Cynthia Mitchell: veteran official wants to help
Cynthia Mitchell will face Cynthia Riggs in a special election for the West Tisbury board of assessors next Thursday, May 18.
Ms. Mitchell was a selectman for 12 years until 2002, when she was defeated by Glenn Hearn, and town treasurer for 17 years, until 2003, when she resigned to become the full-time director of Island Health, Inc., sponsors of the Island Health clinic and the Island Health Insurance Plan.
Although she has for several weeks held an appointment to the board of assessors and is therefore technically an incumbent, she headlines her campaign "New and Open Leadership" and "Agenda for Change."
Cynthia Mitchell, former West Tisbury selectman and town treasurer, now candidate for assessor. Photo by Ralph Stewart
"That's a key point that I'd like people to understand," Ms. Mitchell told The Times. "Along with everybody else, I followed the Graham case in the press. One thing I noticed was consistent lack of comment from the board of assessors.... I went to the November town meeting because I wanted to hear the story of the legal bills and didn't really hear it. It began to occur to me that were there an opportunity to be involved, I would accept it."
Shortly after Raymond Houle resigned as an assessor on February 10, Ms. Mitchell applied, along with four others, to be appointed to complete the remaining year of his term. A month later the selectmen learned that by acting quickly they could have included Mr. Houle's post in the regular town election on April 13, and at the urging of town council Ronald Rappaport they scheduled a special election for May 18 to correct their error. Mr. Rappaport advised the selectmen not to make an interim appointment, but chairman of the assessors Michael Colaneri argued that he wanted a full board in the intervening two months, and Ms. Mitchell was appointed. Voters next week will choose between Ms. Mitchell and Ms. Riggs for the 11 months remaining in Mr. Houle's term.
Ms. Mitchell is well-known to West Tisbury voters, and she feels that her proven leadership as town treasurer and selectman will be an asset in the race. "I know how to lead, and I know how to collaborate for change," Ms. Mitchell told The Times. Her "agenda for change" includes the following points:
She promises to keep a closer eye on the assessors' legal budget. As interim appointee, she argued successfully for a legal-services line-item in the assessors' 2007 budget, the first year the assessors have had their own legal budget. "No one could deny that the way those legal bills [in the Graham case] were handled was a disaster," she said. Ms. Mitchell is the assessors' liaison to the board of selectmen and also promises closer ties with the finance committee.
She promises greater transparency and openness in the way the assessors deal with the public. She drafted the first agenda for the assessors' public forum, held last week, and she says that there will shortly be more taxpayer advisory sessions. "The neighborhood factor and the conditions factor are still cause for confusion," she told The Times.
Ms. Mitchell would place a higher priority on negotiated solutions in cases of disputed assessments. She points to her experience in negotiating the purchase of the Goethals' property at Lamberts Cove as an example of her skills. She has met privately with William Graham to discuss his complaints about the assessors. At last week's forum, Ms. Mitchell complimented principal assessor Jo-Ann Resendes for helping reach agreements in seven recent disputes with taxpayers. In response to a question from The Times, Ms. Mitchell said that by "negotiation" she does not mean mediation or arbitration. "There obviously is a fine line to walk," she said, "and it's an assessor's duty to protect the tax base. I don't mean negotiate at all costs."
Asked if she would run for reelection if elected, Ms. Mitchell replied, "I think that in order to accomplish these goals, I would likely seek at least one full term. I would definitely run again."
Ms. Mitchell sums up her campaign by saying, "People know me. I think I was supported and respected as treasurer and selectman, and I'd like to bring those skills to the job of an assessor."