Opinion

If you are a Dukes County taxpayer you might ask yourself this question: what has the county done for me lately? If you answered not a thing, you are partially incorrect.

The county commissioners, through their meddling in airport affairs, have embroiled you in a senseless legal struggle that has already cost county taxpayers $19,000, directly in the form of county legal bills, and indirectly, more than $62,000 and rising, in the form of airport monies diverted from better aviation uses. And there is no indication that it will end soon.

The county commissioners appoint the seven members of the airport commission who by state statute are responsible for the “care and custody” of the airport. The county’s overriding responsibility is to appoint the most qualified individuals. Its authority over the airport begins and ends with its appointment power. But the county commissioners seem to have not gotten that message.

They did not get it in 1997 when the director of the Massachusetts Aeronautics Commission (MAC) told county commissioners that, despite the provisions of the Dukes County charter, managerial oversight of the airport by the county manager and any reorganization plan which might eliminate the independent airport commission would be unlawful and could jeopardize $8 million in grants that would eventually transform the old ramshackle airport terminal into a new modern facility.

They did not get it when state and federal airport officials, as a condition of future funding, required the county commissioners to sign “grant assurances,” which curtailed the authority of the county commissioners and the county manager over all airport affairs and put it squarely with the airport commission.

And not in 2002 when the MAC chairman warned that the refusal of the county manager and county treasurer to pay newly hired airport manager Bill Weibrecht his agreed upon salary could end up costing the Island one of the most respected airport managers in New England, and upset a “remarkable turnaround” at the county-owned airport.

And they did not get it in 2005 when Superior Court Judge Robert H. Bohn ruled that the legislation establishing the airport commission trumped the county charter, and the airport commission alone is responsible for the custody, control, and management of the airport, and is empowered to expend its own funds to pay salaries. By the way, that legal lesson cost county taxpayers $525,000.

Why, a taxpayer might ask, doesn’t the county get it? For some insight we refer you to a Letter to the Editor published July 2, from county commissioner Tristan Israel, who took The Times to task for continually referencing the Bohn decision in its reporting.

“The Times seems stuck back in 2006,” Mr. Israel wrote. “That is the year the Italians won the World Cup and George Bush was still president and Barry Bonds broke Ruth’s all-time home run record and the Wii was introduced by Nintendo and the movie Pirates of the Caribbean was released and Cold Play was big on the charts and reality TV was hitting its stride. And, ah yes, the County Commissioners were in litigation with the Airport Commissioners. We are reminded almost weekly by the Times of this fact. A fact that holds no bearing or basis for comparison with current issues even though they would have you think so by repeating the 2006 story over and over again, in story after story, and editorials as well.”

No bearing or basis? Fast forward to 2014. County commissioners unhappy with the airport commission’s bungling performance in its recent discipline of an employee pressed to have their county manager sit on the airport commission as a nonvoting member. The county treasurer attempted to exert control over the payment of airport bills. To defend its statutory authority, the airport commission, with the support of the Mass Aeronautics Commission, sought relief from the court. The county countersued.

As Steve Myrick reports this week, in an 11-page decision dated August 7, Superior Court Associate Justice Richard J. Chin ruled in favor of the airport commission on every point in its request for a preliminary injunction based on his view that the airport commission has shown “a likelihood of success on the merits.”

In his decision, Judge Chin continually cited Judge Bohn. He denied an airport commission request to dismiss the county commission’s counterclaim, but it should not take a legal scholar to digest the meaning of a “likelihood of success.” The smart course, the responsible course, would be for the county commission to call it a day.

The resignation last week of Peter Bettencourt of West Tisbury from the airport commission leaves an opening on the seven-member board. Discussing the appointment process, and with no hint of irony, county commissioner and self-appointed airport commissioner Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs said, “We’ve got some pretty big issues on the table at the airport, and I think it’s critical to get some new blood in there.”

The Island is rich in talent. The county needs to meet its responsibility to appoint the best person for the job and step out of the way.

Sunday night, Oak Bluffs police arrested Leandro Miranda for speeding and driving without a license. The only apparent difference between his arrest Sunday night and a previous arrest on July 4, according to the charges read in court, is that this time Mr. Miranda was not drunk.

Oak Bluffs and Edgartown police have arrested Mr. Miranda, 23,  four times since March for driving violations. The only positive thing we can say about Mr. Miranda’s history of operating a motor vehicle on Martha’s Vineyard without regard to the details that law-abiding residents fret about — insurance, registration, license, sobriety — is that he has not killed or injured anyone.

It is hard to say whether that is a matter of luck or just a matter of time. What is clear is that Mr. Miranda provides a stark example of a law breaker who is unafraid of the consequences of his actions because there have been few consequences.

In a story published in this week’s issue, Times reporter Steve Myrick describes Mr. Miranda’s recent arrest history.

He was arrested on March 2, after police clocked him speeding on Edgartown-Vineyard Haven Road at over 80 miles per hour. He was charged with operating under the influence (OUI) of alcohol, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, unlicensed operation of a motor vehicle, marked lanes violation, speeding, failure to stop for police, and wanton destruction of property under $250 (He ran over bushes).

He was arraigned March 3 in Edgartown District Court, and released after posting $100 bail.

On May 1, police arrested him on a charge of operating a motor vehicle after a suspension for OUI. Mr. Miranda was arraigned May 2 and released on $400 bail.

On the afternoon of July 4, police spotted Mr. Miranda driving on Dukes County Avenue. Mr. Miranda sped down the road passing cars in an effort to elude police, according to police reports. Police apprehended him after a car and foot chase.

He was arraigned on July 7 for operating a motor vehicle with a suspended registration, OUI-liquor, marked lanes violation, operation of a motor vehicle with suspended license, negligent operation of a motor vehicle, failure to stop for police, wanton destruction of property under $250, and resisting arrest. The court revoked bail on the previous two charges, and set bail at $5,000 on the newest charge.

On July 10, Mr. Miranda appeared before Edgartown District Court Presiding Justice H. Gregory Williams and pled guilty to the charges from his first two arrests as part of a plea deal in which he agreed to pay fines and court costs of $825 along with restitution.

Judge Williams, through the court interpreter told Mr. Miranda, a Brazilian national, “If you even think of driving a car without a valid license, which you won’t get for a quite a while, you’re going to jail.”

Perhaps the Portuguese interpreter missed a few words. More than likely Mr. Miranda was not even listening. Mr. Miranda posted $5,000 bail and walked out of the courthouse.

On Sunday, August 10 Oak Bluffs police arrested Mr. Miranda again. He was charged with speeding and operating a motor vehicle without a license. Ho hum. He posted $600 cashbail and walked out of jail.

Mr. Miranda may have needed an interpreter to speak to Judge Williams, but he clearly got part of the message because he did not show up for his scheduled arraignment on Monday.

Police are understandably frustrated. The owner of the bushes Mr. Miranda destroyed is likely frustrated. And Mr. Miranda is free to continue on his way putting everyone on the road at risk until prosecutors show more enthusiasm for taking him off the streets and a judge decides to put him in jail.

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After they’ve greeted us at the front desk, many savvy patrons of the Edgartown Library head straight for the shelves we keep stocked with books, videos, and music disks newly added to the collection. One of the joys of libraries across the Island is that you can read a review of a movie just released on DVD, or a new book or music album, and find it on your next visit to the library.

Now, buying this wonderful new material costs money, and all the Island libraries do belong to CLAMS, the regional network of libraries whose total collection amounts to some two million items. So if one town were to hit a tight budgetary year, wouldn’t it be tempting to trim the acquisitions budget and just let townspeople borrow new materials from other libraries in the network?

Here’s why doing this is a bad idea: just think what would happen if everybody did.

And since 1890, the commonwealth has set standards for libraries to ensure that they play nicely together. To keep its certification, each town library must meet standards for the purchasing of new materials, for staffing and open hours, and for total operating budget. When the state decertifies a town library for, say, skimping on new materials, that library’s patrons lose the right to borrow materials from other libraries across Massachusetts.

The state’s library standards are a classic example of rules we need to keep the game fair and square. These rules are healthy for everyone for the same reasons we place a minimum size on harvested scallops and lobsters, the same reasons we restrict the pollution that factories can release into our air.

As a society, we agree on rules like these when the rational choices of one individual or enterprise might run contrary to the best interests of the group. In his seminal essay, “The Tragedy of the Commons,” published in the journal Science in 1968, the ecologist Garrett Hardin concluded that the only solution to this conflict between individual and group is what he called “mutual coercion, mutually agreed upon.” In other words, rules — and consequences for breaking them.

I know this might seem an unlikely leap, but I’ve been thinking about Hardin’s essay and the rules of library certification since reading Nathaniel Horwitz’s excellent piece (April 16, “Martha’s Vineyard students lag in required vaccination”), published in this newspaper in April, on the disturbingly high numbers of children in our up-Island public schools whose parents have chosen not to have them vaccinated against such diseases as mumps, measles, and whooping cough.

In the three public schools up-Island (Chilmark, West Tisbury, and Charter), The Times found, the parents of 105 students signed and submitted papers declaring that the vaccination of their children conflicts with their “sincere religious beliefs.” In addition to being an abuse of the word “sincere,” I’d suggest that this also insults the people of faith across the Island who actually do try to live by a religious creed.

I’m afraid that no amount of scientific evidence — and it is already overwhelming — will persuade those parents who have decided vaccination poses some slight statistical danger to their children. This is a subject much like global warming, where deniers of the scientific consensus will always be able to find an anecdote to support their view, an outlier scientist or afringe group’s website whose work they can cite.

As with climate change, although the deniers will always be with us, the science is settled and the consensus is strong that vaccination is a cornerstone of sound public health. It’s time for our community to consider the alarming numbers of unvaccinated children attending our schools — as many as one-third of the enrollment in Chilmark — and to apply some mutual coercion here.

For a parent to weigh the small risks of vaccinations against the serious epidemiological consequences if everyone opted out, and to opt out anyway, is a gesture of selfishness that borders on the antisocial. It’s a sort of parasitism, really, taking advantage of the healthy practices of others.

Ironically, it’s the very success of vaccination as a public health practice that enables the exempters in our community to make these wrong-headed decisions. We’ve had such success suppressing diseases like measles and whooping cough that most parents haven’t seen them, and can fixate on the imagined risks of a vaccine rather than on the real dangers of the illness it helps to prevent.

A fisherman who illegally harvests short lobsters or undersized scallops is banking on the hope that everyone else doesn’t do the same and destroy the shared resource. A parent who doesn’t immunize a child had better hope that enough other people immunize their children so that nasty and sometimes fatal childhood diseases can’t attack their community.

Right now, too many up-Island families aren’t thinking this through properly, and a real public health threat is the result. It’s time for us to agree that while parents may have the right to refuse vaccinations for their children, the community has the right to tell them that if they do, they give up the right to enroll their children in our public schools.

On Saturday, Martha’s Vineyard will welcome President Barack Obama and his family back to the Island for what has become, save for one election year during his presidency, an annual summer vacation ritual. The Obamas could chose any number of vacation spots to visit, each with its own political calculus. Islanders may take pride that the first family has returned year after year, and see in their return visits an endorsement of the many qualities of Island living those who live here year-round, and seasonally, work so hard in a variety of different ways to preserve.

In that sense, the Obamas are no different from the thousands of other families Islanders welcome back in August. They return for the natural beauty of the shoreline and landscape and the sense of community that still prevails, whether it is a small gathering on an Oak Bluffs porch or taking in the Ag Fair and Illumination Night.

With Martha’s Vineyard once again the scenic backdrop for a presidential vacation we can expect that some members of the media will once again trot out all the well worn references to wealth, celebrity and power. It is so much more fun to sell the Vineyard to the rest of the world as an enclave of the elite.

Yes, there is no Motel 6, no Happy Meals. And it costs plenty to rent a house with a waterview in Chilmark for two weeks. Or buy a key to a private up-Island beach.

But if past visits provide any indication of how they will spend their time, Mr. Obama and his family will pretty much enjoy vacation on the Vineyard the same way other families do, although with much less fanfare and attention. There will be visits to the beach and golf courses, bike rides, and shopping, and dinners with friends at Island restaurants and in the intimate surroundings of Island homes.

And that Chilmark waterview of Vineyard Sound? It is accessible to anyone who wants to take a hike through the Menemsha Hills Reservation, owned and managed by The Trustees of Reservations. And the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank welcomes the public to swim, shellfish, hike, bike and horseback ride on many of its more than 70 properties comprising more than 3,000 acres. No key needed.

And if August visitors, including President Obama, members of his coterie, and the visiting media want to take a vacation detour, they could catch a glimpse of the other Martha’s Vineyard, the one more recognizable to the majority of Americans than the celebrity media tripe.

At the offices of the Dukes County Regional Housing Authority in Vineyard Haven, executive director David Vigneault could describe the plight of some of the more than 270 people currently on his waitlist for an affordable rental.

In the adjacent office of the Island Housing Trust, executive director Phillip Jordi can describe the challenge to provide homeownership opportunities on an Island where the average median income for homeowners is $64,000 and the median cost of a house is more than $500,000.

More than one waitress or waiter would likely be able to describe what it is like to work several jobs and shuffle between affordable winter and excessive summer rentals just to survive.

Sarah Kuh, director of the Vineyard Health Care Access Programs, could describe the effort to provide quality health care on an island where many people are self-employed.

On Circuit Avenue in Oak Bluffs or Main Street in Vineyard Haven, Island business owners are just as concerned about many of the things business owners on Main Streets across America worry about, and that includes the costs to provide health insurance to employees in Massachusetts, and subsidize those who do not provide it.

Martha’s Vineyard Community Services in Oak Bluffs, the Island’s umbrella social services agency, provides a glimpse of the other side of the summer postcard — the not-so-pretty picture of Islanders set against a backdrop of substance and domestic abuse. As a recent series of six reports by reporter Barry Stringfellow described, Martha’s Vineyard is not immune to the ravages of opiate abuse and addiction.

Six Islanders have died of opiate overdose since August 2013, according to Dr. Charles Silberstein, psychiatrist and addiction specialist at Martha’s Vineyard Hospital. Island-wide, there was one heroin arrest in 2012 and 10 heroin arrests in 2013; in 2012 there were 13 arrests for oxycodone and percocet pills, in 2013 there were 15 arrests.

The national political debate about drug policy and punishment has real meaning to Island families affected by this scourge. A day spent in Edgartown District Court speaking to those on the front lines of the battle would provide some perspective.

No need to travel to the border to confront the immigration debate. Brazilian workers, some legal — their actual number is a cause of speculation — fill a considerable number of jobs on Martha’s Vineyard. Their contribution is unmistakable, but it comes with a cost.

We welcome our August visitors to Martha’s Vineyard. It is a great place to live, not as elite as some make it out to be, and for those who call it home, not every day is a day at the beach.

A series of events and circumstances presents Tisbury business and political leaders with a rare opportunity to shape the future appearance of their town and the Island’s transportation gateway. The challenge will be to incorporate road improvements planned by the state and the desires and plans of major property owners along Beach Road into a bold blueprint for the future.

Several key elements have begun to align. As Steve Myrick reported last week (Beach Road reconstruction plans spur zoning discussion), the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) plans a $1 million overhaul of Beach Road in Vineyard Haven, from the Wind’s Up watersports shop to Five Corners. Improvements include sidewalks and bike lanes. The road project is in a preliminary design phase and is expected to receive federal funding in 2017.

For more than 17 years, a prime piece of Tisbury commercial real estate, what has come to be called the “Boch lot,” about three-quarters of an acre on the water side of Beach Road opposite the Citgo gas station and next to The Times office, has sat virtually vacant but for a crumbling, long unused wood building and a boat building project.

The property is assessed at $1.9 million and generates close to $20,000 in annual property taxes. Commercial development could generate far more in taxes, along with jobs. Last week, Ernie Boch, Jr., a seasonal resident of Edgartown, said he would like to develop the property “into something nice and cool and useful.”

Perhaps mindful of the long regulatory battle his father faced soon after he bought the property and attempted to create a parking lot, Mr. Boch recommended that town leaders be proactive.

The property is subject to an overlay of zoning regulations. Any use would also require the approval of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC).

And then there is the Stop & Shop. Remember that? Following 10 months of MVC review, in May the company shelved plans to replace its decrepit Vineyard Haven supermarket with a new two-story, 30,500-square-foot market with parking for 41 vehicles in an enclosed area on the ground level under the market.

Company executives were left with little clear idea of what the MVC was ready to accept and may not be in any rush to reenter the regulatory blender. But we can assume that they would welcome the opportunity to replace the existing squat concrete market and adjacent building, a former Chinese restaurant, with a new market. And Island patrons would welcome it as well.

Also lying fallow is the property at 6 Water Street right on the corner of Five Corners that is now home to an auto rental business. In August 2008 the MVC approved plans for the construction of a three-story multi-use building to include office space, parking and apartments. The project, as near as we can tell, remains on the drawing boards.

Speaking about the planning process with reporter Steve Myrick, planning board co-chairman Daniel Seidman expressed frustration with the zoning regulations that govern development on Beach Road. “In the past, things have been done piecemeal,” Mr. Seidman said. “It’s been more reactive than proactive. It’s nice to say there is a road and there are bike paths, but if it doesn’t help the town in general, we’re just doing piecemeal work.”

Islanders are familiar with the hue and cry that even the prospect of change often stirs up. We are quick to the battlements at the prospect of it. Recall the fights over fast ferries from New Bedford; the roundabout; beer and wine service in Tisbury.

The ferries now come and go without striking dolphins, the cars go round and round without striking each other, and diners drink and eat with no apparent ill effects on the character of Vineyard Haven. Change need not be calamitous.

Mr. Seidman said the planning board is about to embark on a “visioning” process. The process will take the form of facilitated public workshops, hearings, and efforts to raise awareness about planning issues. Generating broad participation to include business leaders, MVC staff, and those outside the familiar planning network will take strong political leadership but will be well worth the effort and must be done. Paint a big picture.

Perhaps it is time to move the police station out of the center of town. Why not allow restaurants where patrons may enjoy a view of the harbor, like those found in seaside communities throughout New England. Work with Stop & Shop to come up with a plan that works for the town and company. And tackle Five Corners. The town would benefit from a bold and comprehensive process that ends with determined action.

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Let’s say you are a first-time visitor to the Island. Like most people, you take the ferry to Vineyard Haven. As you approach the Steamship Authority landing you are dazzled by the sight of well-kept waterfront houses, lawns tumbling down to the sea, and antique wooden sailboats lying at their moorings. This is more than you could have expected. This is quintessential New England.

But when you get off the ferry what awaits is culture shock of epic proportions: Whether by car, bike or on foot, you have hardly a choice but to travel the Island’s biggest eyesore — the infamous Beach Road. This main route to and from the Island’s port of entry should be a happy complement to the pristine harbor you just witnessed. But it’s the polar opposite — ugly, dilapidated, neglected, monumentally unfriendly to pedestrians and an imposing barrier to pedestrian access to the harbor. The stretch of road, with its tangle of overhead power lines, is quite simply the ugliest thing on the Island.

I can think of no better or more important thing to do for Martha’s Vineyard than to remedy this shameful and embarrassing situation.

There are two culprits in this debacle. The main one is a classic case of well-meaning but utterly misguided government regulation. In the mid 1990s voters approved new zoning regulations for the waterfront with the stated purpose of preserving Vineyard Haven’s working harbor. They say, in short, that everything within 100 feet of high water (which, as a practical matter, includes nearly everything on the harbor) must be “marine related,” thus ruling out such seemingly appropriate things as apartments, stores, eateries and hotel rooms. To add insult to injury, almost no parking is allowed, presumably to encourage walking and biking along the most hellish stretch of road on the Island. What were they thinking?

The folly of this is patently obvious. In the nearly 20 years since the new zoning was put in effect not one marine facility of any kind has been built or even proposed. Things just sit and deteriorate. Simply put, you cannot induce property owners to conform to government’s idea of appropriateness unless it is also in their private interest. The stagnation no doubt pleases the forces that oppose “development,” but it begs the question, why would a restaurant or some apartments along the water among the marinas and boatyards be such a bad thing?

The second culprit is inaction on the part of the legal steward of Beach Road — the Massachusetts Highway Department. It so happens that, after literally decades of neglect, the Highway Department has begun the process of planning certain improvements, including wider sidewalks and a bike path. This work involves taking property by eminent domain and moving the power lines to make way for the sidewalks. In short the State is about to spend a boatload of money on Beach Road. We need to step up and insist that we get more than half a loaf. Unless we wisely and closely monitor the State’s plans they will do a rote and minimal job. Unless the power lines are not just moved, but put underground we will miss a once-in-a-generation opportunity.

Now is the time to piggy-back on the momentum provided by this serendipitous undertaking and repeal our counter-productive zoning law and replace it with less draconian, and more practical zoning aimed at preserving the existing marine uses but at the same time encouraging in-fill with apartments, offices, shops, restaurants and inns and yes, parking to serve these uses. Unless we change the zoning we can build sidewalks and bike paths and all the rest but we will still be stuck with a derelict Beach Road.

If we can accomplish all the above, then our only job is to get out of the way and let private enterprise build the picturesque and accessible waterfront we deserve.

Sam Dunn is the architect and builder, among many other projects, of Tisbury Marketplace on Beach Road, Saltwater Restaurant and MV Film Center in the Marketplace, and the renovations of Woodland Center on State Road. His latest project is a bowling alley/entertainment center in Oak Bluffs.

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On Sunday, West Tisbury library officials, friends and neighbors honored David and Rosalee McCullough. The occasion was the dedication in their honor of the community program room in the newly renovated and enlarged West Tisbury public library, a $6 million project that pretty much went off without a papercut.

It was a fitting tribute to a couple — David McCullough never fails to credit his wife Rosalee for his success — that have contributed much to our Island and the nation through the written and spoken word.

A two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize in literature, Mr. McCullough has described the trials and tribulations of the men and women who shaped our country, and the events that shaped them, with a perspective that is accessible to the reader, and the familiarity of an author writing about respected friends.

His literary accomplishments have earned him many honors and generated considerable pride among the residents of West Tisbury, his home for 35 years. In ceremonies at the White House on December 15, 2006, President George W. Bush bestowed the 2006 Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s highest civil award, on David McCullough.

“This chronicler of other times is one of the eminent Americans of our time. The nation owes a debt of gratitude to a fine author and a fine man,” said the President.

Island organizations and fundraisers have long known that any event that featured David McCullough guarantees a full house. Over the years, he has lent his power to draw a crowd to benefit many Island institutions. He has also been generous of his time in more intimate settings.

In a front page story in today’s Community section, Tony Omer reports that the McCulloughs were early donors to the library project, and in his role as honorary chairman of the foundation, Mr. McCullough drummed up support and funds.

As courtly in manner and personable when met on a street in Vineyard Haven as he is on stage, David McCullough reminds us of what it is to be a man of true accomplishment in an era of cheap Youtube celebrity.

He is also someone who commands our attention when he speaks. “I am a library devotee,” Mr. McCullough told the assembled well-wishers on Sunday. “I believe in them.”

It would be difficult to be a visitor or resident of Martha’s Vineyard and not be a believer. Our town libraries, each with a distinct personality, offer much and continue to offer more. Access to high-speed Internet service has created an electronic library shelf filled with authors from all corners of the world, where books, magazines, and videos are available at the click of a mouse.

During the day and evening, Island libraries are a hub of year-round community activity with programs for all ages. There are author talks, lectures, and discussions.

For those who are not believers, a visit to an Island library is recommended.

In November, Island voters will be asked to elect nine members of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC). With less than two weeks until the July 29 deadline to file nomination papers, as of Friday no new candidates had stepped forward to place their names on the ballot, Janet Hefler reports in today’s issue.

This is unfortunate. The MVC could benefit from new perspectives and new faces.

The MVC operates with a $1.5 million budget and staff of 10 full-time employees. The commissioners have the power, through the MVC’s permitting authority, to supersede town boards and stop a development in its tracks, or send it on its way with significant conditions or none at all. It is an intoxicating responsibility.

MVC decisions are far reaching and reverberate throughout the Vineyard economy, often in ways that are not immediately visible. Behind every major construction project or development before the MVC there is a host of Island trades people and business people waiting for a decision, people who depend on a weekly paycheck and are part of the Vineyard’s tourism and construction economy.

It is possible that Island voters are pleased with the MVC. That seems unlikely judging from the many comments that have swirled around recent projects.

Unfortunately, Islanders tend to be in favor of the MVC when a project they oppose is being skewered and critical of the MVC when it is a project they favor, all the time unmindful of the fact that skewering is not the object of the review process, even if it sometimes feels that way to the applicants.

A more likely reason is that few people have the stamina or appetite for the minutiae that now characterizes MVC discussions. That could change. Commissioners could stick to the broad strokes and leave the details to local boards. With some discipline, meetings need not consume hours and hours.

Nancy Gardella, executive director of the 1,000-member Martha’s Vineyard Chamber of Commerce, told The Times she can understand why a small business owner, for example, especially one with young children, would be reluctant to run.

Ms. Gardella did not say what if any efforts the Chamber has taken to encourage members to run for the MVC, or to see that business interests are represented.

Lawyers and retirees are well represented on the MVC. Young working people with families, members of the building trades, retail business owners, all groups under represented on the MVC, should consider stepping off the sidelines and onto the field. Ten signatures is all it takes.

The incumbent members of the MVC deserve gratitude for their many hours of service. In many ways, it is a thankless task. The willingness of others to step up to the plate is not a rebuke.

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A breakdown in the systems we use to moderate and manage comments appearing on our website occurred this past weekend, with the result that some unacceptable comments were posted. The offensive comments included some that far exceeded the boundaries of civil discussion that we require, and in allowing them to be posted at all or to remain up as long as they did embarrassed The Times and more broadly many in the Vineyard community. This was a management failure on my part as publisher, and I apologize to you all.

As a bit of background, The Times employs a system that moderates online comments after they’ve been posted, consciously favoring immediacy and a light editorial hand instead of reviewing a queue for posts before publication. In conjunction with a recent change eliminating anonymous postings we have been extremely pleased with the balance that’s been struck.  Our story regarding President Obama’s upcoming stay in Chilmark, however, exposed the comment feature of our site to substantial pressures and the protocols we had in place were inadequate to the task.

As a result of our experience this weekend we’ve taken several steps to strengthen our internal moderation protocols. Coupled with more vigilance (and a bit less dependence on the positive trends we’ve seen in recent postings to our site) I believe we’ll do a much better job managing the comments without suffocating the feature with excessive rules and reviews.

  • We’ve applied a new set of filters which should help screen out blatantly         offensive language;
  • We’ve adopted a formal internal management system for reviewing comments;
  • We’ve been unable to find a check-system allowing direct feedback within the comment section but we’ve created a single email address — comments@mvtimes.com— to which all concerns, questions, complaints and    suggestions regarding online comments should be directed (multiple messages and destinations actually hinder us);
  • We are leaving the article and attached comments up, and will be especially watchful regarding future comments;
  • I’ve been vividly reminded to anticipate and prepare for the potential challenges that a particular subject matter may engender.

We remain committed to an effective, useful comment function. Despite our confidence in the measures we’re taking, though, we expect our systems will continue to be tested from time to time; we don’t imagine that we’ve created a perfect set of protocols.

And, there are compromises necessary. For one thing, if we decide we need to remove a comment the entire thread — all the responses and conversation generated by that comment — needs to be removed as well. This means a well-stated rebuke will disappear from the discussion, not because we edited it out but because it was attached to a comment we excised. And also, because moderation is labor-intensive and costly, we can’t promise immediate attention as a matter of routine; we’ll do our best, but we’ve set an outside boundary of 12 hours to moderate, and if necessary, delete, offensive comments from the site. We hope to do better than that, as often as possible.

To be clear, this embarrassing episode resulted from a management lapse on my part, and not from any disregard for the standards we set for ourselves or the sensibilities of our readers. I believe we’ve learned important lessons and made significant improvements.

Peter Oberfest, Publisher

Thursday night, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) will review a proposal by the Island Housing Trust (IHT) to build a six-unit rental apartment building between the Stop & Shop Supermarket and AA Car Rental Company, a stone’s throw from Five Corners in Vineyard Haven. The 3,600-square-foot building containing six one-bedroom apartments would replace a derelict house.

The MVC will review the project as a development of regional impact (DRI). Why? Because they can.

The MVC could have voted to take a pass and send the project back to the town. IHT has a responsible track record developing affordable housing. The plan was developed in close consultation with the Tisbury Planning Board, Historic Commission, and Affordable Housing Committee. It is still subject to review by the zoning board of appeals.

There will be six 600-square-foot apartments, three of them handicapped accessible ground-floor units and three on the second floor, each with one bedroom and one bathroom. Photovoltaic panels on the southern roof will help reduce energy costs. There will be one parking space for deliveries and handicapped accessibility.

The commission voted on June 19 that the project required a public hearing because of its location near Five Corners. It is hard to understand the regional impact that may be attributed to six new tenants living near Five Corners unless the MVC has so broadened the definition of regional impact to include a Chilmarker having to pause to allow one of the new tenants to get out of the crosswalk.

In a report dated March 11, 2003, titled, “Looking at the Commission, Review of the Operations of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission and Recommendations for Improvements,” newly hired MVC executive director Mark London observed that many of the people he spoke to thought that the commissioners were too involved in the minutiae of projects — work that could more appropriately be done by the towns and by MVC staff.

“The net for referring projects to the MVC is too fine and requires referral of too many projects that don’t have a significant regional impact,” Mr. London wrote.

In his DRI recommendations, Mr. London wrote, “The commission should review fewer projects, but carry out the review in a more comprehensive way with a better process leading to better projects. The MVC should ensure that only projects of a truly regional impact are subject to the full public hearing process.”

This page agrees. The MVC should expedite the Water Street project and let IHT get back to the business of providing affordable housing.

In the broader context, Five Corners figured large in the MVC’s consideration of Stop & Shop’s proposal for a new market. One year of regulatory review and process and nothing to show for it. The regional planning agency would do well to examine what might be done to unravel this traffic Gordian knot, and come up with a plan for Five Corners.

Honoring the Fourth

In a Letter to the Editor published July 3, Nick Van Nes of West Tisbury claimed that the government was hiding the truth in its official account of 9/11. Mr. Van Nes said evidence of controlled demolitions “was overlooked by the government.”

The letter attracted sharp criticism. Several readers were highly critical of The Times decision to publish the letter.

Don Keller asked, “Why does this deserve publication? Nick is accusing our government officials and many other American citizens of murder … I understand that The Times wishes to allow for free expression of opinions, but there is a line. And this letter clearly crosses it. ”

Helene Brown commented, “Disappointed with MV Times that they would publish such an inflammatory and unsubstantiated letter, especially on the eve of July 4th.”

R. Scott Patterson wrote, “The MV Times owes everyone an explanation and an apology for publishing this letter! It is a joke and beyond reprehensible!”

The Letters to the Editor section is intended to be a forum for ideas and points of view

underpinned by respect for one of our country’s most cherished rights enshrined in the First Amendment, freedom of speech.

Presenting the views of letter writers to public scrutiny and comment, even those we might disagree with and consider not worthy of comment, is in line with the values we honor on July Fourth. Censoring those views is not.