Opinion

Many newspapers and web sites around the world are grappling, as we are, with the challenge to personal privacy posed by search engine access to the content we publish. Beginning with the week of Thursday, October 16th’s Martha’s Vineyard Times, we’re taking steps to discourage the ubiquitous Google search engine from discovering and linking to our weekly Martha’s Vineyard District Court report. Readers of our print and online publications will continue to find this material exactly as before (with in fact some helpful simplification of the archive search on our web site), but casual Google surfers will not easily find links to our pages.

In publishing the court reports each week we make conscious choices balancing community interest against personal privacy. We understand that publishing individual names within the court reports can be embarrassing or have serious adverse personal consequences, and that publication in The Martha’s Vineyard Times’ pages is in itself part of the penalty faced by those named in District Court records. In the end we’re satisfied that the public record needs to be maintained, and we intend to continue our publication policy within the context of our overall sense of community responsibility.

Web publishing and search engine technology, however, have permanently challenged the balance we’ve struck. Google (and its few competitors, such as Bing) make finding an individual appearing in our published court reports a simple matter of micro-seconds for anyone with access to a computer and an Internet connection.

These search results create a new kind of permanent record, eternally accessible to anyone, including college admissions staff, prospective employers, curious friends, and digital voyeurs.

We understand that in a post-web world each of us lives with rapidly expanding consequences for our actions, but each of our punishable acts is not equally vile; the readily accessible and immortal personal data base search engines create has no capacity for modulation, and a teenager at an unauthorized party at one extreme and a violent repeat drug dealer at the other each appears on Google’s pages in the same way.

Search engines like Google take no responsibility for their own role in this new dynamic, and try hard to disassociate themselves from the effect they may have on something as basic as getting a job or securing housing. It’s almost always their position that they are simply finding and linking to material that’s been published elsewhere (in the U.S. at least; the so-called “right to be forgotten” concept is taking hold quickly in Europe).

A request to be “taken down” from Google’s pages in America is almost always redirected to the source of the web post. For newspapers, this idea of “unpublishing” a web story is inapt and disingenuous, and it is unrelated to our professional obligations, let alone to the reality of our already-existing printed products.

The Martha’s Vineyard Times will continue publishing our community’s news in a responsible fashion, but we won’t contribute to the transfer of our responsibility to Google or other search engines any more than we have to. We don’t expect to influence international trends in technology and social behavior, but we can do our best to match our actions to our beliefs. So, we’re using tools Google itself provides to block search indexing of our court reports. You’ll still see the reports in our newspaper pages, and you’ll find current reports and links to past reports at mvtimes.com. You shouldn’t, though, find our court reports through Google searches.

Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) executive director Mark London announced last week that he plans to retire after 12 years at the helm of the Island’s powerful regional permitting and planning agency. The commissioners have yet to decide whether the commission will direct the search for his successor, or rely on the services of a professional search firm.

To his credit, Mr. London has provided ample time, almost a full year, for the commission to search for a new executive director. This presents an opportunity for commission members to meet with selectmen and discuss what qualities the Island’s elected leaders would like to see in the next person chosen to take the MVC helm.

The towns have a considerable stake in the administrative leadership of the MVC, an agency that has considerable influence over Island development and planning.

The MVC operating budget is $1.5 million. The bulk of the MVC’s income comes from Dukes County taxpayers through town assessments based on property tax valuation. All seven towns in Dukes County, which includes Gosnold, share the cost of planning, according to their relative property valuation.

In fiscal year 2015, Edgartown once again paid the lion’s share, $384,043. Chilmark paid $176,600; Aquinnah paid $40,840; Oak Bluffs shelled out $149,526; Tisbury fell just short of Oak Bluffs at $148,604; West Tisbury came in at $138,250. Gosnold chipped in $9,615.

Putting aside the cost, the MVC exercises, through its permitting authority, considerable influence over projects small and large designated as developments of regional impact (DRIs). It is a definition that is as elastic as the mood of the individual commissioners, and capable of encompassing a Girl Scout camp off Middle Road in Chilmark, a pizza place, and a major renovation of an Island supermarket in Tisbury.

Mr. London was a longtime seasonal Island visitor and city planner in Montreal, Canada, when he was hired. Immediately after he started in October 2002, he reviewed MVC operations, interviewing past and present commissioners, town officials, board representatives, and MVC applicants.

In March 2003, he released a 43-page report, “Looking at the Commission, Review of the Operations of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and Recommendations for Improvement,” in which he proposed numerous recommendations designed to revitalize the commission and significantly change the way the regional land use planning agency operates and interacts with the public, elected officials, and Island towns.

The report contained 11 general recommendations, 38 specific recommendations, and 131 concrete actions to achieve them. More than 11 years later, the report makes interesting reading. Many of his observations continue to ring true.

Among the key recommendations Mr. London made was that the commission must be more selective in accepting projects as DRIs, and streamline the process to make more effective use of time; refocus the MVC so more time is spent on planning; create a better working partnership with Island towns; and create smaller working committees where the commissioners can make better use of their time.

Among his findings he said, “There is a perception that the MVC improvises the process as it moves along, that it micro-manages projects, and that its decisions are inconsistent.”

Looking at recent DRI hearings, and a discussion of the type of shrubbery that must be used to screen the new bowling alley in Oak Bluffs, and the dimensions of green space in front of a proposed affordable housing apartment building in Tisbury, it would be difficult to make the case that much has changed.

Back then, Mr. London recommended that the DRI process be “thoroughly renewed” to become more clear and predictable — and also to make better use of everyone’s time, including the applicants’, publics’, and commissioners’.”

It would be hard to argue that the year-long review of the Tisbury Stop & Shop proposal, which ended with nothing to show for it, was anything but.

Mr. London said that “with respect to the way meetings were conducted, many interviewees criticized what they felt was excessive repetition, speechifying, lack of self-discipline (‘not everyone has to weigh in on every issue’), disorganization, getting side-tracked and getting bogged down in detail that is not of real regional impact.”

Sound familiar?

Mr. London also recommended that commissioners should read the material provided to them before the meeting, and “they should exercise self-discipline — speaking less often, ‘not thinking out loud’ and not repeating what has already been said by others.

“They should attempt to choose their words carefully,” he continued, “knowing that their words may be repeated in newspapers or in court.”

If he could have foreseen the future and a toss-off remark made by a veteran commissioner at a bowling alley public hearing, he would have added, “or caught on a microphone.”

The MVC commissioners might benefit by rereading Mr. London’s assessment of the commission, made when he was fresh on the job.

With almost ten months to go before he departs, and the benefit of 12 years experience under his belt, Mr. London might also consider revisiting his review. An exit assessment of MVC operations would make for equally interesting reading.

The latest skirmish in the seemingly never-ending dogfight between the Dukes County commission and its appointed airport commission played out last week when the county commissioners voted 6 to 0, with one abstention, to increase the size of the airport commission from seven to nine members.

County leaders said they wanted to take advantage of the many good candidates who had applied to fill one vacancy on the airport commission due to an unexpected resignation. Hogwash.

Stung by a decision by Dukes County Superior Court Associate Justice Richard J. Chin on August 7 in favor of the airport commission on every point in its request for a preliminary injunction against the county commission, county treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders, and county manager Martina Thornton, the county commissioners decided to strike back and use the only oversight authority it has ever legally had over the county-owned airport to try and reshuffle the deck in their favor — assuming of course that the newly appointed airport commissioners will ignore their statutory authority and two judicial decisions that support it, and begin to toe the county line.

It was unnecessary. The county commissioners have an opportunity every year on a rotating basis to appoint qualified candidates to the airport commission. Appointments are generally made in February. Their vote to expand outside that cycle was the latest move in a long and well-documented effort by the county commission to bring its appointed board to heel.

It is ironic that one of the two candidates appointed to fill a seat on the newly expanded airport commission, Myron Garfinkle of West Tisbury, a pilot and businessman with an interest in aviation, first applied, unsuccessfully, for an appointment in January 2003. Then, as now, the county commission exercised its appointing authority to bring the airport commission under its thumb.

In a story published Jan. 15, 2003, The Times reported, “The commissioners bypassed two experienced members of the airport commission seeking reappointment, as well as individuals with extensive business backgrounds and in some cases aviation experience, in favor of the appointment of two fellow county commissioners, John Alley of West Tisbury and Nelson Smith of Edgartown, and a county employee, T.J. Hegarty of West Tisbury, the county rodent-control officer.”

Eleven years and many appointments later, Mr. Garfinkle, who continued to seek appointment, suddenly made the cut, as did Robert Rosenbaum, a seasonal resident of Chilmark, former businessman, and pilot.

Their experience, expertise, and willingness to serve on an airport commission that has bungled its recent handling of a labor dispute is welcome, but not at the expense of subverting the appointment process, or to allow the county commissioners to count coup in their battle with the airport leadership.

The first time the county created a nine-member airport commission was soon after a change in the county charter, when in August 1995 the newly elected seven county commissioners self-appointed themselves to the airport commission. Barnstable Municipal Airport operates with a seven-member commission. Nantucket Memorial Airport, one of the state’s busiest airports, makes do with five.

Last week, in arguing for an expansion, county commission chairman Leonard Jason, Jr., of Chilmark said, “I had a tough choice between three candidates for one slot. If we can get good candidates on there sooner rather than later, it’s a benefit to the entire community.”

“I think an injection of new people with fresh ideas, for me that’s important,” said commissioner and 19 year veteran of the Tisbury board of selectman, Tristan Israel. “It seems to be within our rights as an appointing authority.”

Maybe so, but that does not make it right. It does make it clumsy.

In January 1997, Stephen R. Muench, executive director of the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission (MAC), made it clear to the county commissioners in no uncertain terms that authority for the airport rested with the airport commission and airport manager, and that any effort to subvert that arrangement, including by reorganization, would jeopardize millions of dollars in state and federal funding for a new terminal.

The county commissioners signed grant assurances stating that they got MAC’s message. But they did not, and once again state aeronautics officials have taken notice.

Last week Christopher Willenborg, administrator of the MassDOT Aeronautics Division, MAC’s successor agency, in a letter to county commission Chairman Jason, asked the chairman for the “rationale for the increase in membership, the qualifications of the two appointees, and how the appointments benefit or improve the functioning of the airport commission beyond that of what was a seven-member board.”

Perhaps state attention will help bring an end to this senseless and costly legal quarrel. The fact that MassDOT decided to step in should be an indication that something is amiss in the county approach to the airport commission. Of course, one might have reached the same conclusion from two judicial decisions in favor of the airport commission’s statutory authority.

The county commissioners have all the authority they need to influence airport affairs with good appointments, made with due consideration and not out of spite. It is time they acknowledge that fact and seek an end to the ongoing legal battle that Superior Court Associate Justice Richard Chin has already said is unlikely to go their way.

A client of ours recently asked, “What’s the story with this noisy solar installation in Edgartown?”  (MVTimes, Sept. 25, “Solar array generates electricity, contractor generates complaints”). We will tell you what we told her, and more.

A noisy PV (photovoltaic) installation should be an oxymoron, but there it is, in the Smith Hollow neighborhood. The noise is caused by large centralized inverters (the least resilient way to design a system) that are poorly located (near homes).

That is just one of many unfortunate design decisions the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative (CVEC) made in the design of installations for Edgartown, West Tisbury, and Tisbury. The systems were hurriedly installed by off-Island, low-bid companies — one of them went out of business before completing the job — and it shows.

The installation on the Katama plains, for example, covers prime agricultural land. What were the selectmen thinking? It has droopy wires that can blow in the wind and rub against the racking, the panels are misaligned, and the array is so low to the ground that mowing the grass will be difficult. We were amazed to see weeds growing up between the panels recently. It looks like an abandoned ruin less than a year after completion.

We urge you to look at the comparable ground-mount installations by on-Island Vineyard Power (VP) at the Aquinnah and Chilmark landfills, and compare. You’ll see something fundamentally different in terms of land use, design, aesthetics, quality, and productivity. These systems have a higher initial cost, but will provide greater value per dollar spent and will be easier to maintain long-term.

Our criticism is self-serving — there are no two ways about it — because South Mountain Co., which we are a part of, is the designer and contractor for the VP systems. But we feel compelled to bring attention to the issue to dispel the misperceptions these systems foster and to urge those considering solar to do the research. We did not bid on the CVEC systems because we felt there were too many flaws in the siting, the specifications, and the process.

In our opinion, the CVEC systems are good for the towns and the Island. Expanding the use of renewable energy is important. But there’s no reason to do things poorly when they can just as easily be done well. Especially something like this, which could be there for 40 years, looking good and producing well, or not. Hopefully our town officials have learned good lessons.

We are not the only Island solar company. There are other competent local companies with the capacity to do these large installations. It’s a shame to import mediocrity. Not all solar is the same. Do the homework. Learn the difference. Stay local. Give solar the good name it deserves.

John Abrams and Rob Meyers are among the 19 co-owners of South Mountain Co., a West Tisbury architecture, engineering, building, and renewable-energy company. Mr. Abrams is CEO. Mr. Meyers is energy services general manager.

Tisbury is about to embark on an ambitious project to imagine what it might look like in the future and how it might get there. Over the next two weeks, town planners will hold three community workshops where, according to organizers, “participants will discover values upon which to base a vision plan and guide future actions.”

It is an important and worthwhile effort that deserves broad support from town residents, property owners, and business leaders. How to achieve that level of involvement and extend the conversation beyond the usual participants in municipal affairs is one of the biggest challenges organizers face.

Vineyarders have a debilitating habit of not paying much attention to design projects until they are under construction or complete. Let’s call it the pergola syndrome, in memory of the Greek columns and pergola that in 2000 graced the entrance to the new Tisbury Library and were then quickly removed following a storm of protest that the design was not “unobtrusive and quiet.”

A flyer distributed to Tisbury residents in this week’s issue of The Times explains, “The town will face a number of important issues in the coming years. A Vision Plan created with broad community participation will establish a framework to guide town decisions and enable us to take advantage of future development and funding opportunities.”

By the standards of most seaside vacation destinations, Vineyard Haven, the year-round gateway to Martha’s Vineyard, presents a dour picture to visitors arriving by the Steamship Authority. The number of commercial properties poised for development presents one of the town’s biggest challenges and opportunities.

The Stop & Shop property, which comprises three buildings, two parcels on either side of Five Corners and the Boch property, offers a unique and rare canvas. The challenge for town leaders will be how to forge cooperative development partnerships with property owners that provide benefits for all participants.

Those who are willing to invest in the community deserve a fair process and some expectation of a timely decision — one way or the other. Unfortunately, even 20-20 vision planning is no cure for town boards that turn municipal process into a form of bureaucratic purgatory.

This week, Janet Hefler reports on the planned sale of Saltwater restaurant in the Tisbury Marketplace by owner Reid “Sam” Dunn to Mary and Jackson Kenworth, owners of State Road restaurant in West Tisbury. It took Mr. Dunn four months to obtain a special permit so he could close the deal. The issue was a lovely screened porch and additional seats that did not suddenly appear. They have been there for more than five years. Any adverse effect ought to be well-known by now.

We can certainly expect that the Kenworths will bring the same level of excellence to Tisbury that they have brought to State Road, and before that to the Sweet Life Cafe in Oak Bluffs.

Also this week, we report that the Island Housing Trust project to create six apartments on the site of a decrepit house at 6 Water Street is mired in the zoning board of appeals, which is concerned that the inhabitants  might not be able to live without cars, or parking, and would suffer from pollution and roadway vibration, being so close to Five Corners.

Presumably, a tenant would be thrilled to have an affordable roof over his or her head, ride the bus or walk to work, and generally be happy to live like millions of others do, in apartments on Main Streets in small towns and cities across America.

This project has undergone thorough review. Any holdups tied to whimsical concerns by ZBA members only threaten state and federal funding timelines.

A public health achievement

Tonight, pressed by one of its members, the Oak Bluffs board of health will revisit the issue of fluoridation of its municipal water supply. The town has been adding fluoride since April 1991, with no documented ill effects to its residents.

As with most town boards, the board of health is made up of citizens who contribute their time. There is no requirement that any of its members have some expertise in public health, only the expectation that they will do their best to become informed and use their good judgement to render decisions in the best interests of the community.

Experts in the field of public health, Island dentists, and state and federal public health agencies endorse fluoridation as a means to reduce tooth decay, particularly in young children.

In comments to reporter Barry Stringfellow, Dr. Garrett Orazem, a well-respected dentist who has practiced on the Island for 33 years, said he has seen the benefits of fluoridation. A board decision to discontinue fluoride, he said, would be “a huge mistake.”

Dr. Orazem feels so strongly about the issue that he has been encouraging patients and other dentists to attend the Thursday-night meeting that begins at 7 pm in the Oak Bluffs library meeting room.

This is not about cost. Oak Bluffs spends about $15,000 per year to add fluoride to town water. Compared to the cost of one visit to the dentist, that represents a bargain for taxpayers, who have likely benefited from fluoridation whether or not they had the discipline to brush and floss after every meal.

This is an issue that needs to be rooted in good science and sound public health policy. The board members will not have to search to find the information they need to make an informed decision.

“For 65 years, community water fluoridation has been a safe and healthy way to effectively prevent tooth decay,” according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

One benefit of community water fluoridation, the CDC said, is that a person’s income level or ability to receive routine dental care are not barriers to receiving its health benefits.

The CDC has recognized water fluoridation “as one of 10 great public health achievements of the 20th century.”

After careful thought and consideration, the Oak Bluffs board of health ought to reach the same conclusion

If all goes well with permitting and funding, this spring Martha’s Vineyard Community Services will begin operating a community crisis stabilization program (CCSP) in a building located on the grounds of the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. The program as designed would address the immediate needs of individuals in crisis related to substance abuse and/or mental health issues.

Currently those individuals often spend long hours in the hospital emergency room, sometimes accompanied by a police officer, tieing up medical and public-safety resources. The crisis stabilization program is a much-needed and welcome alternative that will better address this growing problem.

In a story published June 4, “Battling addiction on Martha’s Vineyard,” Dr. Jeffrey Zack, director of emergency medicine at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital, spoke about the big rise in cases related to opiates and heroin.

Dr. Zack said that people often arrived at the emergency room for services the hospital doesn’t provide, which can take up valuable beds, sometimes for days.

“We’re the backstop on the Island, and we won’t turn anyone away,” he told reporter Barry Stringfellow. “That said, we’re not a detox facility or a psychiatric facility.”

As Barry Stringfellow reports this week (“Community Services will open the Island’s first crisis-intervention center”), the new treatment facility is the result of a collaborative effort by Martha’s Vineyard Hospital chief executive officer Tim Walsh and Martha’s Vineyard Community Services executive director Julie Fay to meet an identified community health need.

The hospital will give a house, now used by its billing department and known by its distinctive siding as the red house, to Community Services. Once renovations are complete, the house will include individual therapy rooms, a group therapy room, and crisis-stabilization beds. More important, it will provide an intermediate step that could be the difference between an individual remaining on-Island or being sent to an off-Island facility by ambulance, a costly proposition.

The announcement of a CCSP on the hospital campus dovetails nicely with the news last week that the hospital is constructing a walk-in clinic that will provide an alternative for people not in need of emergency care who now utilize the ER. The hospital and Community Services are on the right track.

The CCSP will not address the needs of every individual. Some will still need to be sent to mainland facilities better equipped to provide long-term care in a closely supervised environment. But it is an example of how the Island’s largest health-care provider and its largest social services agency can work together to benefit the community as a whole.

It will be up to generous Islanders to help Community Services meet its CCSP funding goal.

Commercial fishermen are an independent, self-reliant lot. Men and women who make a living from the sea are familiar with waking early and long hours hauling gear with no one to rely on but themselves. They keep a tight grip on the wheel and on hard-learned fishing information, but are quick to lend a hand when a fisherman is in need, because anyone who spends time on the water knows that one day, he or she could be in the same boat.

The desire for independence that pushes men and women to embrace the life of a commercial fisherman can get in the way of joint efforts by fishermen to protect their livelihood. From time to time, fishermen have banded together to form an organization to represent their interests, but it takes a skilled navigator to steer a course through the political and personal currents when there are more than ten Island fishermen in one room.

The most recent effort came in 2009 with the formation of the Martha’s Vineyard/Dukes County Fishermen’s Association under the framework of Dukes County government. Warren Doty, longtime Chilmark selectman and former Island fish wholesaler, took the helm of the fledgling group and moved it forward.

In June 2010, attorneys with the law firm of Kelley Drye & Warren filed suit on behalf of the Martha’s Vineyard/Dukes County Fishermen’s Association in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia against the Cape Wind project on Horseshoe Shoal in Nantucket Sound.

In a 16-page complaint, attorneys David Frulla and Shaun Gehan said the Cape Wind energy project would effectively end all commercial fishing on Horseshoe Shoal — prime, historic fishing grounds for Vineyard fishermen.

Two years later, in June 2012, Mr. Doty announced that the Fishermen’s Association had reversed its position, and agreed to support the Cape Wind project “as a sustainable source of clean energy for the future” in exchange for a payout, the amount of which was shielded by a confidentiality agreement.

In a story published Sept. 4, “Island fishermen’s groups steer different courses,” Steve Myrick was able to slightly pry the lid off the confidentiality agreement and report that the settlement deal calls for Cape Wind to pay the Menemsha Fishermen’s Preservation Trust Inc., renamed the Martha’s Vineyard Fishermen’s Preservation Trust (MVFPT), in order to handle the proceeds of the settlement, $250,000 when project financing is in place, and an additional $1 million once permitting for the wind farm is complete.

Mr. Doty told Mr. Myrick the organization had run up $125,000 in legal bills and had no choice but to settle. He said he had signed a nondisclosure settlement that prohibited parties to the deal from talking about it. Mr. Doty, citing the confidentiality agreement, refused to describe the financial arrangement with Cape Wind to Mr. Myrick.

The MVFPT’s stated and laudable goal is to use the money to create a permiting bank that can be used to help and sustain the Island fishing industry.

Confidentiality agreements may be standard tools for private individuals and companies that want to shield information from the public. But Mr. Doty, a selectman, operating under the umbrella of Dukes County at the time, made a bad decision. It was wrong not to reveal the details of the agreement. The fishermen and members of the public that supported the Fishermen’s Association in the lawsuit ought to have been told the details of the payout.

The Dukes County Commissioners, who lent the county imprimatur to the Fishermen’s Association, ought to have insisted on disclosure but ignored their responsibility and chose to say nothing on the topic at the time.

The notion that the Association had no choice but to capitulate and settle because they had racked up significant legal bills is hard to understand. The time to have thought about how they were going to pay those legal bills was before they signed on to a lawsuit engineered by a Washington law office.

The deal created hard feelings around the Island waterfront — that part of it that extends beyond Menemsha to Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs, and Edgartown harbors. That is unfortunate. The MVFPT was created to support Island commercial fishing interests. It is time for MVFPT leaders to cast a wider net and gain the trust and support of fishermen who feel left out.

Those who cheer for the little guy should not be comforted at the thought that a small Island group of fishermen tapped Cape Wind for $1.25 million. Whatever the actual payout amount, it is the ratepayers of Massachusetts that will underwrite the costs of this settlement and of a deal Cape Wind cut with the Department of the Interior that will enrich the Mashpee and Wampanoag tribes, who claimed that the wind farm would interfere with their view of the rising sun, an important element in tribal ceremonies.

The Massachusetts primary election is Tuesday, September 9. If past practice provides any indication of future behavior, only a small percentage of eligible Martha’s Vineyard voters will take the time to cast a vote in next week’s election, which features seven contests and will set the stage for important races at the state level that include the offices of governor, treasurer, and attorney general.

That lack of participation is unfortunate. Election day is the one day every citizen stands equal with the next, irrespective of his or her station in life, and walks into the polling place and casts only one vote.

Excuses abound. In Massachusetts, a state dominated by career politicians, voters may say that one vote does not matter. It is a view that guarantees more of the same.

The same citizen who rails at his or her flat-screen television screen during a news broadcast finds it too much trouble to go to the polls once every two years and fulfill an exercise in civic responsibility that takes less time than he or she is willing to spend to pick up a pizza on a Friday night. Walk in, provide your name, take a ballot and make your choices. It is that easy.

Yet, judging by the number of voters that participated in the 2010 primary, about three out of four registered Island voters thought it was too much trouble to go to the polls.

By town, the numbers looked like this: Chilmark (26.4 percent); West Tisbury (22.2); Tisbury (21.2); Oak Bluffs (19.3); Edgartown (17.9); and Aquinnah (16.6 percent).

In the 2012 election the percentage of voters who went to the polls ranged from a low of 11.9 percent of voters in Edgartown to a high of 19 percent in Chilmark.

Islanders tend to be a self-satisfied bunch. The word “special” gets tossed around a lot by publicists of everything Vineyard. Well, a voter turnout of less than 25 percent is not so special among a pretty well educated electorate. In fact, it is cause for embarrassment, particularly when set against the world stage where the struggle for basic human liberties continues, and the simple act of walking into a polling station takes courage in many countries

While the outcome of next week’s election is important, irrespective of the nature of the contest, each citizen’s willingness to exercise his or her right to vote is a statement.

Our right as U.S. citizens to vote was hard won, paid for in blood and treasure. It remains the bedrock of our democracy and we owe it those who have defended that right to exercise it, and to vote Tuesday, if for no other reason than to honor their sacrifice and do our civic duty.

Back to school

The new school year begins this week with a total K-12 enrollment of 2,278 students. In this week’s issue, at the invitation of The Times, Island school principals briefly describe the changes students and parents can expect and their goals for the school year. The essays differ but all share a sense of optimism and energy.

Once again, school buses are a familiar sight on Island roads. Children, often accompanied by parents are walking or biking to school. It is time to exercise caution driving and enjoy the sound of kids playing in school yards that lay dormant all summer.

Summer doesn’t officially end until September 23. For many, the upcoming Labor Day weekend is the dividing line. Close observers of Island roadways and intersections are more inclined to name Ag Fair weekend as our summer visitor solstice, the peak after which the number of SUVs with New York and Connecticut plates begins to diminish.

Martha’s Vineyard is a seasonal balloon. The week of Illumination Night, the Oak Bluffs fireworks and the four-day Ag Fair is when it appears it might burst. The week that follows is when it begins to slowly deflate. About February, that balloon will be flat.

This week, summer visitors, including President Obama and his entourage and their security details, headed back to work and their off-Island routines. Students who had not already done so returned to college. The lessening of traffic, people, and frenetic activity was noticeable everywhere but at the Steamship Authority where boatline employees did their best to accommodate the departing passengers and vehicles.

So this is a fitting time in the rhythm of Island life to take notice of those Islanders who mostly remain unnoticed behind the scenes until they are needed, and who, happily, do not figure in the vacation experiences of most summer visitors— the Island’s volunteer EMTs and firefighters, police, dispatchers, nurses, and doctors.

Travelers who arrive and depart from the Island by air on scheduled and private airplanes likely take little notice when they pass by an unprepossessing building located not far from the Martha’s Vineyard Airport terminal. Inside that building, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, the men and women that staff the Dukes County Sheriff’s Department Communications Center calmly and professionally knit together the Island’s emergency response system.

Over the course of the past eight weeks the radio scanner in The Times newsroom rarely remained silent for very long. Most visitors might be surprised to learn how much goes on behind the scenes of their lovely vacation spot.

The calls run the gamut: An elderly person is ill and complaining of shortness of breath; there is a bike accident in the state forest and an individual is bleeding from the head; there is a three-car motor vehicle accident with “unknown injuries,” a woman can be heard screaming for help from a house; there are sheep in the road; a suspected shoplifter on Main Street; a caller has reported a driver swerving all over State Road headed up Island; a swimmer in trouble off State Beach; a driver is locked out of her car in the Stop & Shop parking lot; and on and on it goes: a smell of gas in a house elicits a visit from the fire department; a burglar alarm summons the police.

Every call is a precursor. Medical emergencies bring a quick response from the Island’s corps of dedicated, volunteer EMTs. Police rush from emergency call to emergency call. Several times over the course of the summer dive teams have mobilized and rushed to answer calls of swimmers and boaters in distress. Often, even before they arrive there is a happy ending. The call comes over the scanner: “swimmers on the beach, you can slow your response.” Nevertheless, every call is answered with the same vigor as the one before it.

One particularly busy summer day, ambulances were racing from town to town to provide mutual aid, the term used when one town summons help from another. Of course, mutual aid is the lifeblood of any small community. Although our population swells from about 17,000 in the winter to about 105,000 in the summer, our instincts are still that of a small community where neighbors look out for neighbors, even if they are only our neighbors for a week or two.

The end of the summer will not bring an end to emergency calls, only a let up in the volume. Hopefully, the men and women who have manned the front lines of the Island’s emergency response systems with be able to catch their collective breaths and find time to go to the beach. A tip of the hat to them all.

Farewell Mr. Obama

President Obama and his family have departed Martha’s Vineyard for Washington, D.C. He returns to many challenges. We trust that his time on the Vineyard provided him with a welcome respite and time to reflect on the course he must steer.

It appears he enjoyed his Island vacation. But it is hard to know. Mr. Obama remained well out of the public eye and showed little appetite for meeting the Island public, if even for a fleeting moment. Americans like their elected leaders to be personable, but unfortunately it may be a sign of the times. See you next year, Mr. President.

Although last winter was particularly severe both in its cold and snow cover, many Vineyarders complained early this summer that there were more ticks than ever. This is intriguing because the proliferation of these pests in earlier years was often ascribed to relatively mild winters. There may be other examples of such dubious assumptions, which have led to flawed proposals for controlling ticks.

The apparent contradiction of received wisdom about the arachnids reminded me of a campaign last year to reduce their number by slashing the Vineyard’s deer population (MV Times,  Aug. 29, 2013, “Sam Telford from Tufts talks tough on ticks”; Vineyard Gazette, Jan. 31, 2013). Although the main advocate for drastically reducing or extirpating deer, Sam Telford, has made a strong argument for re-approving the vaccine against the disease, which became yet another victim of our litigious culture when it was withdrawn from the market after lawsuits, my experience suggests that his direct linkage between the number of deer and cases of Lyme disease is weaker, and is based on a failure to compare different eco-systems.

Here’s the current doctrine: the main vector for Lyme disease is deer ticks — that much is certainly true — as Mr. Telford says, up to 94 percent of female ticks have fed on deer. This is where I become suspicious for a couple of reasons. First, because of the words “up to,” which indicate that there is a range. The second is because the specific numbers of both ticks and deer in such diverse environments as wetland forests and grasslands, and most importantly the ratio between them, is essential to understanding the true significance of any numbers, and the factors behind them. Ninety-four percent of 100 ticks per acre with two deer would be utterly different, to take an extreme example, in its impact on humans, than 94 percent of 10,000 ticks per acre with one deer.

My reasons for suspecting that Mr. Telford’s conclusions are based on an incomplete analysis are founded on decades of life outdoors on the Vineyard. Here’s what I’ve noticed. When my family and I walk along mown paths in oak forests between Menemsha and the Brickyard in June and July, we almost invariably pick up a few deer ticks, despite the fact that we can see for considerable distances under the trees, and deer are usually absent or sparse. But after 20 years and tens of thousands of hours of yard work and thrashing through brush in a sassafras, beech, maple and tupelo (Beetlebung) forest in Aquinnah during the same months, we have yet to pick up a single tick, although deer are visible all day long in an area with far more places to hide.

Mr. Telford might be tempted to respond that these observations are just the anecdotal experiences of one man and his family, but I’d suggest that the difference has been too great and consistent over decades to be easily dismissed. It would be wiser to find the reasons behind the observations than to dismiss them. Here’s my hypothesis.

The abundance of deer and near absence of ticks in Aquinnah’s lush wetland forest, and abundance of ticks despite a lower number of deer in Chilmark’s dry oak forest suggest that the differences go deeper than the relationship between deer and their parasites. In fact, it suggests that it has something to do with the types of forest. One of the chief differences between them is that oak forests produce more starch in the form of acorns that squirrels can hoard, leaving plenty for other rodents such as white-footed mice, which serve as the hosts for immature deer ticks. The mice are a crucial carrier of the ticks, which thrive, even when there aren’t many deer, if the rodents are plentiful.

The evidence from our forest in Aquinnah also suggests that the contrary is true — that the ticks nearly disappear when there are plenty of deer, but few mice. This difference has been so flagrant in my experience that I think the common term for Ixodes scapularis, “deer tick”, is a misnomer, which misdirects attention towards the wrong animal, just because it is a bigger and more obvious target. The ticks should probably be renamed the “white-footed mouse tick,” “oak tick,” or “acorn tick.”

This brings me to the question of good versus bad solutions. Mr. Telford “makes no bones that his primary short-term objective is to significantly reduce the deer population on the Island” by killing them. Perhaps he should watch a TED talk by Alan Savory in which Mr. Savory says that his greatest regret is that he told African governments to cull ten of thousands of elephants in order to manage their reserves, causing the extermination of 40,000 elephants, although his analysis turned out to be backwards.

There are two better ways to reduce the number of Ixodes scapularis on the Island than unleashing a shooting-fest, one of which is so well-known that I was surprised that Mr. Telford did not mention it. It involves the use of tickicide-treated rollers at passive feeding stations for white-tailed deer. According to Cornell University, study after study (Carroll et al 2002, Pound et al 2000, Pound et al 2000b, Solberg et al 2003) has shown large reductions in tick populations following the use of such devices.

Another entirely compatible solution would be to favor vegetation that does not produce surplus starch for mice. I imagine that this solution would be preferable to people who would rather see a few trees removed from their views, than the disappearance of deer, which provide the countryside with much of its charm.

If I were a hunter, and I am indirectly, in the sense that I have allowed specific hunters to hunt on my land, I would also be opposed to Mr. Telford’s plan, since it would result in the rapid reduction of the very deer hunters enjoy stalking. It might be fun at first, but would end up destroying a pastime that many people enjoy.

One thing I agree on with Mr. Telford is that the problem of Lyme disease and other tick-borne diseases is huge and must be addressed. The question is simply, how? The answer is probably to attack the problem in several ways at once. One way is to continue encouraging sustainable hunting, since it plays a positive role in maintaining the Island’s ecological balance. Another way that should be implemented simultaneously is to install feeding stations or salt licks with tickicide-treated rollers in oak forests and other infested environments. A third one is to favor vegetation that does not encourage the proliferation of mice and their ticks. The fourth way, which Mr. Telford and I agree on whole-heartedly, is to push for the re-approval or improvement of the vaccine.

In the meantime, we should be wary of listening to any calls to manage nature through destructive intervention or violence, since such approaches have caused enormous unintended consequences in the past.

Duncan Caldwell is a Fellow at theMarine and Paleobiological Research Institute of Vineyard Haven and a Lecturer in prehistory, Doctoral module, Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle, Paris.