Ten vie for four seats on the Dukes County Commission
There are ten candidates on the November ballot for four four-year terms on the seven-member Dukes County commission.
The county charter provides for the county manager form of government. The charter delegates to the seven-member board of unpaid commissioners general legislative powers while giving the county manager full control over the county administration.
The Registry of Deeds, Sheriff's office and office of the county treasurer, headed by elected officials, and the Martha's Vineyard Airport, under the control of the airport commission, are not under the direct control of the county manager. State and federal regulations do not allow money from the airport to be diverted to non-airport county uses. Those four departments account for approximately 78 percent of the county's 2007 fiscal year budget of $4,667,692.
E. Winn Davis, county manager, who is paid an annual salary of $75,000, exercises direct supervisory control over his administrative assistant, the county rodent control officer, county beaches, county health testing services, health access, the county engineer and the veterans agent, and a budget of less than $1 million.
Carlene J. Gatting
The cost of the county budget is shared by Island taxpayers through the county's annual assessment, paid by the seven towns that compose Dukes County - which includes the Elizabeth Islands, whose seat of government is at Cuttyhunk. In the current fiscal year, the seven towns that make up the county will be charged the following annual assessments: Aquinnah, $28,039; Chilmark $147,764; Edgartown, $252,801; Oak Bluffs, $117,499; Tisbury, $106,372; West Tisbury, $108,152; and Gosnold, $8,901.
County commissioners also appoint a voting member representing the Vineyard to the Steamship Authority; and the members of the airport commission, which is responsible for the Martha's Vineyard Airport, the state's only county-owned airport, and its business park.
The three unexpired terms on the seven-member county commission are held by John Alley of West Tisbury, Roger Wey of Oak Bluffs, and Lenny Jason of Chilmark.
The top four vote-getters Island-wide will be elected to the county commission. However, under the county charter, there cannot be more than two county commissioners elected from each town, but there is no requirement that each town have a county commissioner.
Jesse "Jack" Law
For example, at most only two of the five candidates from Tisbury can be elected. Although Aquinnah currently has no county commissioner the sole Aquinnah candidate is not guaranteed a seat unless he is among the top four vote-getters Island-wide. And irrespective of the totals, only one of the two Oak Bluffs candidates may claim a seat because of the seat Mr. Wey currently holds.
The Times asked each of the candidates to respond to the following questions.
1. County government now costs Island taxpayers $4.6 million, of which $770,000 is a direct assessment paid by Island towns. Should county government's role in Dukes County be eliminated, expanded, or reduced?
2. Incumbent or newcomer: Has county government served Islanders well?
3. Do you support the creation of a new study commission to consider the future of county government for Dukes County?
Richard Lee of Aquinnah
1. Health, yoga, daily exercise, America is obsessed with obesity. The County must be vigilant in pursuing government funds. Certain financial obligations are due regardless of existence. Our regional "Home Rule" is paramount. I love the big rat [the inflatable balloon used to promote the county rodent control dept.] I just don't want it as a symbol of "fat" in our County.
2. With 72 island charities needing money, the County should operate within its budget with an eye to self-funding any new initiatives. The county engineer and rodent offices might be more cost-effective from the private sector, while larger regional functions serve us well. Change can be a refinement.
3. Yes. Many issues face us as an island community. One of which is the unrealistic expectation that the seasonal residents will fund what we cannot afford or support. However, the Dukes County umbrella can represent the Island's constituency with one commissioner from each town. One community with seven personalities. Impressive!
Carlene J. Gatting of Edgartown
1. The answer depends entirely upon first, the effectiveness and fiscal efficiency of county government going forward, and second, the ability of county government to work with town governments and local agencies and groups to address issues of regional concern (such as the MVC, the Water Alliance, the MV Refuse District). A high-functioning county government that is responsive to the needs of Islanders and town governments would be an enormous asset to this island.
2. No. Any accomplishments of county government over the past few years have been diminished by its conflicts with the airport commission, in-fighting, and widespread public perception that tax dollars were wasted on litigation. The public's trust, confidence, and respect in county government must be restored before the public looks to county government for leadership and service.
3. Yes. The creation of a charter study commission is critical, whether a voter is in favor of expanding or eliminating county government. There can be NO change without the study commission. The study commission needs to inform the public of where we would be without county government and the consequences of losing "home rule" to the state, as well as propose revisions to the charter that would make county government more accountable.
Jesse Law of Oak Bluffs Former chairman of the Martha's Vineyard Airport commission. The county commissioners reappointed him to the airport commission then rescinded the reappointment in a dispute over the contract offered the new airport manager.
1. I don't think County government should be eliminated, but it's having trouble expanding. With no extra money coming in, it's hard to move ahead properly. We must continue to look for ways to stop wasteful spending, find ways to bring in new revenue and be more cost-efficient with the programs and services provided.
2. I think it has in the past, but it's not running on all cylinders at this time. The Commission has let the public down. They have spent much too much on legal battles, for example the airport case. Another example is getting the oil bid out so late it cost the taxpayers a healthy $100,000. Communication with the public and the towns is at an all-time low. There needs to be a change.
3. Yes, I do support a new study commission. The press was ramping up support to abolish county government due to the inability of a few of the Commissioners and their lack of foresight. Without a new study commission County government will be gone. It will be a big job to straighten out this mess, but I think it is important to the taxpayers to do so.
Paul Strauss of Oak Bluffs
Candidate for re-election. He is also running for a seat on the Martha's Vineyard Commission where he currently serves as the county appointee.
1. Island government should be expanded to provide additional services needed by Island residents, without additional taxes for residents. A series of dialogues with town officials should be conducted to establish what services the towns should/will provide and what will be the responsibilities of the county government.
2. The county has served the Island well, and the towns would be burdened additionally if county services such as health care, beach management, rodent control, Veterans Agent and County Engineer services did not exist.
3. I strongly support the idea of a commission to consider the future of county government on the island. I recommended a year ago the County Commission undertake such a public study and believe it is overdue. It is unfortunate that this level of government on the Island is called "county" government because that causes it to be viewed in the same light as much larger counties with larger populations and several large towns or cities in them. I prefer the term "island government" which can be viewed in the context of the Island's size and population, the character of its towns, and residents' and visitors' specific needs.
Peter Hefler of Tisbury
1. It is a difficult question to answer "yes" or "no." County government should be expanded only if that expansion takes place with operations that produce additional revenues, which hopefully reduce the cost to the taxpayer of running county government. The goal should be reducing costs.
2. No, the debacle at the airport was a needless waste of county funds in its resolution. It should not have occurred. New members on the commission, coupled with enhanced communications and better public relations with the Vineyard community, are the way to achieve productive, useful, respected, and effective county government.
3. Yes, passage of a new study commission is absolutely vital. If the public elects not to approve a new study, even if four new commissioners are elected as they should be, county government will remain as it is now, denying the Vineyard any type of reform of county government.
Tristan Israel of Tisbury
Tisbury selectman and a member of the county finance advisory board, which is made up of one selectman from each town.
1. There are certainly some County programs that are beneficial to the entire Island and there are others that are more marginal. The whole Island needs to weigh in perhaps via the Charter Commission on the issue of expansion or reduction in services provided by that institution.
2. When the County sticks to the basics and provides valuable human services such as Health Care or the Veterans Agent or the Communications Center, then it can and has served the Island well. When politics and personal agendas get in the way, it has not!
3. I was instrumental in putting the idea of the Charter Commission on the table as a way for the citizens of the Island to take a measured look at our County Government and to consider its future.
James Morse of Tisbury
1. None of the above. The County needs to define or re-define exactly what its role is to be. The County's success is in providing regional services that the seven individual towns would not otherwise be able to afford. There are regional issues and the County can and should be the body to work on them.
2. Newcomer. The County has not served the citizens as well as it could. Poor communication and the perception of wasteful spending, political self-serving and infighting have eroded the confidence of the citizenry in the ability of the County. This MUST change. The number of candidates running is an indication of this.
Leslie H. Leland
3. I support the creation of the commission. It is important that government at any level remain accountable to the citizens it serves and often look within in order to reassess its priorities, its programs, what is working, what is not working and ways to perform in a more efficient manner.
Robert Sawyer of Tisbury
Candidate for reelection.
1. $4.6 million is inaccurate. FAA bars public use of $2.7 million generated by the airport. Taxpayers pay only 40 percent (approx. $765,000) of actual $1,900,000 county operating budget. Regional community services received are tremendously beneficial to community and towns. Dukes County services should be expanded to better serve residents and towns.
2. Yes, county provides vital regional services. Health Care Access, Dukes County Health Council, Prescription Discount Cards, Elder Affairs, Disability Access, Veterans Services, Engineering services for towns, Rodent Control, Emergency Management, Parking Clerk, Registry of Deeds, Sheriff, Jail, New Medical Reserve Corp, 911 Emergency Communications, environmental programs, to name a few.
3. Yes, the new County Charter Commission on the ballot on November 7 was my initiative. Accordingly, as the moving force to create this study commission, I enthusiastically support a thorough review of the county with a view to making it even more meaningful to Islanders and to save taxpayers money.
Woodrow Williams of Tisbury
1. Our county's role should be reduced immediately simply because for many years the commissioners and the past and present county manager(s) have clearly not operated in the most efficient and expeditious manner as expected by the original charter commission and the citizens of our island when we voted for it.
2. Not at all. There have been many services in the past right up to the recent losing Norton Point beach that shows their incompetence and lack of good management skills. When they ruin one revenue source, they try to look for another. They are great employers but fail as managers.
3. Absolutely. I have been since the "Carol Borer" investigation in January 2003. It was shown that the commissioners could not police or review themselves properly. At a January 26 meeting it was decided that the Island's selectmen would move forward to try to form a New Charter Commission.
Leslie H. Leland of West Tisbury
County commission vice chairman, and a candidate for reelection
1. County government should not be eliminated. It provides many centralized services, which saves money for all the towns. Examples are: Sheriffs department, 911 service, Dare and Triad programs, Veteran's Agent, Vineyard Health Care Access, Emergency Management, Search and Rescue, Natural Resources, Rodent Control and the Parking Clerk, to name a few.
2. Yes, though not as well as they could with the right commissioners in place. I feel that County Government has done well in implementing the services, (noted above), currently provided. Unfortunately, for example, the power struggle between the Airport and the County could have been avoided if the Commission had heeded my original recommendation of getting an amicable court ruling in the very beginning of the controversy and abiding by that ruling. Of course that fell on deaf ears, costing the taxpayers over $560,000.
3. Yes. I absolutely support the implementation of a Charter Study Commission. There are definitely shortcomings in the existing charter and I welcome any changes that the Study Commission might recommend. Examples I might suggest: changing from a County Manager to an Executive Assistant, election of Airport Commissioners vs. appointment.