Skipper Manter and Michael Colaneri
West Tisbury voters face an unusual challenge on April 13, when they go to the polls to decide several fiercely contested election contests. Typically, the issues on which a candidate wins or loses are familiar, predictable, even prosaic. It's the winner's stand on zoning changes, or on the new school proposal, or it's the size of the town budget that supports the margin of victory. The loser learns that he has been on the wrong side of, say, the Steamship Authority question or the new fire truck proposal.
But, this year in West Tisbury, the dominant issue is none of these. It is the climate of political debate in a town celebrated - particularly by its residents - as a haven for civility, generosity, thoughtfulness, and reverence for the long traditional practice of each of these. It is the effect of this new, unfortunate climate change that voters ought to pay careful attention to.
For some voters, the issues that have arisen over the legal battle between the town assessors and landowner William Graham over Mr. Graham's Mohu holdings may be the fulcrums on which the elections for selectman and assessor should be decided. Or, for others, it may be the inability of the town to successfully decide, fund, and implement a plan for the repair or remodeling and expansion of town hall. For this page, the central issue is the breakdown of goodhearted community-mindedness in the poisoned air arising from the assessors-selectmen-FinCom struggles. The harshly critical fault-finding and the downright nastiness and name-calling spawned from Mr. Graham's appeal of his real estate valuation, and indeed to some degree by his personal prosecution of his claims, has encouraged some West Tisbury residents to indulge their own apparent inclinations toward sharp-elbowed political attacks. The neighbors on the receiving end have not deserved the treatment they've gotten.
The vast expense of the town's defense of its interests against Mr. Graham's appeal is appalling. The clumsiness by the selectmen and the assessors over funding the costs of the work must be - will be - corrected. The failure to solve the riddle of the future of town hall is discouraging, but understandable, given that voters faced the astonishingly high cost of what was certainly the champagne solution. The critics, none of whom foresaw the problems that have occurred, hope to ride their attacks into office. But, while they may describe in detail everything that went wrong, that's just the practice of Monday morning quarterbacks. Carping does not equal nor promise leadership.
Through all the difficult, clamorous, hurtful wrangling of the past two years, Skipper Manter has conducted himself as a West Tisbury leader ought to have, with restraint, with frank acknowledgment of the mistakes and fumbles for which the selectmen are responsible, and with justified deference and respect for the colleagues and neighbors in town government under fire beside him. Mr. Manter deserves reelection.
Similarly, Mike Colaneri cannot say that every decision he and his fellow assessors have made is immune to criticism, but he can say that he and they acted with fairness and with the best interests of the voters and taxpayers foremost in mind. The focus of withering criticism, he has been restrained in his response and consistent in his defense of the assessors' responsibility to defend the town's property valuations against attack. Mr. Colaneri has, by his long service and good judgment, earned reelection.
Greg Coogan and Roger Wey
Oak Bluffs voters find themselves in the happy situation of having five diligent selectmen who work well together. It was not always thus. Oak Bluffs has suffered with selectmen with narrow agendas, loud voices, and combative rather than cooperative personalities. Every question meant a fight. Every fight left a sad toll.
Today, the selectmen forego battling and favor deliberation. Recently, under Greg Coogan's encouraging leadership, the selectmen have managed difficult and expensive issues carefully and openly, enhancing the improved relations between town residents and town government. Both Mr. Coogan, who is finishing his first term as selectman, and incumbent selectman Roger Wey, a veteran Oak Bluffs and county leader, bring demonstrated, long-term volunteer commitments to Oak Bluffs and its residents to their reelection campaigns. Both deserve reelection.