Editorial

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It is that time of the year when we ask, what do we get for our county tax dollars? Reporting on the annual county spending plan can be yawn inspiring, but it is wise to ask the Dukes County commissioners and the Dukes County advisory board that question. It lets them know we are interested.

The problem is too few taxpayers ask the question. The county budget has become the spindly rhododendron in the yard that you water, and not because it generates many flowers, or is even attractive. It is in the yard and you don’t want to dig it up and move it, or cut it, so you water it.

Dukes County taxpayers will chip in $500,000 to fund the $1.5 million county budget that begins with the new fiscal year on July 1. Their sizeable contribution will come in the form of individual town assessments.

Unlike a town budget that appears on an annual town meeting warrant and is reviewed on town meeting floor where interested voters (too few, we think) may question department spending, the county budget process occurs pretty much out of sight, and far from the consciousness of most taxpayers. County money comes right off the top of the tax dollar pot.

As Steve Myrick reports in this week’s issue, on May 21 the county advisory board (CAB) approved the county budget. The CAB, made up of one selectman from each town, rejected a hike in the assessment each town pays to the county and requested the county return $150,000 to the towns from surplus county funds. It was a good start.

Under the equalized valuation formula, Edgartown taxpayers this year paid $179,374. Chilmark, with the next highest assessment, paid $89,687, followed by Oak Bluffs ($69,825), Tisbury ($69,331), West Tisbury ($64,644) and Aquinnah ($18,998). That’s a lot of dough.

The need to reference county as opposed to Island taxpayers rests on the town of Gosnold, which includes Cuttyhunk, the one portion of the Elizabeth Islands that is inhabited year-round. It is part of Dukes County.

If Island taxpayers ought to question what they get for their money, how about the residents of Gosnold, who will be asked — no, strike that — told to chip in $6,908. It is not a lot of money, but it is likely that the fewer than 100 people who live on the islands year round would prefer to take that money and send out for pizza several times over the long winter months. That would at least provide something for their tax dollars they could bite into.

Longtime Edgartown selectman and finance board chairman Art Smadbeck has worked hard over the years to pare the county budget. Smart and ever optimistic, Mr. Smadbeck sees the county glass as half full.

Asked by Mr. Myrick what taxpayers will receive from the $1.5 million county spending plan, Mr. Smadbeck described the need to water the plant.

“We have a political entity that we’ve all inherited, that costs money to operate,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “It costs less money today than it used to cost. We’ve been getting the cost down. The value of the political entity is just that, it’s a political entity that can be used for rescuing the MSPCA if that’s necessary. It’s a regional entity that can be used for regional purposes such as finding a home for the Center for Living. Statutorily, we have to have the county, we have to pay for the county.”

Of the fourteen counties in Massachusetts that made it to the administration of Governor William Weld (1991-1997), four county governments were abolished outright. Five transformed into regional councils of government. Only Bristol, Dukes, Nantucket, Norfolk and Plymouth county governments remained substantially unchanged.

Asked the same question as Mr. Smadbeck, Melinda Loberg, newly elected Tisbury selectman and former county commissioner, ticked off veterans services, the county treasurer’s accounting services, and the parking clerk. And initiatives, nominally under the county umbrella. She also emphasized the benefit of the county structure which, she said, “will provide an opportunity for towns when they choose to do so, to work together like we’re hoping to do with the Center for Living.”

Of course, Island towns are capable of providing regional services and funding regional programs and even crafting inter-municipal agreements outside the county umbrella.

In recent weeks, determined to do what no county manager before her has done before and show the county has a useful purpose, county manager Martina Thornton has been making the rounds of selectmen meetings to seek support for special legislation that would allow the county to organize the regional purchase, funded with town dollars, of the former Vineyard Nursing Association building, now on the market for $1.6 million, for use by the Martha’s Vineyard Center for Living.

The Center for Living is an Island-wide organization that offers care and services for residents aged 55 and over, including a supportive day program for frail elders, as well as Alzheimers and dementia patients. The building is too large for their needs, but there is the thought that excess space could be rented out to help pay the freight.

There is no question that the center should have a permanent home. There is a question whether the VNA building is the right building and whether the county, or an Island social service organization should organize a purchase. It is not too early to ask questions.

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Five years ago, Yvonne (Berube) Sylvia of Edgartown walked into the office of The Martha’s Vineyard Times carrying a large blue scrapbook. On the cover was a piece of tape, on which she had written: “Brother Edmund J. Berube. Born August 18, 1918. Killed March 3, 1945.”

The book, its pages frail and yellowed over time, contained photos, letters, documents and clippings Mrs. Sylvia had assembled to preserve the memory of her brother and to document his accomplishments.

By all accounts, Edmund Berube was a gifted athlete who excelled at track and basketball. He co-captained Edgartown High School’s 1935-36 championship basketball team and was president of his senior class. He worked at the Colonial Drug Store, owned by Len Henrickson.

He entered the Massachusetts College of Pharmacy in the spring of 1941. Just as in high school, Mr. Berube was very popular with his classmates and was elected president of his senior class. He expected to finish college and to return to Edgartown to work at the Colonial Drug Store.

As the fighting on all the war’s fronts grew in intensity, there was a dire need for men with the type of medical training provided by the College of Pharmacy. In 1943, Mr. Berube and the 72 other members of the class of 1944 learned that there would be no break, but that they would attend classes and graduate on October 27 as part of an accelerated wartime program.

Lewis Lappas of Boston, valedictorian of the first class of 1943, described the disruption the war had created in the professional and personal plans of his classmates as part of his graduation oration delivered that February. “We must lay aside our plans for further study, our hopes for marriage, for homes, for professional careers,” he said to his fellow graduates. “Undoubtedly these things will come to most of us in time, but not immediately; and they will come to none unless we gladly postpone them now in order to do our share in the re-creation of the kind of American world in which such things will again be possible.”

Two months after he received a bachelor of science degree in pharmacy, Mr. Berube joined the Navy.

The scrapbook contained 15 letters Mr. Berube sent to his sister between the time he arrived in the Pacific and landed on Iwo Jima with the Third Marine Division. The first envelope was dated October 7, 1944, the last, February 15, 1945.

Mr. Berube was with Marines who had already had experience fighting the Japanese. If he was worried or concerned because of what he had learned and consequently what he might expect, he never shared such anxious thoughts with his sister.

On February 13, five days before the first wave of Marines landed on the black volcanic soil of Iwo Jima, Mr. Berube sent his last letter to his sister. He criticized some of the movies shown to the troops but wrote not a word of the upcoming battle or non-stop bombardment of the island that he witnessed. He wrote about photos he recently received. “I really like your picture and also the one with Albert [her husband]. They really made me feel wonderful all over, it took me back to the days when you were in school in Boston and all the fun we had. That of course is one of the things we have to help us though blue days. I do not like to look back, but rather ahead to the future when everything can be done as you want and have your good times as normal humans. I hope some day I can walk into someplace out here and meet someone from Edgartown.”

Mr. Berube’s unit landed on Iwo Jima, on February 22. On March 3, a Japanese sniper shot Edmund Berube as he was crawling over a stone to help a wounded Marine. He was 26 years old and one of the 6,800 servicemen killed in a battle defined by its unrestrained ferocity.

At the request of his mother, his body was returned from Iwo Jima, in April 1948.

Edmund Berube is buried in Edgartown cemetery next to members of his family.

Last Tuesday, in Texas, Command Sgt. Maj. Martin R. Barreras, 49, of Tucson, Ariz., died at San Antonio Military Medical Center from wounds sustained when enemy forces opened fire on his unit May 6 in Herat province, Afghanistan.

Mr. Barreras was assigned to the 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Armored Division, Fort Bliss, Texas. He had completed several combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. In March 2013, Mr. Barreras was assigned as the senior enlisted adviser for the 2nd Battalion, 5th Infantry Regiment, and deployed to Afghanistan in December 2013.

Command Sgt. Maj. Barreras is survived by a wife, two daughters and a son.

His was the most recent combat death in a 13-year-old war that began in 2001 and has now claimed 2,322 lives and added to the sad weight of scrapbooks in homes across America.

Memorial Day is set aside for the nation to honor men and women who died in the military service of the country. On Monday most of us will go about the business of enjoying holiday activities but it would be well, if even for a moment, to remember the sacrifice Memorial Day is meant to commemorate.

On Thursday last week, in an email to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC), Stop & Shop withdrew its application to construct a new two-story, 30,500-square-foot market in place of the cramped, stale building it now occupies in Vineyard Haven. It is likely that Stop & Shop executives read the tea leaves and decided that the MVC’s scheduled June 5 vote, always expected to be close, might not go their way.

But why withdraw? Wait one more month and you get to call and see the other fellow’s cards. A withdrawal earns no MVC bonus points next time, if there is a next time.

After eight months in the Island’s salad spinner of a public permitting process it is understandable that Stop & Shop might wilt. Once upon a time they probably thought their willingness to invest in a moribund block of buildings, provide parking, jobs and contribute $1.1 million in various municipal enticements would be welcomed.

Whatever prompted the decision to withdraw it was not because Stop & Shop’s Dutch corporate bosses looked at Five Corners on Google Earth, or were moved by the comments of petitioners late to the fight. There was a corporate calculus in their decision. Whether it holds any benefit for Vineyard residents is still unknown.

Last week, opponents celebrated. Supporters groaned. And Stop & Shop resisted the urge to tell Vineyard Haven leaders their port entrance would remain as is with all the architectural charm of a Soviet-era block construction site for the next decade.

In a prepared statement, Joe Kelly, President of Stop & Shop New England, said, “Following the close of the public hearing on May 1, 2014, Stop & Shop has decided to request a withdrawal of the current proposal from the Martha’s Vineyard Commission to digest all of the comments, questions and concerns related to the project. Stop & Shop is a vested partner of this community, and will remain committed to evaluating alternatives to bring back life, vitality and character to the gateway of Martha’s Vineyard and to be the true anchor for the downtown area of the Town of Tisbury.”

Now is a good time to take stock. The MVC began the process of considering Stop & Shop as a development of regional impact (DRI) in July 2013. The review included eight public hearings (which consumed about 36 hours), six land use planning committee meetings (another 8 hours) and staff time (more than 800 hours). Tisbury selectmen spent many hours discussing the project and drawing up a memorandum of agreement that turned out to be no agreement. The planning board spent hours deciding it could not support the plan and the parking lot redesign committee came up with another parking lot redesign.

Ten months, hours upon hours of meetings and planning, additional pounds of studies, letters to the editor upon letters and what do we have to show for it today? Not much. A plan that failed to win the support of most Tisbury leaders and generated little enthusiasm among commission members. Lots of process, but not much of a result.

Tisbury and Island residents will benefit from a vibrant, new Stop & Shop and the additional jobs, competitive grocery pricing, and contributions to the community it could provide. Locating a parking and truck delivery lot on the bottom level remains a good idea.

Stop & Shop and the Water Street neighborhood is vital to the Tisbury community. Expecting Stop & Shop to solve every planning and traffic issue within a half-mile radius, and help fund those solutions and build a new market is an unfair burden to impose.

Now is not the time for town leaders to sit on the sidelines and wait for Stop & Shop to make the next move, whenever that might be. The Tisbury selectmen and planning board ought to take the lead and invite Stop & Shop representatives to sit down and work together to find a redesign that will win support. After 10 months, the status quo offers nothing.

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For many Islanders and certainly their seasonal neighbors, spring and the approach of the summer season, with its prospect of shedding the gray, wet, cold winter mantle — also known on the Vineyard as early spring — is a relief. It is exciting to imagine warm, sunny days and everything else the summer months offer.

But for one segment of the Vineyard population, this is the anxious season, as the weeks tick away and winter leases expire. It is the familiar Vineyard shuffle that individuals, couples, and families all too routinely make between affordable off-season rentals and high-priced summer housing, or no housing at all. And, as Jack Shea reports this week, a meeting Saturday at the Oak Bluffs Library, attended by many of those in the eye of the shuffle storm, explained that a strengthening economy has made finding summer housing much more difficult.

Jason Claypool and Mellisa Zaccaria organized the meeting. In a letter posted on social media, Ms. Zaccaria described the situation: “We have been homeless since Friday of last week and have been religiously searching through Facebook housing groups, both Vineyard newspapers, Craigslist, and word of mouth since before Christmas of last year. This is not due to a lack of money, but to a lack of housing opportunities.”

Mr. Shea reports that the group of attendees included many longtime Islanders, people with roots in the community, who now find themselves on the brink of seasonal homelessness.

Dukes County Regional Housing Authority executive director David Vigneault said that for several years the slowdown in the housing market added 50 to 60 rental units to the Vineyard stock. With the real estate market back, he said, many of those rental properties are off the market.

The solution is to create more year-round rentals. And not just for those who fall under median income thresholds. There is a need for quality year-round rental housing for members of this community who may exceed those income limits, but may, for a variety of reasons, be unable or not inclined to buy a house.

In a Letter to the Editor that appears on this page, Chelsea Counsell of Oak Bluffs, administrator of a social media group called “MV Home Solutions,” asks, “Why is Island housing so difficult to find?”

The answer lies in our resort economy. Land prices are high, construction costs are high and property owners, who have their own bills to pay, take advantage of summer to realize the most return on their investment.

Philippe Jordi, executive director of the Island Housing Trust, tells The Times he has been hearing about the rental shortage for months. “Now it is crunch time,” Mr. Jordi said, “and people are getting desperate.”

It is hard to imagine that the best efforts of the Island’s hard-working affordable housing advocates and nonprofit agencies would be able to meet the need any time in the near future. Increased taxpayer subsidies paid to landlords to bridge the affordability gap will not be enough and offer no long-term solution.

Mr. Jordi rightly points out that agencies like the Housing Authority target a specific problem. “The question really is,” Mr. Jordi said, “why don’t we have more market rate rentals, year-round? Why are we having such a problem with people who can pay, not being able to find rental units.”

Mr. Jordi suggest it is the marketplace at work. The numbers do not work. And few developers want to take on the added burdens of property management.

Island planning and housing leaders along with the Martha’s Vineyard Commission ought to invite private developers to sit down and describe what towns and the Island’s powerful regulatory agency might do — incentives, zoning changes, streamlined permitting —  to create an environment in which builders would create market-rate, year-round rental housing. The building trades are pillars of the Vineyard’s year-round and seasonal economy. Many of the members of that community may relish the opportunity to create housing they or their children might one day occupy.

In memoriam

At 11 am, this Saturday, Megan Leland, a member of the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School class of 2005, will help dedicate a black granite bench, bought with the help and support of the Island community. It will be set on the high school campus, between two flowering crabapple trees. It bears the inscription, “In loving memory of David Furino and Kevin H. Johnson, Class of 2005.”

With this effort, Ms. Leland will make good on a promise she made 10 years ago, following the deaths of her classmates in an auto accident, and she will affirm the tight bonds among members of the Vineyard community, in good times and bad. As students prepare for the prom this weekend, we are sadly reminded of the message printed on bumper stickers that appear on vehicles around the Island, a message that does not expire with the passage of time: “Buckle up for K.J. and Deebo.”

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Let’s put aside — just briefly, because that’s the best we can hope for — the hubbub of broadly and furiously expressed but narrowly based opposition to the Stop & Shop expansion proposal. Instead, this page believes that Islanders will be better served by an earnest, common sense struggle to consider the good and the not so good of this undeniably substantial and highly visible project.

It seems grandly unrealistic to argue that the new Stop & Shop will alter the character of the Vineyard or of Vineyard Haven. Like the Roundabout, which was deplored in the years leading to its construction as a death blow to Island-ness, the new grocery store will look very different from what is there today. The building will be much bigger than the dilapidated market it will replace. It will stand out by virtue of its scope and height by comparison with the buildings it will replace. But, it is not designed as a big box store like Cronig’s State Road Market. Rather the architectural effort has been to mute the building’s visual impact, and the designers have generally succeeded. What Stop & Shop will build to replace the current market, the restaurant next door, and the house — a rundown apartment building that has been exalted in this debate to historic registry status — will be better looking than anything else that now exists along the short stretch of Water Street on which it fronts. And, Island-ness will survive the alteration.

A bigger, better market will attract more customers, and certainly most of those new customers will drive to the store. Still, traffic studies do not suggest that the added auto traffic will crush the circulation of traffic along that jammed road, whose congestion is primarily the responsibility of Steamship Authority service at one end of Water Street and the mess that is Five Corners at the other — neither the responsibility of Stop & Shop. Stop & Shop plans to add more than 40 parking spots beneath the grocery store, an important plus in a neighborhood where parking is miserably difficult and scarce. The removal of big truck deliveries from the north side of the building will be an important improvement, making possible walking paths along the side of the building and landscaping to improve the appearance. The revision of the town parking lot will make it better looking and more efficient, welcoming, and useful for drivers, walkers, and cyclists than it is now.

The financial contributions Tisbury officials negotiated with Stop & Shop will help the town better manage parking and traffic in the neighborhood, and although $2 million would be better than $1 million, the agreed upon contributions will do some good, and the project as a whole — market expansion and parking lot revision, taken together — ought to stimulate Tisbury planners to take a hard-eyed look at what their zoning regulation has wrought along the corridor from the Steamship Authority terminal to the Lagoon Pond Drawbridge. That strip of devastation is a creature of town and regional planning. If the Stop & Shop project spurs a rethinking of Water Street-Beach Road development rules, with an eye to attracting business investment and creating an environment that pleases Islanders and their visitors, it will have done the town a great service. And if the town and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission would only undertake the planning and political effort to get the Steamship Authority out of town — because Stop & Shop makes sense in downtown Vineyard Haven, but the ferry terminal does not — well, that would be a bit of God’s work.

In sum, this is a good plan — not perfect, not perfectly in tune with every Islander’s world view, not a solution to every existing problem in the Water Street neighborhood, and certainly not a solution to every imaginable problem — but it will do some good for shoppers who will benefit from competition and choice, for businesses in the neighborhood who will consider fresh investment in an area that is rejuvenated, and for a town that has tolerated, and even enforced an attitude of dilapidation, but may recognize an opportunity for healthy change.

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For the umpteenth time in recent history, the Dukes County commissioners have demonstrated their latent but persistent determination to get their mitts on county airport management.

The commissioners declined the reappointment of two airport commissioners, using the fireworks over the dismissal of an airport employee as the pretext.

Airport management and its union employees have been feuding, and the airport commissioners and the Dukes County commissioners have a decades-old history of feuding. Here was an imagined opportunity for the county commissioners to enlarge their influence over the airport, which after all is the largest, indeed the only significant county asset.  So, the county commissioners spurned the re-appointment request from two of their former appointments to the airport commission. They did so against a backdrop of repeated chastisements – federal, state, and judicial – over attempts by the county to exercise authority over the airport, apart from the strictly limited authority to appoint airport commission members.

The county commissioners tossed two airport commissioners, one of them a county commissioner himself, and replaced them with a fresh county commissioner, perhaps unacquainted with the knotty history of airport-county relations, and with a former airport employee, a frequent and vocal critic of airport management, now on disability retirement and an organizer of airport employees to form a bargaining unit. He also served as shop steward.

You name the landmark county attributes — the criminal, civil, and probate courts, the registry of deeds, the sheriff’s department, the county-owned beaches, the airport — and none of them falls to the county to manage. Sometimes, toward Dukes County voters, God is good.

The Martha’s Vineyard Airport, which by statute is under the control of the appointed airport commission and its professional airport manager, accounts for more than half of the county budget. The county commissioners slaver over that solid financial enterprise, and they’d like to have a piece of it.

The sheriff’s office is now under state control. The registry of deeds and the office of the county treasurer are county departments headed by elected county officials who do not answer to the county manager. Each has direct control over their employees.

In terms of day-to-day supervision and responsibilities, the county manager oversees a total of just two people in three departments — her office, veterans affairs, and a fragment of  integrated pest management.

Until 1993, three elected, paid county commissioners presided over county government. In 1994, voters created a new form of county government that delegated general legislative powers to a seven-member board of unpaid commissioners and gave a county manager full control over the county administration. This enlargement of county administration anticipated an enlargement of the appetites of the six Island towns for more and better county government.

As it happened, what actually occurred was the amputation of county responsibilities, in part because of the county’s demonstrated inability to get things done rationally — the airport expansion fiasco, for example — and the state’s need to streamline its own budget relationship with county governments that were crumbling across the state — the sheriff’s department, for another. Plus, the towns, in their clear-eyed wisdom, asked for nothing from the county. Indeed, over time the county has shifted more and more of the costs of some of the shards of its legacy responsibilities to the towns.

Here is the latest moment offered to the towns and the voters to take steps to sunset this government charade and not to countenance county’s ham-handed intrusion in the business of the only dependably functioning and financially successful county enterprise.

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You may remember an Essay by Dr. Henry Nieder, [Medical marijuana, mostly a fiction, November 14, 2013] discussing the issues presented to physicians by the law allowing marijuana dispensaries in Massachusetts.

“I had hoped,” he wrote, “that when medical marijuana was approved in Massachusetts the provisions of the law would have allowed only limited prescribing of the drug. Unfortunately the Massachusetts law, after naming the serious diseases such as advanced cancer and multiple sclerosis, in which a marijuana prescription could be considered, then says but also may be prescribed for ‘other conditions as determined in writing by a qualified patient’s physician.’”

Dr. Nieder, skeptical about the new state law and about its implementation and particularly the role of physicians in certifying use by patients, added, “If other states that have legalized medical marijuana are examples, then the majority of prescriptions for marijuana will not be for patients who have grave medical diseases but for patients with diagnoses such as anxiety, chronic insomnia, and chronic pain. These patients will for the most part be requesting prescriptions because using marijuana makes them feel better.

“Prescribing medications is complicated. To do it as safely as possible, doctors must know effective doses and duration of effect so that they can determine the correct initial dose and frequency of use with the original prescription and then can adjust in a logical fashion if the dose requires adjustment. Prescribed marijuana has no reliable dosage. In states with legal medical marijuana, patients are generally advised to adjust the amount of marijuana they purchase to obtain the desired result and to repeat the dose as needed. That is no different than buying marijuana on the street and being told to stop smoking when you feel the way that you want to feel.”

Massachusetts, mired in the throes of permitting dispensaries across the state —  and, as the process continues in fits and starts, curiously reminiscent of the disappointing complications attached to the permitting of casino gambling in the state, also pursuant to new law — has made a wise move. The state has become the first in the nation to require physicians to take a course — at least two hours of instruction — before being allowed to certify or recommend marijuana use to their patients. Certification is the mechanism that state law employs to govern the interaction between patients and physicians when marijuana is at issue, because prescriptions may only be written for Federal Drug Administration approved medications by physicians following appropriate guidelines for diagnosis and prescribing. Not every physician will participate in certifying patients for marijuana purchase and use, but at least those who choose to do so will have the opportunity to learn whatever there is to be learned about how it might be wisely done.

 

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The ownership claim made by Ben Ramsey and Nisa Counter to a portion of Chilmark property owned by Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation is meritless. The state Land Court decided the matter this month. The court found no substance at all to the Ramsey-Counter position. Not on any grounds.

The judge examined the long, complicated history of ownership of the disputed land and concluded that Ramsey-Counter had no record ownership of the Sheriff’s Meadow land they claimed, or even to a portion of it. Sheriff’s Meadow, the plaintiff in the case, which dates to 2010, offered a “persuasive and correct interpretation of the boundary and chain of title” to its property.

The judge, considering the Ramsey-Counter secondary argument that even if they did not have record title to the property they might legally claim it by adverse possession, said no. Ramsey-Counter had not possessed the land, had not made actual, normal, open, notorious, and adverse use of the property for 20 years, the judge found.

In the news report of the Land Court decision on mvtimes.com, readers will find a link to the complete text of the Land Court’s decision. It is pretty dense, and too few will read it. And anyhow, while the substance of this long, vicious battle was never in doubt, the collateral damage — perpetuated by social media commentators — continues. Superficially, the attacks by Ramsey-Counter partisans appear to be intended to do damage to Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation and sunder the organization from its principles. Really, the vile and baseless criticisms do far greater harm to their authors.

If the issue was, Do Ramsey-Counter have a legitimate claim on the land?, the matter is settled. If the issue was, Sheriff’s Meadow ought to have acquiesced before an attempt to extort real estate from a nonprofit conservation organization, whose obligation is to protect the property it has acquired through purchase or gift, and to do it though sub rosa vilification and misrepresentation, then there never was an issue. No right-thinking person, never mind a responsible, historic, nonprofit conservation organization, would sign on to that sort of behavior.

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The collapse of the Vineyard Nursing Association (VNA) has not been fully accounted for. It is not enough to say merely, as its leaders have in terse – just the facts – terms that it has closed its doors and that in disappearing it did a good job of protecting its patients and employees from harm. There have actually been no facts, no forthright description of how this longstanding and cherished organization got itself into a mess that made it unable to continue, unable to meet its obligations to its customers, employees, and vendors, and unwilling even to tell its supporters and donors, in detail, what happened.

Important nonprofit organizations that perform valuable services to this community, that beg annually for private and public financial support from Islanders and taxpayers elsewhere – and get it – owe not only to the donors but to the community at large a complete explanation.

It is important that the leadership of VNA do so, because the Island community was enormously invested in this organization and in many cases depended upon it. It is important in a broader sense, because there are lessons to be learned. This page has often remarked upon what has too often been the case in important private and public Island organizations – namely weak, inexperienced, informal, casual, and self-referential governance. And, we have argued that leaders of such organizations are ultimately and completely responsible. They need training in the practice of good and demanding governance, and that such training often needs to be found off-Island, where it is available and helpful. There is something to be learned about governance from the VNA mess and the decision making of those entrusted with the responsibility for the organization’s conduct.

How is it that the management and, especially the board, of the VNA failed to see the consequences of reimbursement changes that would damage the organization’s revenues? How is it that it failed to move early to adjust for those changes? How is it that, as these changes occurred and the implications became apparent, the VNA chose to commit itself to an expensive new headquarters, for which the rationale was the coming expansion of demand for home care services that, alas, the VNA will now never provide? How is it that an effort to sell to the Cape Cod nursing agency collapsed and the efforts to find a lifeline, first from Martha’s Vineyard Hospital and then from Martha’s Vineyard Community Services, were unavailing?

It is understandable that the Cape outfit accepts no obligation to explain to Islanders why it decided not to buy the VNA after announcing that it would. It is not understandable that the leadership of the VNA should remain silent.

Those questions must be answered by Michael A. Goldsmith, chairman of the VNA and a lawyer; Patti Young, secretary; Jack Law, vice president; Mort Fearey, treasurer; and members Allen Keith, Karen Kennedy, Ursula Kreskey, Diane Nordin, Joan Coles Potter, Edie Radley, and Robert Tonti, the operating face of the organization, who styled himself its CEO, a term more familiarly used in the context of a Fortune 500 corporation.

VNA has collapsed, but its responsibility to the Vineyard community remains.

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Roger Wey has been a popular and successful politician. Oak Bluffs selectman, Dukes County commissioner, Martha’s Vineyard Commission member, road race organizer and a familiar face among the race runners — an empathetic, engaging, enduring public servant. In his private life, he’s a roofing contractor. Now, and for several years, he has been the well paid appointed manager of the town Council on Aging. He was not awarded that post because of a long and distinguished record of public management, but rather because he is a well-known and well-liked Oak Bluffs personality who was affectionately regarded by many and thought by the selectmen to have something more to give, if the assignment came with some job security. All of this remains true.

What is also true is that, based upon the investigations by the Oak Bluffs Police, Oak Bluffs town accountant Arthur Gallagher, and town labor counsel John M. Collins, the financial affairs and record keeping of the Council on Aging are a mess. Mr. Wey, not accused of self-dealing or financial crimes, is nevertheless responsible for the management and oversight of all that goes on at the Council on Aging, including the bookkeeping and the agency’s compliance with established municipal accounting requirements and state law. The town needs to get to the bottom of the bookkeeping and record keeping mess, and Mr. Wey, who has, perhaps acting out of long experience as an elected, independent town officer, appears to have conducted the Council’s affairs in his own genial and informal way, with considerable disregard for some financial management obligations that ultimately must be corrected.

Toward this end, Mr. Wey, wounded by his suspension from the job and the criticism of his management of the Council, appears to be nursing a bitter antagonism toward the selectmen and their chairman, Walter Vail, whose job it is to get at the problems and see that they are fixed. Mr. Wey is also nurturing hostility by his partisans who, in the ignoble but inflamed political DNA of Oak Bluffs, charge personal vendettas and argue that the examination of Council on Aging accounts ought to be conducted behind closed doors rather than in public.

Mr. Wey, from his long public service, knows that such arguments are unpersuasive and must not prevail. The problems, whatever they are, are the public’s problems, the taxpayers’ problems, and the town chief executives’ — that is, the selectmen’s — problems, and they need to be publicly addressed and cleared away. After all, whatever has been happening with the Council on Aging’s books has been happening for years. The selectmen ought to have been on top of it. The town’s administrator and accountant have now brought the matter to light. It’s the selectmen’s job to straighten the mess out.

Indeed, what Mr. Wey’s experience as selectman and county officer ought to have trained him to do is to cooperate with the incumbents and their agents to get to the bottom of these issues and fix them.