Jim Athearn leaves MVC seat after 10 years
In a decision that surprised and puzzled Edgartown selectmen, Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC) member Jim Athearn did not seek reappointment to the commission. First elected in 1999, Mr. Athearn has served on the regional planning agency for nearly ten years. Last year, he failed to get his nomination papers in on time, but was appointed by the selectmen soon after the 2008 fall election.
At their Monday meeting, selectmen appointed real estate broker Jim Joyce to a seat on the MVC. Mr. Joyce is a broker and co-owner at Carroll & Vincent Real Estate in Edgartown.
Mr. Athearn said a number of factors went into his decision to leave the MVC, including a desire to concentrate on Morning Glory Farm, the farm and store he and his family have operated for the past 30 years. Also part of the decision was a wish to spend more time working on the Island Plan, and a desire to remove himself from any appearance of conflict as he seeks a permit from the commission to expand his business.
During his one-year tenure as the selectmen's appointed representative to the commission, he was sometimes at odds with the selectmen. At the selectmen's November 30 meeting, Mr. Athearn listened as all three selectmen voiced sharp opposition to adoption of the Island Plan. Selectmen said Edgartown residents have not had adequate time to review it. At the December 10 meeting of the MVC, commissioners voted 10 to 2 to adopt the Island Plan, with Mr. Athearn voting with the majority. Mr. Athearn said the job of an appointed commissioner is different than one elected at large. "
"The role is somewhat undefined," Mr. Athearn said. "Depending on the people involved, there could be an expectation that the person is acting as the selectmen's representative, which I don't think is quite the case. They never indicated to me I was supposed to vote a particular way. I felt under some pressure to be particularly respectful of their wishes on certain things." He said differences with the selectmen did not directly affect his decision to leave the MVC. "Not really, not directly at all. It did put me in a position of feeling that we weren't on the same page, and it was going to take a while to get there."
Selectmen Art Smadbeck said he was puzzled by Mr. Athearn's decision, and chairman Michael Donaroma said he was a little surprised. The sentiment on the board was to reappoint Mr. Athearn until earlier this month when they received his letter. "If the person who had the appointment wanted to stay on, it would have to be a very, very good reason not to reappoint," Mr. Smadbeck said. "You should be doing the job of whatever committee you're appointed to. That doesn't necessarily mean you always agree with the appointed authority, or the appointed authority agrees with you. You want someone who's engaged, and knows the issues, and will do the work."
Mr. Donaroma said an appointed representative should make his own decisions on issues before the MVC. "We hope that the appointee would represent the selectmen, who try to represent the people in the town," Mr. Donaroma said. "When we appoint people we don't expect them to do what we want. We kind of hope they listen."
Mr. Athearn said another factor was his desire to focus more on the Island Plan in the months and years ahead. He chaired the Island Plan steering committee, and focused on commerce and livelihood issues. "We've recommended certain strategies, now are we going have to make them true," he said. "In order for things to move forward somebody's got to be pushing it. It needs to be all tied together.
Also weighing on the decision was some unease in appearing before the MVC as an applicant to expand the farm stand at Morning Glory Farm. Mr. Athearn did not attend or participate in any of the meetings or discussions about the project. His wife Deborah and son Simon represented the business before the MVC.
"That was another factor," Mr. Athearn said. "It might be a little less of an appearance of conflict, though it's a little late. There will be deliberation and decision on January 7. I found that being a public official kind of sets you up as a target."
The appointment of Mr. Joyce is effective January 1, but he said he is on vacation and will not be able to attend the first meeting of the year.
He has been a chef, a contractor, and for the last 20 years, a real estate broker in Edgartown. He has served on several town committees and followed town politics closely. "I'm just looking forward to serving," he said. "I want to give something back."