Editorial : No place for anything goes
As powerful as they certainly are, courts and judges are not unrestrained. They, the lawyers who appear before them, the defendants, complainants, and appellants all understand and accept constraints, imposed by law and precedent. There is a discipline within which they function, and with it comes a considerable measure of predictability. The prosecutor must disclose the evidence and witnesses on which his case will hang. The defense must choose a basis for its challenge to the prosecution's contention. The judge must regulate the proceedings, accept or reject the evidence as lawful, and instruct the jury on how it must weight the testimony it receives. If the law says the penalty for a convicted defendant is one year in prison, the judge may not decide to have the poor soul executed.
Discipline, orderliness, predictability, a clear sense that all parties have rights, and all have responsibilities: it's the way the judicial process works.
It is not the way the quasi-judicial Martha's Vineyard Commission works although, with some allowances for the lay membership of the commission and the fact that commission staff are professional planners, not officers of the court, it should. Perhaps Martha's Vineyard Commission members have, in their thinking about their job, placed too much emphasis on the "quasi-" qualifier in the description of the obligations of their office. Perhaps, in their unconscious minds, they have substituted "whimsically-" or "eccentrically-" or "occasionally-" or "fantastically-" for "quasi-" in the long-settled description of their roles. If so, it's a shame. Islanders, and especially those looking for conscientious, thorough, but predictable review of their projects, or those looking for disciplined planning leadership for the future, deserve much better.
Mark London, the Martha's Vineyard Commission's executive, knows better than to guide this organization this way, or at least he knew better when, shortly after his arrival, he assessed the disorderly development of regional impact practices and proposed significant changes to streamline them and make them less cumbersome and expensive, and more predictable, for applicants. Since then, that thinking of his has given way to the disorderly, undisciplined approach in which his employers indulge themselves.
This paper's news columns have often described the disorderly nature of Martha's Vineyard Commission review and the toll it takes on its victims. This week alone, one cannot but marvel at the hospital bricks saga and the Field Club approval modification saga, the latter featuring an eruption from a commission member who has been too long at the public's business. But, of course, it is not just one member who is responsible for the agency's troublesome waywardness. Quasi-judicial self-restraint, self-discipline, and orderliness in review and decision making must be keynotes of Martha's Vineyard Commission practice. And, it's not that these principles may be discarded by an overbearing few, but they must be embraced by all and served by all. They are not now.