Historically, Oak Bluffs politics has often been fractious. The divide between Kerry Scott and her sometimes ally Roger Wey and the other members of the town board of selectmen is, unhappily, familiar to longtime observers of the Oak Bluffs scene. It has been a rare leadership team of selectmen that has avoided conflict. It was true when there were only three selectmen, and it's true now, when the board has been expanded to five. Conflict among selectmen is not unique to Oak Bluffs, but it is more common there than among the selectmen in other towns. The visible, vigorous, and free-swinging commercial life of Oak Bluffs contributes to divisions, especially as business has increased and business development has expanded. And, there are also political, even familial, resentments that some factions cannot resist prosecuting. It has often made for a turbulent scene. The town has made progress when the selectmen worked in a kind of serviceable harmony to do so. It has descended into lively but ineffective mayhem when the selectmen have not been able to work together cooperatively and in good faith.
For Oak Bluffs voters who must decide on a replacement for former selectman Michael Dutton, a lawyer who resigned his elected job to apply for the town administrator's paid, professional position and has now won that post, the question is who will advance the town's interests. The question is never, who will advance the narrow interests I and my faction hold dear. History has demonstrated that, whether with three selectmen or five, the key to success for the board and the town is the ability of the elected executive leadership to form a harmonious, dependable working relationship among themselves. That doesn't mean that everyone holds the same opinion on each and every issue. It does mean that each board member recognizes that to achieve success, he or she must be able to deal constructively and in good faith with the others, whether it's to express an objection or to change the minds of colleagues who think differently, or to support a position that is not quite what one member might like it to be. The first obligation of a member of the board of selectmen ought to be to forge working ties of this sort with all colleagues.
It was disappointing this week to see Kerry Scott abstain from voting on the appointment of Mr. Dutton, who deserved her vote. Indeed, she praised him as qualified and likely to do a good job as administrator. But she abstained on grounds that the process used to select him ought to have been constructed differently. Mr. Wey, selectman chairman Duncan Ross, and selectman Greg Coogan all voted to hire their former colleague. Ms. Scott's action was a play to her crowd and to her conscience, one supposes. That may be rewarding in the short term, but it's a formula for failure over time. Town leaders will certainly disagree, but the smart, effective ones recognize that finding ways to work together will serve the interests of their constituents - who are all the voters in the town, not a narrow segment - better over time.