkably so. For instance — and here, you might have in mind Oak Bluffs — the six towns of Martha’s Vineyard, their voters and leaders, have worked hard to control spending. Oak Bluffs, in particular, after several years of expensive floundering, has bent to the task of reforming itself, corralling spending, living within its diminished real estate tax base, and keeping track of budgets and spending. In less dramatic fashion, taking into account the behaviors of voters this spring, the other towns have done the same.

At the same time, the towns have combined a careful round of budget building with a wise and economic view of capital spending — on new libraries, emergency services buildings, school repairs, street repairs, and so on — taking advantage of low interest rates, borrowing when the borrowing is cheap, and laddering borrowing so as to restrain the overall growth of debt.

There are several town leaders, finance committee members, town accountants, and department heads that we might consider sending to Washington to whip the Congress and the Administration into shape. The nation would thank us.

On Main Streets, you have to love the ambition and risk taking that drives business owners and business newcomers to see opportunity in vacant storefronts. You have to admire the drive that leads longtime business operators to shift their businesses to less expensive or more expansive quarters, while the shifting is good.

In sum, the Martha’s Vineyard economy is alive and well, surviving national and global dysfunction and combining some good sense with some good luck to plod on.

Not the way to speak to us

Tisbury selectman Jeff Kristal’s ill-tempered comments on April 24, directed at the owners of the building that housed Café Moxie, disappointed observers who think that Mr. Kristal, together with his selectman colleagues, has improved the management of town affairs during his tenure.

The reconstruction of the building, destroyed by the July 4, 2008, fire that also damaged Bunch of Grapes, and the establishment of a new business on the spot, have challenged its successive owners in many ways over the several years. Without doubt, those owners want and need to get an economic business going in that building, just as the town generally wants to see something new and thriving in that featured Main Street spot.

But, apart from the complicated circumstances of the long-delayed reconstruction, the uncomplicated fact is that Mr. Kristal’s overbearing, corrosive, unsourced, and apparently — according to the town building inspector — unwarranted attack was conduct unbecoming a selectman.

Their opinions aside, selectmen must treat their constituents, indeed anyone with whom they do business, respectfully. Sarcasm, allegations justified merely because “some people have come to me saying,” or calling constituents who petition selectmen for accommodations “townies,” are all out of bounds. Substantive criticisms, if they are deserved, ought to be set out clearly, temperately, and in detail. That’s what leaders do.

And, to defend his behavior from critics as he did — “I don’t think it’s harsh criticism when I’m trying to promote business downtown,” he said — is to diminish his professed goal and himself.