The Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), the Island’s powerful regional permitting body, exerts a strong influence on the Island economy and infrastructure. It does this by shaping and permitting, or denying, projects referred to the commission as developments of regional impact (DRIs), and in the creation of districts of critical planning concern (DCPCs), which towns can adopt to provide an overlay of regulatory control on top of local zoning bylaws.
Although the November election may be far from the thoughts of Martha’s Vineyard voters in the heat of July, the makeup of the MVC will be partially determined in the next few weeks.
Candidates for nine open seats on the 17-member body have until 5 pm on Tuesday, July 29, to file nomination papers with 10 signatures from registered voters with local boards of registrars to appear on the November ballot. As of last week, a survey of Island town clerks revealed that no new candidates and only two incumbents had pulled papers to run in the fall election, Christina Brown of Edgartown and Jim Vercruysse of Aquinnah.
Other MVC incumbents include Clarence “Trip” Barnes and Josh Goldstein of Tisbury, John Breckenridge of Oak Bluffs, Madeline Fisher of Edgartown, and Erik Hammarlund and Linda Sibley of West Tisbury. Doug Sederholm, formerly of Chilmark, will be seeking election from his new home town of West Tisbury.
Several of the incumbents have been commissioners for multiple terms. Ms. Sibley, elected in 1992, is the longest serving member. Ms. Brown has served since 1997, Mr. Sederholm since 2003, and Mr. Breckenridge since 2004.
Mr. Hammarlund was elected in 2011, and Mr. Barnes, Ms. Fisher, and Mr. Goldstein in 2013. Mr. Vercruysse was appointed in January by the Aquinnah Planning Board to fill a vacancy after former commissioner Camille Rose moved off Island.
Representing economic interests
MVC decision making and planning exerts a strong influence over key sectors of the economy. However, few of the commissioners are 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 younger generation of Islanders has only two representative. Among the incumbents, only Mr. Goldstein, 35, and Mr. Hammarlund, 43, are under the age of 50.
The Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce’s counts almost 1,000 members. Discussion about representation on the commission has not come up in board meetings, executive director Nancy Gardella told The Times in a phone call Monday.
“But I certainly don’t think there is anyone that doesn’t understand and admire the people who do opt to run for the commission and the enormous time commitment they are willing to give to our community,” Ms. Gardella said.
With that in mind, she said she can understand why a small business owner, for example, especially one with young children, would be reluctant to run.
“In casual conversations I’ve had with members of the commission, it has always been my impression they would encourage and welcome a broader representation of the Island community to step forward,” Ms. Gardella said. “But we all get it, when we see Islanders working so hard in the few precious months of summer, often 16 to 20 hours a day, that they can’t squeeze another moment out.”
Variety of backgrounds
Of the current commissioners, Mr. Goldstein is the only one involved in the hospitality industry. He works in the management of his family’s business, the Mansion House Inn in Vineyard Haven.
Several commissioners are actively involved in Island businesses. Ms. Sibley owns and operates a retail store, Vineyard Electronics, on State Road. Mr. Barnes owns and operates Barnes Moving and Storage Company, also on State Road. Brian Smith, the West Tisbury selectmen’s appointee since 2010, has managed several businesses since moving to Martha’s Vineyard in 1995.
MVC chairman Fred Hancock, the Oak Bluffs selectmen’s appointee since 2010, is self-employed as a technical director for corporate meetings. Ms. Fisher is an art gallery owner, painter, and licensed real estate broker.
Mr. Sederholm and Mr. Hammarlund are both lawyers in private practice. Mr. Sederholm practices law in partnership with attorney Howard Miller in Edgartown. Mr. Hammarlund runs a law office in Vineyard Haven.
Leonard Jason, the Dukes County Commission’s MVC appointee and a longtime municipal employee, is the building inspector for Edgartown and Chilmark.
Mr. Vercruysse is a cabinet shop foreman and employee owner at South Mountain Company, an employee-owned architecture, building, and renewable energy firm in West Tisbury. Commissioner Jim Joyce, appointed by the Edgartown selectmen in 2010, has both business and building trade experience. He is the owner/broker of Carroll and Vincent Real Estate and a State-licensed construction supervisor.
W. Karl McLaurin, Governor Deval Patrick’s MVC appointee since 2013, is the marketing director for the state’s Executive Office of Housing and Economic Development. He is familiar with Martha’s Vineyard as a longtime seasonal visitor in Oak Bluffs.
Several of the current commissioners are retired. Ms. Brown is a former assistant to the Edgartown Planning Board. Mr. Breckenridge worked in the foodservice industry.
Among the Island town selectmen’s appointees, Joan Malkin of Chilmark is is a retired attorney. Katherine Newman of Aquinnah is a retired psychologist. Ned Orleans of Tisbury worked in the department store retail industry for 25 years, and then went into public education administration in the Fairfax [Virginia] County Public Schools.
Veteran and newcomer perspectives
Although new to the commission this year, Mr. Vercruysse is actually a veteran commissioner who was tapped by the Aquinnah selectmen and planning board to return after a hiatus of several years. He said he decided to step down from the commission after serving as chairman in 2002, when the MVC went through a contentious review process and rejected a golf club development plan for the southern woodlands in Oak Bluffs.
“I was really burned out after that,” Mr. Vercruysse said. However, on his return to the commission this year, he added, “I realized how much I enjoyed it and missed it.”
Mr. Vercruysse, who has taken out papers for the November election, said he thinks the current commissioners are a good group.
“In fact, that’s why I’m motivated to run again,” he said. “It seems to me the board is very engaged and motivated. We have had tough decisions to make, but I think it’s a really good, strong board.”
Mr. Vercruysse noted that Mr. McLaurin, Governor Deval Patrick’s appointee to the MVC, regularly attends the meetings, which wasn’t the case with the governor’s appointee when he previously served on the commission.
“And we have two attorneys on it, which is very helpful, especially when we’re doing wordsmithing to get the language right on decisions,” he added.
As the youngest member currently serving on the MVC, Mr. Goldstein, 35, said it would be interesting if more people in his age bracket would run. “It would make for a better representation of the next generation of Islanders,” he said. “The people who have been on the commission for a long time have done an amazing job, but like any organization, if it doesn’t get fresh blood, it gets stagnant.”
But he pointed out that getting new people to run is not always easy on Martha’s Vineyard. “Change is good, but on the Island, people who have been in a position for years and years, if their names are on the ballot, no one will run against them,” Mr. Goldstein said.
Also, as he nears the end of his first term on the MVC, Mr. Goldstein said he has had to come to terms with the fact that his service is not always appreciated by his fellow Islanders. “For every person who says thanks, there are ten that say to me, ‘What a waste of time,’” he said. “Nonetheless, I think the commission does great work. A lot of my peers from my graduating class are here on the Island, and I’d be happy to lose to one of them. It would be nice to see some new faces.”
The MVC was established by an act of the state legislature in 1974 as a regional land use planning and regulatory agency with broad powers to oversee and permit DRIs and and to develop regional regulations for areas approved as DCPCs.
Nine MVC candidates are elected at large to two-year terms. Residents of one town may vote for candidates from other towns, but at least one commissioner must be elected from each town, and no more than two elected commissioners can be from any one town.
For example, if the candidates with the three highest vote totals are from the same town, only the two with the highest vote totals will be elected to the MVC. If a candidate with the lowest vote total overall was the only candidate from that town, he or she would be elected.
In addition to nine elected members, the Island’s boards of selectmen appoint six, the Dukes County Commission appoints one, and the governor appoints up to five, of whom four do not vote on DRIs or DCPCs.
Correction: An earlier version of this story failed to report that Erik Hammarlund is also under the age of 50. He is 43.