County charter study on schedule
At their meeting on August 23, chairman William O'Brien and vice-chairman Paddy Moore reported that the Dukes County Charter Study Commission (DCCSC) is completing the information-gathering phase of its work and plans an October 11 straw vote to narrow down its recommendations, with preliminary conclusions and public hearings this winter and a final recommendation in February or March. Mr. O'Brien commented that the DCCSC is on schedule with the timetable they set for themselves last winter.
On August 23, Ms. Moore noted that five of six subcommittees have reported in writing to the study commission: on the county manager, the airport, the sheriff's department, the county courthouse, and the county treasurer's office. The subcommittee on the role of the commissioners will report this week. DCCSC member Dan Flynn, former airport commissioner and county commissioner, will submit written objections to the airport subcommittee's report. Ms. Moore has told The Times that these documents will be available at the Dukes County web site (http://dukescounty.org) by Labor Day.
Three more subcommittees will report in med-September on the impact of abolishing (and not replacing) county government, on finances and revenue sources, and on statutory and political issues.
The main agenda item for the August 23 meeting was a discussion of "the shortcomings of the county manager form of government," the form now in effect in Dukes County. After more than an hour of comments, DCCSC member Richard Knabel summed up the discussion: "Almost no one thinks the county government should stay the same. The consensus is that it should change."
Only former county commissioner John Early had said that the county manager system might be workable, though he felt that at present it is not working well.
Current commissioner Lenny Jason objected that the meeting's agenda focused too narrowly on the county's drawbacks. "Will we have a session on what's good about the county?" he asked. He mentioned that Island veterans appreciate the work of the county agent Jo Ann Murphy.
However, Mr. Jason also commented that in general the present county commission lacks "accountability, credibility, and trust." Others echoed his words and added that the present county government has no sustainable source of revenue. Putting it another way, Mr. Flynn said that the county has "little money, little function, and little respect." But he went on to add that he thinks there is a need for the kinds of regional services a county might provide.
Although alternate proposals were not on the agenda, several members proposed them anyway, and it was clear from the discussion that there was no consensus about what, if anything, should replace Dukes County government. Mimi Davisson, in response to a question from The Times, said that despite the shortcomings listed by the members, some form of county-manager government has not been ruled out.
The straw vote on October 11 is intended to narrow down the solutions to be considered.
Replacing Winn Davis
Even as the DCCSC members pointedly criticized the county manager system, the county has begun to seek a replacement for County Manager Winn Davis, who recently resigned. Asked if the DCCSC had a recommendation to the county commissioners in their recruitment of a new manager, several DCCSC members said that it will not. Mr. Flynn said, "Let the county do their job. We have a job to do."
John Alley and Mr. Knabel pointed out that even if the DCCSC acted at its speediest and the legislature and the voters acted at the earliest opportunities, the soonest a new form of county government could take effect would be January of 2011. In the words of Mr. Knabel, "The county manager form of government is here for a while."
DCCSC member Paul Strauss, chairman of the county commissioners, said that the county has advertised the position and received 11 responses. Next week, a screening committee will review the candidates' resumes blind (with the names removed by acting manager Noreen Mavro-Flanders).
According to Mr. Strauss, all candidates will be told, "Your job, if selected, may be temporary; it may last a couple of years, and it could be permanent." He went on to say that he would tell applicants that there could be a change in the county organization structure, and they may be part of that in the future, or they may not be. "We feel we've got to be up front with these people. There's no sense trying to delude anybody... it wouldn't work. People are smarter than that."