Cynthia Mitchell brings a long and distinguished record of municipal service to her candidacy for West Tisbury assessor.
No, strike that. She brings a long and distinguished record of public service in responsible positions, facing difficult challenges, on behalf of Islanders generally.
Ms. Mitchell was a selectman for 12 years until 2002, when the current incumbent selectman Glenn Hearn defeated her, and she served as town treasurer for 17 years, until 2003, when she resigned to become the professional director of Island Health Inc., sponsor of the rural health clinic at the Triangle in Edgartown and developer of the Island Health Plan - a planned, subsidized health insurance program intended to make insurance available to uninsured or underinsured Vineyarders.
She is currently serving as assessor, appointed by the town selectmen to replace Ray Houle until next week's special election. Mr. Houle retired in February. Ms. Mitchell is a smart, competent, scrupulous, and experienced public official. Her work on the Dukes County Health Council and as an executive of the Island Health Inc., as well as her service on the Martha's Vineyard Hospital board, testify to her commitment, and the achievements of each of these organizations are evidence of her ability to get things done.
Describing her interest in serving as a town assessor, Ms. Mitchell referred to the long, contentious, and damaging political debate occasioned by the state Appellate Tax Board case brought by William Graham of Mohu, who disputes his $51 million real estate assessment. She told Times contributing editor Dan Cabot this week that, "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 if there were an opportunity to be involved, I would accept it."
It is characteristic of Ms. Mitchell that she regards her candidacy as a chance to improve a troubled situation, to help, and to clarify a vexing and confusing issue facing voters in her town. Already, since she was appointed earlier this year, Ms. Mitchell has joined the incumbent assessors in organizing a successful public meeting to explain how the assessors do their jobs. More public information sessions are planned.
"I know how to lead, and I know how to collaborate for change," Ms. Mitchell told The Times. She might have added that she is quick to identify the core of a problem and equally quick to address it.
If elected to finish the 11 months remaining in Mr. Houle's term, Ms. Mitchell also intends to correct the budgeting issues that inflamed the debate surrounding the Graham appeal. She calls the mishandling of the spending for legal and consulting fees "a disaster," as indeed it was, but the informality and lack of guidance that led to these missteps are precisely the kinds of mistakes Ms. Mitchell seems especially well equipped to avoid.
"People know me," Ms. Mitchell said this week. "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."
West Tisbury voters will have a valuable opportunity next week to re-engage an unusually clear-thinking and accomplished public servant, whose efforts on their behalf in the past and on the greater community's behalf more recently make her a stand-out candidate, whose bid to pitch in at the difficult moment in the town's history ought to be accepted.