Annually, Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard (Hospice MV) presents the Spirit of the Vineyard Award to a person, in its words, “whose work has made a difference to individuals and the community as a whole.”

The most recent award, presented at a well-attended ceremony in the West Tisbury library, honored John Early of West Tisbury for his many years of community service.

Were one to apply the same criterion — work that has made a difference — collectively to an Island organization, the fitting recipient would be Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard. Quietly and with no fanfare, often in the most emotionally challenging times of life that an individual and his or her loved ones will face, Hospice MV is there to provide comfort and support. It may be a reassuring hand to hold through a difficult moment, medication meant to ease pain, or advice for those navigating life’s currents.

The four nurses, two bereavement counselors, and approximately 35 volunteers of Hospice MV provide this support seven days a week, at all hours of the day and night.

Since its inception in 1981, its stated mission has been: “To meet the unique physical, emotional and spiritual needs of all who are facing advanced illness and loss, and to give them hope, comfort and compassion. From the beginning, through the journey.”

That Hospice MV does this for free is a testament to its dedicated staff, led by executive director Terre Young, and the generosity of the Vineyard community, upon which it relies for support. No one is denied succor because he or she does not have insurance or the ability to pay.

In turn, by not relying on insurance, Hospice MV is able to provide care unfettered by insurance requirements, and fills a large gap in the health care delivery system.

End-of-life decisions are difficult. Postponing those decisions, or even not talking about them, can have significant consequences for individuals and family members.

At the invitation of the Island’s various councils on aging, Hospice MV leads a conversation on advanced directives and end-of-life care. “That is part of our outreach to the community, and we are very excited to be part of the conversation,” Ms. Young told The Times.

A 500-page report released in September titled “Dying in America” by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended that end-of-life discussions become part of the normal course of health care conversation.

That is not now the case. A national survey in 2013 found that 90 percent of Americans believed it was important to have end-of-life care discussions with their families, yet less than 30 percent had done so.

Key findings in the report include the fact that people nearing the end of life often experience multiple and apparently preventable hospitalizations:

“Of people who indicate end-of-life care preferences, most choose care focused on alleviating pain and suffering. However, because the default mode of hospital treatment is acute care, advance planning and medical orders are needed to ensure that these preferences are honored.”

Incentives under fee-for-service Medicare result in more use of services (hospital days, intensive care, emergency care), more transitions among care settings, and late enrollment in hospice, all of which jeopardize the quality of end-of-life care and add to its costs. In addition, payment silos contribute to fragmentation of care, hinder coordination across providers, and encourage inappropriate utilization.”

The IOM report said, “Efforts are needed to normalize conversations about death and dying. Several social trends suggest that the time is right for a national dialogue on this issue, including health care consumers’
motivation to pursue high-quality care for themselves and their loved ones; a growing willingness to share stories about end-of-life care experiences that resonate across diverse groups; and emerging leadership in local communities as well as national coalitions and collaborations.”

The IOM committee said it “believes a person-centered, family-oriented approach that honors individual preferences and promotes quality of life through the end of life should be a national priority.”

Hospice MV has its priorities in order.

John Early: Vineyard spirit

Intertwined with what you do is who you are. In recognizing John Early’s remarkable array of contributions to our community’s life, extending for more than 40 years — selectman, volunteer fireman and EMT, board member — with the 17th presentation of the Spirit of the Vineyard Award on Dec. 26, Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard celebrated John’s character as well as his service.

As Rich Saltzberg reported last week (Dec. 31, “John Early honored with Spirit of the Vineyard Award”), John’s public contributions have always shown a bias toward getting things done — housing units developed, trails built, land conserved — but never at the expense of careful and thoughtful listening. He has also has been a first responder for 40 years. Watching John discreetly take a call while out to dinner with friends and then slip quietly away to rush to an automobile accident or a fire, knowing the suffering he would have to mediate on behalf of families and friends, was a lesson in community service at its most human and fundamental.

In accepting the 2014 Spirit award, John attributed the long list of challenges he has undertaken to his failure to realize that “no” could be a complete sentence. While that was appropriately self-deprecating, it’s not that John is a pushover; it just isn’t in his nature to turn aside a chance to be useful.

As we bid goodbye to 2014 and anticipate the promise and challenge 2015 holds for Martha’s Vineyard, New Year’s Day provides an opportunity for Island leaders to take stock — if only at halftime — and consider the course they will chart moving forward. For some it will be full speed ahead; for others, a change may be advisable.

Almost one year ago the board of the Vineyard Nursing Association, faced with mounting debts, made the sensible decision in January 2013 to sell the agency to the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod (VNACC), part of Cape Cod Healthcare, a $700 million operation that is the leading health care provider on the Cape.

Ultimately, the deal collapsed. The VNA ended operations on March 11, and the Visiting Nurse Association of Cape Cod picked up the pieces, insuring stability for a critical component of the Vineyard health care delivery system, one that serves the Island’s overwhelmingly aging population.

The challenge now is how to knit together the network of services that the Island’s aging population will require. The Dukes County Health Council’s Healthy Aging Task Force is grappling with the problem. It will not be easy on an Island with six towns and six of most everything else.

In a year-end essay, part of a collection of essays that appear in this week’s MV Times, Paddy Moore of West Tisbury, co-chairman of the Healthy Aging Task Force, described the dimensions of the challenge. “It is expected that 70 percent of people who reach age 65 will need long-term care at some time in their longer lives, usually for an average of three years,” Ms. Moore said. “This means the Vineyard must strengthen home care services to enable elders to age in their homes, and establish more assisted living facilities, and more nursing home beds.”

Windemere, the Island’s only nursing home, will not be able to meet the need. Ms. Moore said it is time “to explore and develop new models of nursing homes, such as the much-praised Green House model of small cottages with private rooms, private baths, mixed funding, and unusual staffing.”

She is correct. But the task force will be hard-pressed to move forward without significant cooperation from Island agencies and boards. There is an opportunity in 2015 for the Martha’s Vineyard Commission, which too often is focused on the natural landscape, to direct some of its planning horsepower and $1.4 million budget to the Island’s equally important social landscape.

As we move into 2015 and glance in the rearview mirror, we see the decrepit fixture of the Stop and Shop market in Vineyard Haven. This project was one of Tisbury’s missed opportunities in 2014.

The company wanted to construct a new two-story market in place of the cramped, stale building it now occupies in Vineyard Haven. The company agreed to provide much-needed parking, pay to move a house that no one had paid any attention to but suddenly took on historic importance, and at the request of town officials contribute $1.1 million in various municipal enticements. The project in its entirety would have transformed a block badly in need of a magic wand.

But in May, after one year of planning, meetings, squabbling, and an excruciating public hearing process that oftentimes resembled a game of “I’m thinking of a number; what is it?” Stop and Shop withdrew its application before the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. The town and the larger Island community were left with nothing to show for this exercise. In a vague corporate statement, Stop and Shop said it would “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.”

Tisbury selectmen and planning board members have an opportunity to exercise leadership and extend an invitation to Stop and Shop executives to return to the Island and move forward in partnership in 2015. The status quo is unacceptable.

A far less visible battle took place in 2014, one that will continue to play out in 2015 in federal court in Boston with potentially significant ramifications for the entire Island.

On August 6, U.S. District Court Judge F. Dennis Saylor IV ruled from the bench that the town of Aquinnah and the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association Inc. (AGHCA) may intervene in a lawsuit Governor Deval Patrick filed to block the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) from building what the tribe has described as a boutique casino in its unfinished community center on tribal lands.

The central issue and major hurdle in the tribe’s long-running battle to build a casino, either in southeastern Massachusetts or on tribal lands, is the Settlement Agreement, signed by tribal leadership in 1983 and ratified by the state legislature in 1985 and by Congress in 1987, which stipulated that the tribe was subject to local and state laws and zoning regulations in effect at the time.

The tribe did not oppose intervention by the town, but did object to intervention by the AGHCA. In his remarks from the bench, Judge Saylor said the only real question was whether the town or the Commonwealth could adequately represent the association’s interests.

Judge Saylor said, “They are both political entities with different interests that may change over time, depending on the interests in part of the elected officials who are the decision-makers.” He noted that the association, by contrast, is made up of private landowners with private economic interests.

And he continued, “To flesh it out a little bit and to look ahead, one of the questions here — it’s not directly raised yet, and it may not be raised — but if the Settlement Agreement is not valid or not enforceable, the question is, what then? As I understand it, private and public property was transferred to the Tribe as consideration for the Settlement Agreement. I don’t know what happens at that point. Maybe things are left where they are. Maybe there’s some issue of unjust enrichment or taking or something. I don’t know. But, in any event, depending on the twists and turns of this case as it develops, it’s possible that private landowners may have a very different interest than the governmental bodies in the future; but certainly at the present, their interests are sufficiently divergent that intervention is appropriate.”

Stay tuned in 2015.

Cold weather, gray skies, and rain cannot dim the holiday mood on Martha’s Vineyard this Christmas week. Decorations and lights of all shapes and all levels of grandeur add a festive glow to Island storefronts and houses along the quietest country roads — the Donaroma’s Christmas light display in Edgartown and the Gatchell family house in Oak Bluffs are a treat.

The pleasures of life in a small community during the holiday season were easily seen this week. “How are you? Merry Christmas!” was a common refrain. On the sidewalk, strollers, shopping bags in hand; at the post office, people waiting to mail off presents, or pick up packages; in shops and restaurants, friends embraced friends and exchanged news.

Early Christmas morning across the Island, children — and adults for whom Christmas still kindles childhood delight —  will scramble out of bed to discover what Santa left under the tree. And Santa has been quite busy.

The familiar Santa is a jolly big guy in a red suit who visits one night a year. And then there is the Island Santa. He or she — yes, she — is generally a less flashy dresser, though not necessarily thinner. The hair may be black, brown, red, or nonexistent. That Island Santa, in his or her many forms, has been very busy. Some Santas write checks, some collect them, but all provide a multitude of gifts to the many nonprofits that support our community every day of the year.

For example, one day in November a group of Island Santas rode motorcycles around the Vineyard collecting more than $15,000 in money and toys in support of the Red Stocking Fund. This month a group of Tisbury schoolchildren raised another $3,000 for the same organization.

And throughout the fall, a dedicated group of mostly women collected clothing, food, and toys for needy Vineyard children as they have since the 1930s. Over eight decades, the Red Stocking Fund has brightened Christmas for thousands of Island families. This December, over the course of three days, these Santas and their volunteer elves gathered in the basement of St. Augustine Church to wrap presents that will be found under trees in hundreds of homes on Thursday.

Letters to the Editor regularly speak to the generosity of Islanders. In a letter that appears this week, Margery Pires of West Tisbury, a foster mother, wrote that due to the generosity of the Red Stocking Fund, three young children, ages 5, 8, and 10, will “have a blessed Christmas.”

Also this week, in a Letter to the Editor, Greg Ehrman, a member of the Niantic Park Playground committee, a group of volunteers working to build a playground in the Oak Bluffs park, described a fundraising challenge — $5,000 for a matching donation — that Island Santas easily met.

And in a story published this week, reporter Barry Stringfellow described the energy that motivates the stunning display of Christmas lights Robert Gatchell has been putting up for 33 years at his house on County Road in Oak Bluffs. It is the centerpiece of a collection effort for the Island Food Pantry. In front of his house Mr. Gatchell has placed a large collection box where Island Santas can donate food and/or checks. Last year, Mr. Gatchell said, he collected $1,000 in cash donations and 28 cases of food.

In one week the year will end, and Martha’s Vineyard will enter several months of what can best be described as a period of Island hibernation. There will be no bright displays or cheerful holidays to break the winter gloom as we stay fixed on the prospect of spring.

This week, despite our individual and varied circumstances, we do our best to celebrate the holiday season with family and friends, surrounded by all the gaiety and warmth that our small community provides. Merry Christmas to all.

After years of neglect, the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) has begun to pay attention to the historic Mayhew Chapel and adjacent Indian burial ground on Christiantown Road in West Tisbury. This effort is welcome and long overdue.

For years, the burial ground was lost in a tangle of briars, brush and poison ivy. In recent months, tribal workers have begun clearing brush from around the simple stones that mark the burial sites of the first Native American converts to Christianity.

In a story published this week, Bettina Washington, Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) historic preservation officer, told reporter Steve Myrick that once the landscape is clean the tribe will attend to the condition of the Mayhew Chapel, named for Thomas Mayhew Jr., the first minister to Christianize any of the indigenous peoples of New England, beginning in 1643.

Set on less than one acre, the grounds are all that remain of the “one mile square given by Sachem Josias for a praying town for Indian converts to Christianity.” Their descendants constitute the oldest continuously existing community of Christian Native Americans.

Prior to November 1993, when Dukes County and not the tribe owned the building, elder members of the tribe regularly welcomed visitors to the chapel, which also was used for weddings and other events in keeping with the character of the building and its pastoral surroundings.

More than 25 years ago, Wenonah Silva, former president of the Wampanoag tribal council, lectured each summer Sunday on tribal history at the Christiantown chapel. A plaque outside the chapel directed visitors to the burial ground and a nearby wildflower sanctuary.

The chapel now sits sad and forlorn in appearance, its roof and window sills rotting, paint flaking inside and out. Ms. Washington told The Times that the tribe would like to have the chapel open this summer. The long-term goal is to have the chapel open and staffed by tribal members on weekends.

Deeds, not words, are long overdue from a tribe that has often opined about the value of its cultural heritage, yet has allowed this important place to deteriorate.

One year ago November, Tobias Vanderhoop, former tribal administrator, was elected chairman of the approximately 1,200 member tribe. Asked about the condition of the Mayhew Chapel in an interview prior to the election, Mr. Vanderhoop told The Times, “I am embarrassed by it and saddened by it.”

Mr. Vanderhoop said the tribe needed to do better. We agree and we are happy work has begun.

In that same interview, Mr. Vanderhoop commented on the unfinished community center on tribal land in Aquinnah, which outside investors, with the tribe’s blessing but not the state’s, want to turn into a “boutique casino.”

Mr. Vanderhoop said he had heard from many members that the tribe needed a place where young and old can gather. If elected, he said, “One way or another, that building is going to be completed.”

The community center shell was erected in the summers of 2004 and 2005 by Air Force reservists from Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma, and Maxwell Air Force Base in Montgomery, Alabama. In all, over six weeks, three squadrons of approximately 20 reservists in civil engineering groups worked on the project.

The 6,200-square-foot structure, erected at taxpayer expense, was to include a gymnasium, kitchen facilities, and meeting space. The fact that nine years later the building sits empty and unused is an insult to the citizen soldiers who built it and undermines the respect that this sovereign nation demands and expects.

Tisbury takes a toll

Not surprisingly, as they have for years, Tisbury selectmen Tuesday voted to dun the town’s non-resident property owners and keep in place the residential exemption under which qualified year-round residents get a break on their property tax bills at the expense of their non-resident neighbors.

No other Island town imposes this inherently unfair policy that is in place in only 13 other municipalities in the state.

The underlying logic is that we year-rounders are under some sort of hardship because after all, we have to live on Martha’s Vineyard all year and tend the place until the seasonal swells return. And as we all know, it is expensive to live here.

Of course, it is less expensive than it might be if our seasonal neighbors had to pay for many of the municipal services they do not use, beginning with Tisbury school costs, $9.5 million in 2015. Or decided to be less generous to the many Island nonprofits that they support.

A total of 1,045, or approximately one-third of the town’s 2,906 property owners, benefit from the discount. There is no question that some residents have trouble making ends meet. And that taxes continue to increase for all of us. But pitting voters who benefit from the tax exemption against non-voters who must pay for it, is inherently unfair.

Some towns have senior work-off programs that allows elderly residents to shave their tax bill. There are towns on the Cape that impose a permit fee on weekly rental properties. Tisbury leaders ought to do better for all the town’s residents.

Thomas and Mary Folliard, the recent target of some very unwarranted public mudslinging over their plans to build a two-car garage close by Edgartown’s 177-year-old pagoda tree, told the Edgartown conservation commission and the historic district commission last week that they have shelved plans for a new two-story, two-car carriage house style garage as part of an extensive home restoration project taking place on their quarter-acre South Water Street harborside lot. Instead, according to their architect, Patrick Ahearn, they will build a one-car garage on an existing garage foundation that will not impinge on the tree.

Critics of the original garage plan worried that construction, no matter how carefully orchestrated, might damage the root system of the tree. That stress, they said, might prove fatal to the tree. These were reasonable concerns, but they only emerged following an extensive public process that ended with board approvals of the original plan.

The Edgartown conservation commission held four separate public meetings. No member of the public spoke in opposition to the garage or expressed concern for the tree.

Mr. Ahearn’s design left the root system open to the air. And Mark DiBiase, an arborist, devised a plan to water the tree, provide nutrients, and aerate the compacted soil.

The conservation commission unanimously approved the plan on October 29.

There is nothing in the public record to suggest the Folliards were unwilling to take every precaution to protect the tree. Or had any inkling that the garage plan would stir controversy. They had every reason to think their plan would be beneficial, even appreciated.

David Hawkins, a consulting arborist hired to advise town tree warden Stuart Fuller, reviewed the plan and determined that it would adequately protect the tree. “Both the cultivation/aeration process and the fertilizer application will help improve the soil and the tree’s ability to counteract any negative effects of the construction and encourage root growth in the area,” Mr. Hawkins wrote in his review for the town.

Vineyarders have a long history of coming on board to protest late in the approval process. The Folliards had followed all the rules, survived the approval process, and had every expectation and right to proceed with their plans with no further delays or expense.

News stories, first in the Vineyard Gazette and then The Times generated significant criticism, much of it rooted in emotion rather than botanical science. Edgartown selectmen expressed concern. Online commenters treated the Folliards to lectures on Vineyard taste, aesthetics, manners, class and architecture, and expressed a familiar Vineyard sense of petty resentment toward the wealthy that is absent when the wealthy are being asked to fund community endeavors. The condemnation was unfair and unwarranted.

The wish to construct a grand house on Edgartown harbor is not a new phenomenon. More than a century and a half ago, Thomas Milton of Edgartown took time on one of his worldly voyages to preserve a cutting from a pagoda tree, and carry it back from China in a flower pot to South Water Street where he was building a stately home befitting his status as a successful sea captain.

The Folliards have demonstrated a sense of neighborliness that many of their critics did not.

About that front page photo

Some readers of The Times were unhappy and even offended by the photo of a dead deer on the front page of the issue of December 4.
Each week, The Times staff chooses a front page photo that illustrates life on Martha’s Vineyard. There are many elements that affect that decision-making process, including the quality and strength of the image, photographic elements (framing, color, focus), the news value of the image, and its timeliness. There are basic newspaper rules. People clearly shown must be identified by name in the caption and the photo must not be altered without informing the reader.
The news last week was the shotgun deer hunting season. Hundreds of hunters took to the woods of Martha’s Vineyard. Shots echoed. In a larger context, efforts to control the burgeoning deer herd is part of a public health initiative to reduce tick-borne diseases. State Division of Fisheries and Wildlife biologists staffed a check station in the state forest where they inspected and weighed deer taken during the first week of shotgun season. The information gathered on the health of the Island deer herd factors into future management.
A community newspaper tells and illustrates the community’s stories as clearly and powerfully as possible. The excellent photograph on the front page last week accurately and dramatically captured the reality of the weigh station and the hunting experience.

The year-round community of Martha’s Vineyard is by and large a self-selective one. Most of us have chosen, at some cost and inconvenience, a life a bit removed, a bit more deliberate, a bit less competitive and we believe a bit more nourishing than off-Island living generally allows. We don’t mean to be smug, but we are in fact pretty happy that we can pull it off.

In exchange we give up easy access to the resources that the more densely populated mainland offers. Everything from schools and specialty health care to recreation and cultural institutions and big-scale shopping can be an ordeal to reach. We readily enough make the bargain, though; many of us even embrace the moat-effect the ferries embody, perhaps as a symbol of the modest control over our daily lives we hope for.

We understand that complete control in most things — especially something as complex and dynamic as the cohesiveness of a community — is an illusion. Instead, we’ve arrived at a formula, a series of conventions relying on fundamental mutual respect and generosity among neighbors, as well as on the broad set of similar interests and perspectives we bring with us, to keep community life on the Island within bounds that we can more or less happily live with.

That we prize what we have is made clear because the outside world can intrude with a vengeance. Michael Brown’s killing by a police officer in Ferguson, Missouri, and its aftermath are a reminder of how complex and disappointing the larger world can be. Quite apart from the pointless death of a young man and the inconsistencies and serial failures on the part of the public officials and police officers responsible in the aftermath, the broader subtext of racism, fear, frustration and anger in Ferguson seems as alien to our lives on the Vineyard as an American community could be.

There are two Fergusons, just as there are dozens of parallel and unequal communities in towns and cities across the country. We can’t bridge the gap without talking about race and crime and fear, but our conversations are stillborn because of the dissimilarities of our realities, what Charles M. Blow, in an Op Ed piece in The New York Times, calls “a canyon of disparity.” As Blow says, we can’t have the conversation until we fill in the canyon.

Because most of us can’t easily relate to Ferguson and because we don’t know how to bring about the changes we wish for, we avert our eyes and move along, disengaged if not untouched. When we look away, though, we put national shame and personal tragedy to waste.

Systemic change is needed, focusing on structure and oversight for local police, on training and education, on transparency and public accountability and, ultimately, on confronting the root causes of racism in America. One can be pardoned for skepticism, though, as we wait for the honest conversation and brave leadership we need; we’ve learned that it’s almost impossible to underestimate the will or the courage of most American politicians and legislators to do the right thing.

Here on Martha’s Vineyard our amity owes much to the great good fortune of largely shared outlooks and a similarity of expectation. Our chasms are small, and more of our own making than not. Our self-interest lies in investing in the structures and enterprises and conversations that sustain a diverse but inclusive community.

Intent on action, President Barack Obama last week bypassed Congress to initiate major changes in how the nation’s immigration laws are administered. Republican reaction to Mr. Obama’s unilateral action, which left even a few Democrats queasy, was immediate and predictably critical, portending months of legislative trench warfare as the president heads into the final two years of his term with a Republican majority in both houses of Congress.

The effects of Mr. Obama’s “Immigration Accountability Executive Actions,” as they are known, will reverberate across the country and ripple over Martha’s Vineyard, home to hundreds, thousands — there is no accurate way to know — of undocumented immigrants, many, but not all, natives of Brazil.

The White House said the President’s executive actions “crack down on illegal immigration at the border, prioritize deporting felons not families, and require certain undocumented immigrants to pass a criminal background check and pay their fair share of taxes as they register to temporarily stay in the U.S. without fear of deportation.”

Of course, the details are what will matter at the local level, where policies meet reality. Just what these changes will mean and how they will affect the daily interactions and relationships that affect our Island community remain uncertain.

Mr. Obama’s new policy allows applications for work authorization and relief from deportation for unauthorized immigrants who have been in the country for more than five years and have children that are either citizens or legal residents. The president also expanded the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals plan, which allows people who entered the country illegally as children to work without fear of deportation.

It is long past time to allow business owners who need hard-working employees and undocumented immigrants who only want to work hard to emerge from the Island’s shadow economy and abide by the same rules as everyone else.

Mr. Obama said the federal government would simultaneously heighten border security and focus on deporting criminals. In the past, under the Secure Communities program, Dukes County Sheriff Mike McCormack shared information including fingerprints of individuals arrested and held at the Dukes County Jail with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

“Effectively identifying and removing criminals in state and local jails is a critical goal, but it must be done in a way that sustains the community’s trust,” the White House said. The executive order replaces the Secure Communities program with a new Priority Enforcement Program (PEP) intended to remove those convicted of criminal offenses.

Whatever the name of the program, repeat drunk drivers, thieves and those guilty of violent crimes ought to be sent packing and not allowed to spend time in the relative comfort, when compared with other facilities, of the Dukes County House of Correction.

Take the case of Jose Matos, also known as Wilson Matos, formerly of Tisbury. The Times reported that at the time of his arraignment in June 2012 on three sexual assault charges in Edgartown District Court (rape of a child by force, indecent assault and battery on a child under 14, and assault and battery) he had already been ordered deported.

According to the police report, the child’s parent told police “that Matos is well known in the Brazilian community because in the late 1990s he was arrested for counterfeiting money and jailed for several months before he was deported to Brazil.” The parent said “that Matos then came back into the U.S. via Mexico, and the Brazilian community was well aware that he was back on Martha’s Vineyard as if nothing ever happened.”

At the time of his arrest, Mr. Matos had a Social Security number, a valid Massachusetts driver’s license, and a legally registered vehicle.

If Mr. Obama’s executive order ensures that the likes of Mr. Matos do not return to our community then it will prove its worth.

In a story published October 5, “Martha’s Vineyard welcomes soldier home from Afghanistan,” reporter Janet Hefler described the warm Island welcome home for Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Wender Ramos upon his return from a nine-month tour to Afghanistan as a Blackhawk helicopter pilot with the 101st Airborne Division out of Fort Campbell, Kentucky.

He and his sister arrived on Martha’s Vineyard from Brazil in 1994 to join their mother, who moved to the Island a year earlier. He didn’t speak English when he first arrived, but that changed quickly.

He graduated from Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School in 1999, attended Bridgewater State College and earned his private pilot’s license. He graduated with a degree in aviation sciences in 2006, and went to work for a company that ran tradeshows.

Pursuing his dream of becoming a pilot and a U.S. citizen, he enlisted in the Army in 2010 and applied for U.S. citizenship. He wanted to become a citizen in the country where he had spent most of his life because, he said, “It just completed living here.”

Whatever emerges from the expected legislative and Constitutional tussle over immigration reform, Wender Ramos offers an example of all that is good about a policy that creates a pathway to citizenship for those who have behaved responsibly.

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.