MVC membership needs to change, but that seems unlikely


Same old, same old — that’s how the roster of candidates for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) looks today, with the July 31 deadline for nomination papers dead ahead. Only one outsider, one newcomer, has declared herself. The rest are long-timers — Christina Brown of Edgartown (1997 vintage), John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs (2004), Fred Hancock of Oak Bluffs (2010), and Holly Stephenson of Tisbury (2009).

“Ms. Brown,” Times writer Janet Hefler reports, “is retired from her former job as the assistant to the Edgartown planning board. Mr. Breckenridge works in the food service industry. Mr. Hancock is self-employed as a technical director for corporate meetings. Ms. Stephenson is a retired former city planner and co-owner of a sports schedules business. [Susanna Sturgis, the only newcomer to the election contest] is a freelance editor and writer.”

In fiscal 1982, the roster of MVC members included Bob Mone, a fish dealer then, now an insurance broker; West Tisbury architect Ben Moore; Richard Combra, an electrical worker; Ann Mechur, a swimming instructor; Alfred Vanderhoop, a fisherman; Herb Hancock, a builder (then, later a lobsterman) and Chilmark selectman; and John Early, a contractor.

As Ms. Hefler reports this morning, about the current slate, “Notably absent are candidates actively involved in the building trades, one of the linchpins of the Island economy, and tourist related jobs, which represent 37 percent of employment on the Island, according to the MVC.”

The complexion of the MVC membership has changed since it began in 1974, as the Island itself has. Reasonableness, good sense, a firsthand acquaintance with the trials faced by ordinary Islanders and practicing business people, and — most important of all — regulatory modesty have diminished. Entrenched planning and regulatory devotees, retirees enthusiastic about 50-year master plans, convinced of their own indispensability, and — most discouraging — demonstrably fond of regulatory expansion have ascended.

Bill Bennett of Chilmark, a businessman in the building trades, is leaving the commission for personal reasons. In comments to Ms. Hefler, he helps to define the problem.

“It may be that people who are older, who are semiretired or retired, are in a better position to handle the workload,” he said, “but do they necessarily have a finger on the pulse of the way the Island population is working and interacting? Maybe not. I think all voices need to be heard. The only thing I see troubling is the absence of the voice of the demographic I represent. There are no bad voices, but we need more representation from young families who are actually running businesses here.”

The Martha’s Vineyard Commission, as this page has observed repeatedly, needs refreshment, new people, younger people, people from many different parts of the community and the economy. It needs to take a tough look at what it has become, how its original charge, in 1974, has become distorted and unreasonably enlarged, and how its life as an economic development agency has been forgotten. An updated slate of commission members might make an updated Martha’s Vineyard Commission possible.