County manager Winn Davis resigns
Dukes County Manager Winn Davis resigned last week. In a one-page resignation letter delivered at a meeting of the Dukes County commissioners last Wednesday night Mr. Davis said that he believed in the future of county government, but that his presence had become a distraction.
Mr. Davis will officially end his job on September 14 but when vacation time is factored in he will effectively stop working in mid-August. His resignation comes almost three and a half years after he signed a contract on Sept. 3, 2003 that paid him $79,194 annually to be the county's chief executive.
Mr. Davis's resignation was made against the backdrop of an ongoing thorough and far-ranging examination of county government by a specially created county charter study commission elected last fall and headed by William F. O'Brien 3rd of Oak Bluffs, a retired lawyer and New York State Supreme Court justice.
In his letter addressed to county commission chairman Paul Strauss and dated May 15, Mr. Davis said he resigned effective Sept. 14. He wrote, "I do so with regret, as I have enjoyed the past years, and I remain very proud of the accomplishments that we have achieved. However, I have come to realize that during this period of introspection and review by the Charter Study Commission and the residents of Dukes County, too much time and attention has been focused on me. This detracts from the very important job at hand.... It is very important that county governance continue for Martha's Vineyard, and I believe that my continued presence will only impede the process."
On Tuesday Mr. Strauss told The Times he agreed it was time. "I think Winn recognized that there was a storm of feeling with respect to him among the population," said Mr. Strauss, "and he decided the best thing was for him to go."
Reached at the county administration building, Mr. Davis referred to the reasons outlined in his resignation letter. "Basically, in my letter I said it has become apparent to me that many people on the study commission and elsewhere are focusing on me as opposed to the function and the job," said Mr. Davis. "And I believe very much in county government. I believe in this county, so I am going to remove myself from the equation in the hopes that they will focus on the function. That's it."
Mr. Davis was often the target of criticism directed at county government. Despite it all, Mr. Davis said, "I have enjoyed the past three years tremendously, editorials notwithstanding."
Looking back on his expectations when he first arrived, the Falmouth resident said he expected that the Island towns would work together more on regional projects. "Six towns on an Island, all facing the same problems," said Mr. Davis. "I was surprised by the difficulty in terms of getting regional services, regional cooperative agreements, etcetera."
Mr. Davis said he continues to believe in county government as a means of providing regional efficiencies and attracting the services of professionals. "We could have a health agent who is a sanitary engineer for all six towns. We could have a deputy tax collector for all six towns, rather than hire somebody from off-Island and let that money go off-Island, he said. "I think there are a number of services that the towns do that do not really affect them a whole lot but could be done better."
As an example, he cites the change from each town hiring a veteran's agent to a shared county veteran's agent. Mr. Davis said that to a certain extent past county mistakes are responsible for some of the distrust that town officials and residents have of county government. "We are trying to overcome those, but those things die hard," he said.
In the weeks ahead Mr. Davis will be working to produce a fiscal year 2008 county budget. The new fiscal year begins July 1.
Mr. Davis said there is about a $45,000 deficit. "We are still working on it," he said. "We have cut a lot off and we are still working on it."
He attributed the deficit to unmet revenue projections in engineering and a slow-down in the real estate market that affected the registry of deeds.
In the meantime the county commissioners will discuss their next step when they meet next week.
Mr. Strauss said he thinks that it would not be sensible to search for a new county manager while the charter study commission process continues. He said that for the moment county treasurer Noreen Flanders has agreed to act as interim county manager. "She knows the job, she has done it before so the day-to-day operation should be okay," said Mr. Strauss.
The county manager exercises direct supervisory control over his administrative assistant, the county rodent control officer, county beaches, health access, the county engineer, the veteran's agent, and a budget of less than $1 million.
The naming of an interim county manager is not new. In the past, Tim Carroll, then county commissioner and Chilmark executive secretary, stepped into the role in order to sign documents when needed. Register of Deeds Dianne Powers has also helped fill in.
Mr. Davis's resignation was not unexpected. He had been under pressure from several Dukes County commissioners, who cited a lack of leadership, and the Island community's overall lack of confidence in county government helped push their county manager towards the door.
At their Wednesday night meeting the commissioners voted 4-3 to go into executive session to discuss the resignation. The resignation was seen as a positive step by Tristan Israel of Tisbury, a critic of county government who was elected in November to the seven-member commission." I think the county needs to head in a different direction," he said, "and I think this is a positive step in that direction."
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 (Gosnold), 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 seven county commissioners are chairman Paul Strauss of Oak Bluffs, vice chairman Leslie Leland of West Tisbury, John Alley of West Tisbury, Roger Wey of Oak Bluffs, Lenny Jason Jr. of Chilmark, Tristan Israel of Tisbury, and Carlene Gatting of Edgartown.