Four vie for one vacant seat on fractured Oak Bluffs board
As the Island slips into the dog days of summer, the town of Oak Bluffs is feeling the heat. After weeks of campaigning, four candidates will battle for one vacant seat on the board of selectmen, as the voters go to the polls Tuesday in a special election. Candidates Kenneth J. DeBettencourt, Herbert A. Combra Jr., David Morris, and Ron DiOrio all have experience with the election process, as all four have run for the same post in past years. A vacancy on the five-member board was created when seasoned selectman Michael Dutton left in May and was subsequently hired as town administrator last month. Voting will take place Tuesday, August 8, from noon to 7 pm in the meeting room of the Oak Bluffs library. The Times asked each of the candidates to respond to a series of questions.
Kenneth J. DeBettencourt.
1. Why did you decide to run for the position of Oak Bluffs selectman?
Mr. DeBettencourt worked for New England Telephone for 26 years as a telephone installer and repairman, and served on several town boards, including the board of health, conservation commission, and the shellfish seeding and propagation group.
Now retired, he said he has the time necessary to devote to the board of selectmen, and chose to run in order to bring some stability to the board and to represent the hard-working people of Oak Bluffs.
"I want to be sure they are heard. I hope to be a voice for them. I feel I have the experience and knowledge to cope with the current issues facing the board of selectmen and our town."
Mr. Combra was a member of the Oak Bluffs fire department for 15 years, and has served on the board of selectmen, board of health, and the Martha's Vineyard Commission. Also retired, he said he has been considering the run for several months and is eager to help the town.
"I am not happy with the way meetings and decisions are being conducted. The whole environment seems to be so hostile. This is not good for my town and we must all try to work together."
He served four terms on the board starting in the late 1960s, and said he would bring many years of experience and knowledge to the board. "I can no longer sit on the sidelines."
Mr. Morris, a former business owner and current member of the school committee, is making his third run for the board of selectmen.
"I'm running to try to bring some respect and order to the office." He said he is especially concerned about the portion of the town budget that goes towards the high school, and would use his position to better inform the town on how the school operates.
"I want to get the dumpsters off the harbor and have businesses put out barrels of their own. The seawall and North Bluffs area needs work. The fence from the Steamship Authority to Ink Well will be replaced."
He also cited parking, traffic, and noise as other issues he would try to tackle.
Mr. DiOrio is the president of Habitat for Humanity of Martha's Vineyard and a member of the Oak Bluffs Business Association. He ran for the board two years ago, and hopes to continue his mission from that previous campaign.
"I can make a difference in how we govern the town of Oak Bluffs. I have worked as an arbitrator and as a mediator in labor disputes off-Island. I think a lot of disputes that erupt on the board can be traced to a lack of planning."
2. In light of recent splits on the board, what will you do to provide leadership and help create an effective team?
Mr. DeBettencourt said he would work hard to bring the board back together and help it move in a positive direction.
"I will support decisions that are good for the citizens of Oak Bluffs, not individual agendas."
Mr. Combra said that he is an independent candidate with no ties to any one group, and uses good common sense when making key decisions. He said he strongly believes in open government and has the leadership skills to bring people together.
"I have always taken the middle of the road and made decisions on what I felt was in the best interest of Oak Bluffs."
Mr. Morris said he would ask all board members to communicate better and bring their day-to-day concerns directly to the town administrator.
"If each selectperson goes through the town manager on their issues and the town manager keeps all members of the board informed, that would be a start."
In order to give all parties adequate time to address serious concerns, he said all issues presented at a meeting should be decided at the following meeting, and not right away.
Mr. DiOrio said it is imperative for the town to have a current 5-year plan concerning town conservation, economic development and other pressing issues. Once that plan is disseminated to a wide range of people, the board can have greater voter input to go by.
"If you have a plan, I believe we would not have the kind of outbursts that the board is currently experiencing. Things would not appear out of nowhere like they do now."
3. A non-binding referendum concerning the Oak Bluffs Monster Shark Tournament will be placed on the April election ballot. Do you think Oak Bluffs should continue to host the event?
Mr. DeBettencourt said he does not have a problem with the town hosting the shark tournament. He said there are a relatively small number of sharks being caught each year, and he is confident that a large amount of business and revenue is filtered into the town that weekend.
Herbert A. Combra Jr.
"What we should be concerned with are these long line nets that are miles long catching everything in their path. If the shark tournament is an issue, it should be placed on the ballot and I would go along with the wish of the people."
Mr. Combra supports the town's hosting of the tournament. He said sporting events come in all forms, and that there are also people who object to hunting, boxing, fishing, hockey, and football.
"This event gives the town and Island financial help. The town's harbor has guaranteed reservations for boat slips. Most businesses have a profitable weekend." When the business community has a good season, they have traditionally been generous when donating to Island organizations, he said, and hopes that will continue.
Mr. Morris supports the notion that all controversial issues should go to the town floor so that the wishes of the people can be heard. He said as a selectman, he would never stop other people from fishing or hunting, but would support regulations and laws to control the activities.
"My concern with this issue is: why just sharks? Should the fluke tournament stop? What about the derby? No rabbit hunting? No deer season?"
He encourages voters who oppose the event to work to change the regulations by voicing their concerns respectfully.
Mr. DiOrio said he believes in abolishing the shark tournament, although he said the board also has an obligation to the people who profit from the designated weekend.
"The town government needs to find alternates to the tournament. Other things we want to be known for. There are countless opportunities out there that we have
never cashed in on."
He said the board of selectmen would have a broader base of support if they pursued other economically sound events.
"Calling it 'monster' is not what we need to be known for worldwide. Let's leave it as 'Jaws.'"
4. Name two recent issues you think are important to the town of Oak Bluffs and how you would address them.
Mr. DeBettencourt said he is concerned with the multiple personal service contracts Oak Bluffs has engineered in the past few years.
"I think the board should look into this policy very carefully. The policy of contracts and stipends is not fair to our working laborers. Permitting procedures should be fair and equal to everyone."
He said the town's governing officials often forget about the hardworking individual, and he aims to be fair and open to all Oak Bluffs citizens.
Mr. Combra is similarly concerned about the personal service contracts. While he acknowledges that the contracts have been around for several years, he said he doesn't understand how members of the board do not know them intimately.
"No contract would be signed by a selectman or subordinate if I am a selectman, without my knowledge. Perhaps all of these contracts are legal, but that does not make it right."
Addressing the rising property taxes is also high on his agenda.
"I feel the town is in good shape with capital expenditures for some years to come. We have a new library, school, senior center addition, and police station. Now is the time for the selectmen and finance committee to work together and bring a budget to town meeting that could reduce taxes."
He said pursuing new revenue must be done, but he does not favor selling town property, except land for resident home sites.
Mr. Morris highlighted outdoor entertainment and noise as two of his main concerns.
"How can we allow someone else's noise to affect others? This community is based on residential living, so all residents regardless of where they live should be protected. A business should not impose on its neighbors for the purpose of making more money."
He said he would try and steer the board back to past attitudes, which dictated that doors and windows of noisy businesses be closed. He said he would be in favor of limited outdoor music on the weekends and holidays by special permit only.
Mr. DiOrio echoed the concerns of other candidates, in that the concept of private contracts must be addressed.
"I really think it plays havoc on the morale of the rank-and-file people that work for the town."
He also emphasized the importance of long-range planning among town boards, which he said is currently nonexistent.
"The committee work in this town is exceptional, but it is not incorporated. They just sit up there and are never worked into a master plan where we can look and say: this is what we see, and here is where we want to go in our future."