Editorial

Many of us capped off an orgy of national election coverage by watching, in solitude or in the company of friends, results trickle and then cascade in to eager newsreaders with dazzling maps and tote boards. Pleased by the actual results we saw or not, one can’t help but be thankful that this expensive, nasty, polarizing sideshow of national and statewide elections has passed for another season. And by contrast, we should all take a moment to thank our lucky stars for the humble, sincere fashion in which local candidacies are carried out.

National mud wrestling

There’s something deeply disturbing about recent national elections where the mood of the voters is most often characterized as anger accompanied by hugely low regard for politicians of all stripes and the political process they control. Daily breathless media coverage sealed the deal: another expensive election cycle of carefully packaged empty calories, much heat, and precious little light.

One might have hoped that collective disenchantment would bring us together — steely-eyed populists in huge numbers, making common cause to take government back from the ideologues and hacks and their cynical moneyed handlers. Instead, we remain pliant and adjust our expectations downward yet again.

These bitterly frustrating campaigns invariably result from the politics of choreographed gridlock — politician- and media-speak for the strategy of cheerfully keeping anything from happening if we don’t get our way. The result is a congressional approval rating of 9 percent, with no plan to do better for the country in sight. Our lack of engagement shows, too. Voter turnout, at around 37 percent, was the worst it’s been since 1942. As a national electorate, we may just be giving up.

Contrary to our self-mythology, this style of American politics is deeply ingrained in our democracy. A recent review by Nicholas Lemann (professor and former Dean of the Columbia School of Journalism) of historian Richard Hofstadter’s 50-year-old book Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (Columbia Journalism Review, September 2014) helps put our national political spectacle in fascinating historic context.

Whatever one surmises from his title, Hofstadter isn’t proposing that we’re locked in political struggles between smart elites and vulgar commoners; he’s identifying a permanent tension in American democracy between those who see “the continuing process of compromise” as the prize, and those who are “comfortable in the complete self-assurance …of ideologically driven politics” and an insistence on total victory. Those who “shun ultimate showdowns and look upon the ideal of total partisan victory as unattainable” have rarely held sway for very long.

Our political history is one of long periods of strident polarization punctuated by occasional (and grudging) breakthroughs of compromise. As long as we allow it, the politics of ideology and absolute right will trump compromise and leadership every time.

Vineyard dignity

By contrast, consider that contests for Island-wide office on Martha’s Vineyard proceed with a quiet dignity worth celebrating. For the most part we actually experience governance without politics.

Doing the people’s business is of course very labor-intensive, dependent on unpaid, pragmatic volunteers without regard for political prospects to fill positions on several dozen elected and appointed boards and bodies. Given the tasks they take on and the scrutiny they are subject to, it seems miraculous that folks show up to stand for office at all.

Our candidates strike a modest bargain with us: for tasks mostly mundane and often frustrating and conflicting, we neighbors will do our best to find consensus and craft compromise, because these chores need doing and we think we can help. And because we make rules and reach decisions literally in front of one another, we will do our best to remember our commitment to represent the entire community and not narrow ideas.

Performance, of course, matters, and we as a community newspaper — along with lots of interested citizens — assure close critical observation. We can all be thankful, though, because the prevailing modesty of the candidacies and the campaigns we see, and the inclusive and balanced policies and plans we expect, are important measures of a healthy civic culture. We may not always get it right, or get it quickly enough, but we try to favor compromise and inclusivity over simply winning. It’s a happy respite from the larger partisan culture that surrounds us.

In the Rime of the Ancient Mariner, by English poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the sailor cursed because he shot a friendly albatross that had brought his crew good luck describes the plight he and his shipmates faced becalmed under the broiling sun on a breathless sea: “Water, water, every where, And all the boards did shrink; Water, water, every where, Nor any drop to drink.”

Future generations of Islanders may not find themselves quite in the predicament of the Ancient Mariner, but there is no question that the decisions Vineyarders make today will help determine the quality of water everywhere — the coastal ponds that provide abundant shellfish, the aquifer that supplies all our drinking water, and the ocean waters that sustain our local fisheries.

In an OpEd published in this week’s issue, “Smart wastewater management needed,” Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) executive director Mark London pinpoints the problem as nitrogen pollution.

Mr. London writes, “Most of the so-called manageable portion of the excess nitrogen — that is, the part that doesn’t come from air pollution — is caused by wastewater, or to be more specific, urine being flushed down tens of thousands of toilets, getting into the groundwater, and flowing into the ponds.”

It is not a pretty picture, but it is not one we can easily flush away. Mr. London, head of the Island’s regional permitting and planning agency, sketches out the problem and hints at some remedies, all expensive, like new technologies, restrictions on development, possible limits on bedrooms.

Next Thursday, November 20, the MVC will host a presentation by Paul Niedzwiecki, executive director of the Cape Cod Commission, on his agency’s planning efforts to protect the quality of Cape water systems. “This will give us a head start in our discussions about how best to proceed, from extending sewers and using alternative technologies, to regulatory reforms and monitoring,” Mr. London said. “How can we minimize costs, and what are potential sources of financing?”

Mr. London is correct that now is the time to begin grappling with the problem. The MVC deserves credit for taking a leadership role.

The challenge will be how to engage all stakeholders: businesspeople who rely on Island tourism, members of the construction trades, and young people increasingly priced out of a rapidly aging Island need to buy into the process.

There is nothing glamorous about the language of wastewater management. The issue has its aficionados, but for most of us, the terminology is mind-numbing. Taxpayers, who will pay the bills, and voters, who will approve the options, will need to understand the issues.

The history of the Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, and Tisbury wastewater treatment plants is instructive. In each case, quicker action and less foot-dragging would have meant lower capital costs in the long run.

The fear that sewering would open the door to unchecked growth and development has also led to some poor decision-making. In Tisbury, in order to appease opposition to a town sewer system from some community members, the town built a smaller version with a limited capacity to handle only a certain number of downtown properties, so that it would be “growth-neutral.”

Choking growth is not practical and it is not a solution. Many in Tisbury now think it was a mistake not to build more capacity into its system as the town looks for ways to reduce nitrogen loading into Tashmoo and the Lagoon. Oak Bluffs is also faced with too little capacity for too big a problem.

In his introduction to the 21-page executive summary of the The Cape Cod Commission’s updated Water Quality Plan, Mr. Niedzwiecki wrote, “But as one community we are at the crossroads of our environment and our economy. The cost of doing nothing is economically devastating to every Cape homeowner. The window is closing on our opportunity to solve this problem on our terms, sensitive to the diverse villages and neighborhoods that populate this peninsula.”

Next Thursday, Islanders and town leaders have an opportunity to hear how their Cape neighbors are approaching the problem of protecting water quality.

Strike three

Last week, yet again, a Superior Court judge told the Dukes County commissioners they are wrong. Is the third time the charm? We will see, but there is little reason to be optimistic that they will stop doing the same thing over and over again and hoping for a different result.

In 2005, Superior Court Judge Robert H. Bohn ruled that the legislation establishing the airport commission trumped the county charter, and the airport commission alone is empowered to expend its own funds to pay salaries.

In August, Associate Justice Richard J. Chin said the county could not place the county manager on the airport commission as a non-voting member. He also told the county treasurer to pay the airport bills and not to meddle in airport affairs.

Last week, Judge Chin told the county commissioners they could not increase the size of the airport commission from seven to nine members. In each case, Judge Chin issued temporary restraining orders but told the county that while they were free to proceed to trial they would most likely lose.

The county wants to mediate. Mediate what?

Art Smadbeck, Edgartown selectman and chairman of the County Advisory Board (CAB), which is responsible for overseeing the county budget, summed up the issue of the county-airport legal battle succinctly at a meeting held last week to discuss a county request for more money to throw after bad to pay the county’s lawyer.

“This was an airstrike the county called in on itself,” Mr. Smadbeck said of the lawsuit that continues to consume taxpayer dollars. How perfectly Mr. Smadbeck described it.

Of course, what Mr. Smadbeck meant is that the county commissioners could and should have easily foreseen that their actions to bring the county-appointed airport commission to heel would precipitate a lawsuit.

Instead, the county commissioners chose to ignore the terms of the funding guarantees that provided the airport with millions in state and federal dollars; they chose to ignore a 2005 decision by Superior Court Judge Robert H. Bohn that upheld the statutory authority of the airport commission; and they chose to ignore an August 7 decision by Associate Justice Richard Chin in which he ruled for 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.

And if that was not enough, for good measure, on September 24 the county commission added another bull’s-eye when it expanded its appointed airport commission from seven to nine members. The bald-faced expansion, intended to tip the scales, attracted the attention of the Massachusetts Division of Transportation Aeronautics Division, which demanded an immediate explanation from the county commission chairman of the rationale behind the vote.

Following the county vote to expand, county commission chairman Lenny Jason Jr. declared that he expected to be sued. To no one’s surprise, the airport commission promptly sued the county commission to stop the expansion.

Last week, Mr. Jason, who has been in the thick of the county-airport fight, expressed astonishment at Mr. Smadbeck’s analogy. Mr. Smadbeck was uncowed. “When you make certain decisions, Lenny, that you know are going to get you into court, you are going to have legal bills.”

Edgartown, which pays the largest share of the county budget assessment, $179,386, has every reason to take an interest in county expenditures.

The CAB, made up of one selectman from each town, met last Wednesday because the county needs more money in its legal budget to shore up its legal defense and fight the challenge to its expansion of the airport commission. The meeting between the CAB and county commission, available for viewing on MVTV, the Island’s public access cable television channel, provided some reassuring moments for taxpayers who may despair at the sheer waste of their hard-earned dollars. The CAB rose to its fiduciary responsibility and quizzed the county commissioners on the details of the legal spending.

CAB member Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter, a West Tisbury selectman who watches tax dollars as though he was spending his own money, a welcome trait in an elected official, said he did not “believe in spending any more taxpayer dollars on this issue,” nor did he think it makes any difference to the people “which side wins or loses.”

But it does to Mr. Jason and his wingman, county commissioner Tristan Israel, who asked the CAB to keep funding the county defense, at least until the next ruling from Judge Chin. That would be the same Judge Chin who said in August that he granted the preliminary injunction based on his view that the airport commission has shown “a likelihood of success on the merits.”

CAB member Bill Rossi, a Chilmark selectman, added another voice of reason, rightly pointing out that in three months the county commissioners would have the opportunity, when airport commission terms expire, to make appointments. “You don’t have to spend any money if you appoint the right people,” Mr. Rossi said. Good advice for a government body that in the past has spurned well-qualified people in favor of those it imagined would toe the county line.

But do not look for the soap opera to end soon. One brief exchange promised more to come. Dukes County treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders, whose refusal to pay airport invoices in a timely manner and without interfering in airport affairs, and who was the subject of one of Judge Chin’s preliminary injunctions, told Mr. Smadbeck that she would need to spend money to defend her authority. If the CAB refused to spend the money, she said, “there will be another lawsuit.”

At one point in the meeting, Mr. Manter reminded the county commissioners that the CAB had said it would only authorize payment of legal bills incurred prior to October 7.

“Do you believe the county should just walk away from the lawsuit?” Mr. Jason asked.

The obvious answer is yes. But if this issue rested on the obvious, the county commissioners would not be embroiled in this battle.

Daniel Wolf for State Senate

Daniel A. Wolf (D) of Harwich, the founder and CEO of Cape Air, has proven to be a responsive and accessible state senator for the Cape and islands.

Michael O’Keefe for District Attorney

District attorney for the Cape and Islands Michael D. O’Keefe of Sandwich, a Republican, was first elected in 2002. A former front line prosecutor with experience gained in the Dukes County Courthouse, he understands the issues that concern Islanders.

Dukes County Commission

With only four names on the ballot for seven open seats on the Dukes County Commission, and two declared write-in candidates, there is plenty of room for imagination. Former Gov. William F. Weld, who did his best to eliminate county government, would make an ideal write-in candidate.

Short of that, this page endorses the four declared candidates (John S. Alley of West Tisbury, Leon Brathwaite II of West Tisbury, Tristan Israel of Tisbury, and David Holway of Edgartown) and two write-in candidates (Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs, and Gretchen Tucker Underwood of Oak Bluffs) with the fervent hope that they will stop meddling in airport affairs, which is at the heart of a current lawsuit by the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission, and recognize that their ability to influence airport management begins and ends with their power to appoint the best candidates to the airport commission.

Martha’s Vineyard Commission

Unfortunately, for a regional government body that could benefit from some fresh perspectives — evidenced by the recent grueling hour-long discussion over a state request to place solar lights on the new Oak Bluffs fishing pier — there is no contest here. Nine candidates appear on the official ballot, which instructs voters to vote for not more than nine candidates. There are only two new names, Abraham Seiman of Oak Bluffs, and Robert Doyle of Chilmark, on the ballot.

Up-Island Regional School District school committee

The Up-Island Regional School district is comprised of the West Tisbury School, which has an operating budget of $5,912,187 and 290 students, and the Chilmark School, which has an operating budget $1,210,038 and enrollment of 61 students. Total spending this year will total $7,122,225.

That money represents a considerable taxpayer investment in education, in large part by seasonal residents with no children in the school system.

On Tuesday, voters in Aquinnah, Chilmark, and West Tisbury will elect five people to four-year terms on the Up-Island school committee which is responsible for overseeing school spending.

The three candidates, one from each town, who receive the highest vote totals in Tuesday’s balloting will each represent his or her town. The two candidates who receive the next highest vote totals will be elected as at-large members, regardless of where they live.

Only the names of incumbents Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter and Michael Marcus, both of West Tisbury, appear on the ballot. Each deserves to be reelected.

Mr. Manter is a fiscal watchdog who looks out for the interests of the taxpayer.

Mr. Marcus, a businessman, has an understanding of the district’s often complicated affairs. He has three children in the up-Island district and a vested interest in its success.

Additionally, this page endorses the elections of the following write-in candidates.

Kate DeVane of West Tisbury, the mother of nine-year-old twins, is a former elementary school teacher and the president and co-founder of the Island Autism Group.

Robert Lionette of Chilmark is on the personnel subcommittees of the regional high school and all-Island school committees. His son attends Chilmark School.

Theresa Manning of Aquinnah is a co-coordinator for the Dukes County Youth Task Force, a coalition of over 50 community members that promotes community-wide health and wellness for youth and families to reduce substance use and other risky behaviors. Her son attends West Tisbury School.

Yes onQuestion 1

With a yes vote, voters have an opportunity to eliminate the requirement that the state’s gasoline tax, which was 24 cents per gallon as of September 2013, be adjusted every year by the percentage change in the Consumer Price Index over the preceding year, but not be adjusted below 21.5 cents per gallon. In other words, it could go up but not go down.

Islanders already pay approximately $1 more per gallon than their mainland counterparts. The argument that a yes vote would jeopardize bridge and road repair is without merit. Lawmakers need to spend our money wisely. And if lawmakers need more money they should be required to ask for it and vote on it.

No on Question 2

There is no good reason to extend the bottle deposit law to cover all liquid drinks except milk, alcohol, baby formula, and medicines. The proposed law would increase the minimum handling fee and be subject to adjustment to reflect changes in the consumer price index. It would also set up a state Clean Environment Fund subject to appropriation by the Legislature, “to support programs such as the proper management of solid waste, water resource protection, parkland, urban forestry, air quality and climate protection.” It would be another cookie jar. Massachusetts must grapple with ways to increase recycling in a comprehensive manner.

No onQuestion 3

In 2011, Massachusetts lawmakers opened the door to casino gambling to bolster their tax coffers because they were incapable of finding new, creative ways to revive the state’s economy. Casinos were low-hanging fruit. Yes, casinos will create construction jobs in the short term, and yes they will create service jobs. Casinos will also create many problems. Legalized casino gambling is a form of pie-in-the-sky taxation on the most vulnerable. But it is unrealistic to expect that people will not gamble. The two current locations in Springfield and Everett seem well suited to casinos. Hopefully, the economic incentive to build a third casino in southeastern Massachusetts as allowed by law will disappear.

No onQuestion 4

The existing law is sufficient to protect workers. This law would create another layer of regulation and costs for small businesses in Massachusetts.

The Steamship Authority members Tuesday agreed to a management recommendation and hiked passenger fares, auto excursion fares, and Falmouth parking rates in order to close a $1,900,000 hole in the 2015 operating budget. Get used to it, because without some dramatic change in the boatline’s business model, increased costs can be expected to press on rates in the future.

There is a new Woods Hole terminal to pay for, estimated to cost between $40 and $60 million, and a new passenger/vehicle vessel, estimated cost $43 million. Add to that increases in employee compensation and you get the picture.

The SSA benefits from a business model that any private enterprise would envy. Keep doing what you are doing and when you run short charge your customers, who have no choice but to rely on your services, more for your services. And if there is an abundance of customers, well, they can always wait.

On October 14, the SSA reverted to its fall schedule. Only no one told the scores of people who still wanted to come and go that their lives needed to revert to a fall schedule. As a result, at the Vineyard Haven terminal several days last week it looked more like a day in August than October,  as lines of drivers in vehicles waited in standby for a chance to depart.

Presumably, the Authority can use its reservation system to gauge demand in advance and recognize the need to add additional capacity. More nimbleness is needed to meet the demand.

Tuesday, Wayne Lamson, the SSA’s genial general manager, said he would examine the schedule to see how the problem might be addressed. Islanders would welcome some relief.

Of course, Islanders want to have their cake and eat it too. They complain about traffic and want the SSA to limit (other people’s) cars — recall Tisbury pressing the SSA to limit the use of the Island Home’s lift decks — but want to be able to come and go when they want to come and go.

What is not clear is what if anything the SSA board intends to do to address the future, other than continue on the same course of rate hikes and more congestion at Five Corners. The more short-sighted among us will call for the burden of paying for SSA service to fall ever more heavily on seasonal visitors. But there is a breaking point, even for the golden geese, who may decide to fly elsewhere in the summer.

Tuesday, Island SSA member Marc Hanover expressed concern about budget shortfalls in the following years and what could be done to break the cycle of rate hikes, but he offered no guidance. It is time for the board to undertake some strategic planning and think big and think creatively.

In an OpEd published October 16, 2013, “Move the Steamship auto and traffic,” former Island SSA member J.B. Riggs Parker offered one approach. “Move the big boat car and truck traffic down Beach Road beyond the R. M. Packer Company complex so that cars and trucks would disembark in two possible directions — to Oak Bluffs or back to Tisbury. This would ameliorate the jam-up at Five Corners and facilitate travel for those heading to Oak Bluffs,” he said.

Mr. Parker recommended the existing SSA terminal in Tisbury be used to accommodate pure passenger vessels in a reconfigured fleet that would cease to rely on “birthday cake” giants like the Island Home. It is a fresh, though not new, concept.

What we have not heard is any discussion of any concepts, old or new, by the SSA members, who are responsible for setting the boatline’s future course. The time is right for a fresh look.

There are professional organizations that could examine the SSA’s business and operating models, analyze boatline strengths and weaknesses and make recommendations for the future that could provide a set of new compass points. Now is the time to look for new strategies.

Cheers for the Derby

The 69th Martha’s Vineyard Striped Bass and Bluefish Derby concluded Sunday with a dramatic and exciting awards ceremony under the big top at the Farm Neck Golf Club. It is no small accomplishment to keep any enterprise in business for almost seven decades.

Over the past five weeks, fresh fish was distributed to Island elderly — much of that bounty was caught by elder fishermen — prizes were distributed, and fishermen or all ages and backgrounds had a good time. And once again, at graduation time this spring the Derby will award four four-year scholarships to regional high school graduates. Not bad for a fishing tournament.

Registrations in the five-week fishing marathon set a new record of 3,282. Not all those fishermen walked into the weigh station, or even caught fish, but the Derby is about so much more than the many prizes distributed in a variety of categories. At its best it celebrates the natural bounty and beauty of the Island, the camaraderie of shared purpose and community. For fishermen and non-fishermen, the Derby is an event that has become a part of our Island culture. The all-volunteer committee that manages the whole affair is to be congratulated on a job well done.

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.

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.