County asks voters to decide charter study question
The voters of Dukes County will decide whether to launch a formal process to examine and possibly change or abolish county government when they go to the polls in November.
At a joint meeting last week of the Dukes County commissioners and county finance advisory board, the commissioners voted to place a question on the state election ballot which would ask voters to create a county charter study commission to examine county government.
On the same ballot, voters will be asked to elect 15 people to serve on a charter study commission that would include the seven county commissioners and the chairman of the county advisory board, which is made up of one selectmen from each town, and which is responsible for approving county budgets.
The joint meeting came on the heels of a meeting a week earlier of an informal group of Island selectmen who are examining county government. Many of the participants have been highly critical of recent county decision making.
At the Jan. 26 meeting, Tristan Israel, Tisbury selectman and county finance advisory board member, said that he would ask the advisory board to put the charter study commission question on the November ballot.
Apparently sensing the shift in the political winds, the county commissioners acted first. At last week's joint meeting, John Alley, county commission chairman, began the joint meeting with a motion to put the charter study questions to voters. "I think that the voters should ultimately decide the direction of county government," said Mr. Alley, who is also vice chairman of the county appointed airport commission.
Mr. Israel praised the county action. "I am glad that they are stepping up to the plate on their own," he said.
County government has come under heavy fire in recent months in the wake of a Superior Court ruling last July in a lawsuit that pitted the county against its appointed Martha's Vineyard Airport Commission. The county lost its legal battle to control the salaries of the airport manager and assistant manager, in a ruling that could cost county taxpayers more than $800,000.
Last month, in a continuing skirmish over airport control the county commissioners rescinded the appointments of two airport commissioners. That action led to the resignation of two veteran airport commissioners. The county commissioners also refused to honor the terms of a contract signed between the newly hired airport manager and the airport commission, setting the stage for another legal battle.
County government currently costs Island taxpayers $750,762, in the form of an assessment levied against the six Island towns plus the town of Gosnold that make up Dukes County.
Aquinnah voters will have the first opportunity to sound off on county government. At a special town meeting on Feb. 21, voters will be asked if they are in favor of placing a non-binding referendum question on the ballot "supporting the dissolution of the County of Dukes County."
Yesterday afternoon, Aquinnah selectman Jim Newman said he would like to see the county dissolved. "I'm just frustrated. I think we should just dissolve the county and not try to rebuild it. The purpose of this article is to try to find out if there is interest and agreement in the town."
The seven elected Dukes County commissioners are: John Alley of West Tisbury, chairman; Robert Sawyer of Tisbury, vice chairman; Roger Wey of Oak Bluffs; Lenny Jason of Chilmark; Nelson Smith of Edgartown; Paul Strauss of Oak Bluffs; and Les Leland of West Tisbury.