Charter Commission plans public sessions in July
On three successive Thursdays in July, the 23-member Dukes County Charter Commission (DCCC) will sponsor public meetings to hear from representatives of other counties in the Commonwealth how their county governments were either changed or abolished. The sessions will take place on July 12, 19, and 26, at the Tisbury Senior Center in Vineyard Haven, at 7 pm. The public is urged to attend, and officials from all towns have been invited.
Each session will examine a different approach to changing county government. On July 12, representatives of Bristol, Nantucket, and Plymouth Counties will discuss the county commissioner form of county government. On July 19, former county officials from Franklin and Hampshire Counties will discuss how county government was abolished in their areas. On July 26, officials from Barnstable County will discuss the experience of creating a custom form of county government.
"These sessions are an important step in our in-depth examination of all the alternatives for Dukes County, including doing nothing," said William F. O'Brien 3rd, chairman of the DCCC.
"I want to emphasize that the commission has made no decisions, and won't even begin discussing the possibilities until after these sessions."
The DCCC was elected last November for a prescribed 18-month term to study the current Dukes County Charter, which went into effect on Jan. 1, 1995, and provided for a county manager form of governance. The new charter commission includes 15 Island-wide elected members, the seven county commissioners, and a representative of the county advisory board. All are voting members and are required to produce a final report, possibly with recommendations to the voters, by May 2008. Any recommendations would be on the ballot in the November 2008 election, with possible further action required by the legislature before any change in county governance would occur.
The possible recommendations available to the DCCC, which are set by statute, range from recommending no change to the current form of governance, to outright abolishment of county government without any replacement form at all. In between are forms of county governance outlined in Chapter 34A of the Massachusetts General Laws. These are: a County Commissioner Form; a County Manager Form (with modifications of the current charter provisions); a County Executive Form; and a custom form. All possibilities are still under study, and the DCCC has spent the past months designing a work plan for itself, but has made no decisions. The three July sessions are meant to gather as much information as possible on the experience of other counties.
There are 14 geographic entities called counties in the Commonwealth. Dukes County is the only one with a County Manager form of governance. Eight have abolished their governments since the early 1990s - Berkshire, Essex, Franklin, Hampden, Hampshire, Middlesex, Suffolk, and Worcester. Both Franklin and Hampshire Counties formed a regional council of (town) governments in place of their previous governance structures. Bristol and Plymouth have no charter, but have county commissioners. Barnstable has a custom charter with three commissioners and an assembly of delegates. Nantucket, where town and county government overlap, has five commissioners who are also selectmen.
Richard Knabel, a West Tisbury resident, is a member of the Dukes County Charter Study Commission.