Politics heat up in West Tisbury as elections near
Longtime assessor Ray Houle steps down
Dissention and controversy have stirred political passions in West Tisbury in the past few months, and already this April's town elections promise spirited debate and strong loyalties. To make politics in town even more interesting, some unexpected openings on elected town boards became known this week.
The finance committee (FinCom), for several years at the center of the controversy over the up-Island regional school district and recently proactive in the town's budget process, will have two openings. Peter Costas, outspoken critic of town spending practices, has told town clerk Prudence Whiting that he will not stand for reelection this spring.
In a surprise move, James Powell, elected just last year, has told Ms. Whiting that he plans to submit a letter of resignation. As of yesterday, no one had taken out nomination papers for the FinCom slots.
Former selectman James Alley will challenge incumbent Jeffrey "Skipper" Manter for selectman. Other names have been rumored about town, but Ms. Whiting says that as of now, those are the only two who have filed or requested forms.
The assessors have been under attack by lawyers for William Graham in his suit against the town before the Appellate Tax Board (ATB), by Mr. Graham himself in public meetings with the selectmen, and by the Vineyard Gazette, which called upon the assessors to resign in a recent editorial. The ATB has not yet ruled in the Graham case, and at the Jan. 17 town meeting a large majority of voters endorsed the assessors' use of funds to defend the town, even though they and the selectmen had not followed proper legal procedures. However, several speakers at town meetings in November and January, including some who said they would vote to cover the illegal bills, were clearly unhappy with both the assessors and the selectmen.
Chairman of assessors Michael Colaneri will be challenged this April by Jonathan Revere, often a strong critic of the assessors, and by selectman Glenn Hearn, who last year expressed interest in investigating Mr. Graham's charges of misconduct against the assessors.
Complicating this picture, long-serving assessor Raymond Houle has submitted a letter of resignation, effective tomorrow. Mr. Houle, 87 and in declining health, wrote, "I have been pleased to serve as an assessor...for over 25 years. We have worked hard to serve the town to the best of our ability. However, as my health is no longer good enough to allow me to continue, I have decided to resign...."
Mr. Colaneri told The Times that Mr. Houle's resignation has nothing to do with the controversy surrounding the Graham case.
The selectmen and the remaining assessors will appoint a person to fill Mr. Houle's spot on the board of assessors, and they will at that time decide whether the appointee will serve out the remaining 14 months of Mr. Houle's term, or whether a one-year position will appear on the April ballot, according to Ms. Whiting. If it happens this April, the one-year race will be separate from the race for Mr. Colaneri's spot on the board.
Town residents interested in joining this lively political scene have until Feb. 23 to submit the signatures of 20 voters to get a place on the ballot for these or any of the other elected town offices. A write-in campaign is also possible.