Aquinnah fills vacancy among town's assessors, after Widdiss resignation
Mid-term board vacancies do not normally attract a lot of attention. That was not the case in Aquinnah this week for a seat on the three-member board of assessors.
Monday night, the three selectmen and the one incumbent assessor present appointed Hamilton "Ted" Cammann, from a field of six that included four former or current town officials, to fill the seat left vacant by Carl Widdiss, who resigned last month. Mr. Widdiss's three-year term expires on May 14, 2009.
Those interested in filling the seat held by Mr. Widdiss since 1984 included former selectman and member of the board of assessors Jeffrey Madison, former selectman and long-time town moderator and fire chief Walter Delaney, former town treasurer and current animal control officer Angela Waldron, current selectman and chairman of the planning board Camille Rose, and newcomer to town affairs James Shephard.
State law calls for the vacancy to be filled by a joint vote of the selectmen and the assessors. Assessor Michael Stutz joined selectmen James Newman, Spencer Booker, and Ms. Rose to vote unanimously to appoint Mr. Cammann. Assessor Hugh Taylor spends much of the winter in the Caribbean and was not present.
Why all the interest? Ms. Rose said more often than not the selectmen advertise board openings over and over and no one ever applies. She said she had no explanation other than to say that she applied for the position because she thought no one else would and she is available.
Jim Newman, chairman of the board of selectmen, said he was also surprised to see the degree of interest. He said one explanation is that people thought they could have a positive influence on the tax rate.
Those familiar with the intimate nature of Aquinnah town affairs said the large field reflected a degree of political maneuvering on the part of individual candidates concerned that should only one candidate apply the selectmen would not have a choice.
The departure of Mr. Widdiss after 24 years of service followed a period of significant change in an assessing process characterized by inaccurate record keeping and an informality that often benefited a small group of year-round property owners familiar with town affairs.
In March 2007, the town hired Angela Cywinski, the town's first state certified, full-time assessor. She oversaw the town's most complete revaluation in more than a decade. In the process, she corrected scores of inaccurate property records, eliminated elderly exemptions granted incorrectly, and updated and corrected faulty town records.
In January 2008, the Massachusetts Department of Revenue (DOR) approved Aquinnah's revaluation. Propelled by recent sale prices, values increased dramatically for houses with shore property or water views.
As a result, the town's total valuation - including residential, commercial, and personal property - increased from $565,687,496 to $732,608,899, a 28-percent jump for fiscal 2008, which began on July 1, 2007.
Last June, nearing the end of the 2008 fiscal year, the assessors voted 2-1 to reappoint Ms. Cywinski. Assessors Michael Stutz and Hugh Taylor voted to reappoint Ms. Cywinski. Carl Widdiss, who wanted to readvertise the position, did not.
Mr. Widdiss's emailed letter of resignation dated Oct. 16 and addressed to Mr. Taylor and Mr. Stutz reflects a working relationship laced with tension. Mr. Widdiss wrote, "Due to the need to pay more attention to my own business activities, it has been difficult to attend the daytime, weekday (workday) meetings. However, I did attempt to review the packet of minutes in case I could attend the next meeting. The quality of the text, content (or lack there-of) made any sort of any edit on my part too time-consuming and frustrating. The omission of certain issue-related directives and discussion as well as traces of self-serving innuendo speaks for itself, I guess. Hope you both had more success with your review and edit of these minutes. Please treat this letter as my official resignation from the Aquinnah board of assessors."
Mr. Widdiss, a mechanic, is the owner of Widdiss Recovery in Aquinnah. Reached by telephone Tuesday, Mr. Widdiss said his letter speaks for itself.
Mr. Cammann, a producer of live musical events, moved to Aquinnah from West Tisbury approximately ten years ago. In a telephone conversation with The Martha's Vineyard Times following his appointment, Mr. Cammann said he applied to fill the vacancy because it is an opportunity to help the town and his financial background may prove helpful.
Mr. Cammann said it is not surprising that the revaluation would create some difficult moments. He expressed confidence in Ms. Cywinski. "She certainly knows what she is doing and has certainly made order out of chaos," he said.
Mr. Cammann said that Ms. Cywinski is part of a new direction that he supports. "There is a whole new level of professionalism in town hall and it is very good and very healthy," he said.
Mr. Cammann said he was surprised to learn that so many people were interested in the vacancy. He said he has received a great deal of homework.
"I think I am a relatively fair person," said Mr. Cammann. "I like to look at all sides of a situation and treat people equally and fairly. So it is a unique opportunity to do that."