The county problem
As the committee established by Island selectmen begins a review of county government, we trust it will use several fundamental standards against which to measure the information its research reveals. Has county government been useful to Vineyard taxpayers? If it has not, can it be made useful? And if the answer to either of these questions turns out to be yes, then the question is how.
In answer to each of these questions, this page proposes a working hypothesis. Has county government been useful, meaningfully useful? The working hypothesis is that it has not. Dukes County's crucial functions are, thankfully, run by another level of government, for instance the state, with regards to the registry of deeds, the sheriff's department, and the courts. The airport, unfortunately a dependence of county government, has had to be wrested from the witless control of the county commissioners to run efficiently and progressively. Whenever the commissioners have asserted themselves over the airport, the result has been a mess. Witness the long-running, horrifyingly expensive judgment in the matter of the airport manager and assistant manager pay debacle. Finally, the less crucial county services generally sputter expensively, but voter attention is limited because the portion of the county budget that is a direct hit on taxpayers is relatively small.
Can county government be made useful? The hypothesis again is no, or charitably, not likely. The courts, the registry, the sheriff's department (including emergency communications), and the jail function well as state-funded and governed entities. Leave them as they are. Every other function the county claims or aspires to might better be done on a tailored-to-fit basis by ad hoc agreements among the towns. Witness the two- and four-town refuse districts, the Island school superintendency, the regional high school, the up-Island region - all special purpose entities agreed to by the voters of the participating town, paid attention to by the finance committees of the towns, managed by elected representatives from the participating towns, and embraced or discarded by voters as they see fit. It can work for county beaches, for rodent control, for health care funding, for multi-town engineering services, and on and on, if the voters agree.
If the result of this inquiry is a kind of blithe hopefulness that the county can be made useful and valuable, then how? The hypothesis in this case is that the challenge of salvaging this apparently terminal patient will defeat even the most strenuous effort. For instance, voters will have to be allowed to vote for county commission members in a carefully weighted fashion, perhaps as the Martha's Vineyard Commission members are. Not perfect, but better than the all at-large, and nobody cares, way the county commissioners are elected today. Consider that today's Dukes County commission membership includes only one member each from the Island's two most populous towns, and no members at all from two county towns. Plus, the county budget is reviewed by an ad hoc Island finance committee, not by finance committees in each of the several towns, and the county budget is never presented to town voters for their approval. It's a Cherry Sheet imposition. Neither the current election method nor the current budgeting justifies a judgment that county government deserves to be perpetuated. Both are insults to the democratic process, which help to make county government inadequate to its current roster of tasks and responsibilities and disqualifies it from the addition of new roles.
Don't fail to pay mvtimes.com a visit this morning. Big changes. Of course, all the news features, photographs, columns, and information are there still. But now you'll see the advertisements too, and many of them will be live and clickable. Do business when the mood strikes you. Plus, the site includes a selection of features which we think will make it more useful, informative, fun, and interactive for visitors. See for yourself, and let us know what you think.
Speaking of feedback, take advantage of the forums we've set up on the new mvtimes.com to let us know what you are thinking, to fire off a quick reaction to a news story or a published Letter to the Editor, or to propose a topic you think others would like to discuss. By the way, your comments in the forums may be chosen by Times editors to be included in the paper's published letters lineup. If you don't want that to happen, tell us.
Also, if you have individual or organization thank-yous to make, there's a forum on line for you to use to make your gratitude immediately available to the folks you need to thank. As time goes on, we'll discontinue our practice of publishing thank you letters in the print paper. So, please visit, and then tell us about your experience. I would add, don't hold back, but I know you well enough to know you won't. DAC