Editorial : Time to heal
Now that the state appeals court has upheld the state Appellate Tax Board's decision that upheld the West Tisbury town assessors' valuation of Bill Graham's Mohu property, we might hope that this long and intermittently vicious battle will end. Indeed, Mr. Graham's 235 acres were at the time assessed correctly at $50 million, as the assessors determined, and, after all, wasn't it preposterous to think, as Mr. Graham insisted and a gaggle of town critics repeated, that the assessors made a $30 million error and did so intentionally? Mr. Graham has ended his pursuit of redress, but there is nevertheless more to be done. It is time for the nastiest critics of the selectmen and the assessors, and especially of the integrity and fair-mindedness of those assessors and their former professional employee, Jo-Ann Resendes, to apologize.
Mr. Graham and those who joined his defeated crusade and countenanced his allegations against long-time neighbors and civic-minded friends ought to step forward now. Mr. Graham accused assessors' chairman Michael Colaneri and Ms. Resendes of fraud and misusing the assessing system. Former selectman Glenn Hearn, in December of 2005, proposed that the selectmen step into the case, bypassing the assessors in an effort to settle the Graham matter. Even selectman Skipper Manter, in general a supporter of the assessors, nevertheless urged at one point that the selectmen should negotiate a settlement and press the assessors to accept it. Others, unnamed but recognizable to themselves, shared and echoed all these unwarranted views.
Will all of these, and will the Vineyard Gazette, which in its November of 2005 editorial issued utterly unfounded calls for the resignations of the three assessors and Ms. Resendes, in order, the editor wrote, to "clear the air and restore the credibility of responsible government...." apologize, as they should?
True, the Graham case exposed flaws in town financial management and oversight that were regrettable, but they have been corrected. And it is also true that there are often grounds to dispute assessments. Many West Tisbury property owners have done so. But these issues do not implicate the integrity of the selectmen or the assessors, as the critics three years ago preferred to suggest.
West Tisbury voters have decided many questions over the years, thoughtfully, generously, compassionately, deliberately. Mr. Graham's appeal of the assessed value of his Mohu real estate, and the town assessors' very reasonable decision to defend the town's interests, engulfed the community in a mire of expense, political debate, recrimination, and even sheer nastiness. One trusts that upon reflection, wise neighborly behavior will end this sorry chapter.
As former long-time selectman John Early wrote, in a particularly bitter moment in this mess, "In the midst of and in spite of this climate of rapid change, there have been several significant constants of which I have been acutely aware. One has been the willingness of the town to work together for the good of the community. Another has been the ability of West Tisbury to consistently do the right thing."
Now is the moment when voters and taxpayers must reflect on how they got to be so viciously at odds with one another in this expensive, harrowing battle. It's the ultimate lesson that must be learned. One hopes Mr. Early's faith will be rewarded, and that West Tisbury neighbors will heal these wounds.