To the Editor:
With the Brexit vote grabbing our attention, it is, perhaps, not the right moment for me to suggest that we need a kind of Brussels on the Vineyard, but my timing is created by the nitrogen tax discussions in Tisbury and the many other Island-wide problems that can’t be solved by a single town. I’m sure my opinion will be about as popular as a deer tick, but I am struck over and over again by the fact that we face regional problems from the disadvantageous stance of a divided Island.
I love Tisbury, and I value the unique character of my town, as do residents in all six Island towns, and it’s probable that no one really wants regionalization. I don’t advocate that we relinquish entirely the planning boards that can and should protect some of the autonomy of individual towns. But let’s face it: The pressures of the modern world — state and federal regulatory rules, climate change, traffic, demographic shifts, just to name a few of the forces working upon us — demand an Island-wide response.
Let me provide just a few examples: The traffic at the Triangle and at Five Corners affects all residents and visitors alike. The dredging in Menemsha matters to all of us. The Island schools represent the biggest bite out of all town budgets, and they create waste in the inefficient organization that is currently our model. Jim Weiss spent his last year as superintendent, in a League of Women Voters–sponsored series, by speaking in each town advocating for “shared financial responsibility,” a euphemism for regionalization. As a former high school principal, I could argue persuasively for benefits to scope and sequence in curriculum and pedagogy that would come if we made this change. Money is not the only reason for rethinking our school administrative structure. The distance between our six towns has shrunk in the modern world. How many duplicated services do we need to provide in each and every village?
We can all make a list of areas of freedom and responsibility for our towns that would best be served if we shared oversight and funding: police departments, road maintenance, health and human services, affordable housing, water management, and on and on. I applaud our planning boards for the efforts they have already begun, and I know that Superintendent Matt D’Andrea is encouraging collaboration and cooperation among the schools. There are many current examples of grassroots efforts to work together. These efforts, however, are not enough for the level of decision-making and financial commitment that are required to tackle the problems we face.
Our communities are not overflowing with resources; we must create efficiencies wherever we can in order to be able to save the beauty of our environment and the quality of life we all value. We need to organize an Island-wide system of government which gives voice to all residents of Martha’s Vineyard about the health of our ponds, the roads we drive on, the education of our children, the housing of our least advantaged citizens, our elder care, the size and scope of building projects, etc.
Maybe I’m hoping for the impossible, but I want each of us to identify first as a citizen of Martha’s Vineyard and secondly as a citizen of a town. The voters of Great Britain have chosen to flee the modern world. I hope the citizens of Martha’s Vineyard will be able to embrace the necessary changes to solve problems. We can only do this together.
We should establish a task force made up of leaders from each of the Vineyard towns to design a system of governance and finance going forward. We then will need to spend considerable time in education and persuasion before voting through a referendum to create a Martha’s Vineyard Union so that we can move confidently into the future.