Charter study group hears from planners
Last Thursday's meeting of the Dukes County Charter Study Commission (DCCSC) was billed as a "blue skies" brainstorming session, by which the commissioners meant an unrestricted opportunity to suggest ideas for county government in Dukes County or for any kind of regional government which might replace it.
The first half of the meeting was given to Mark London, executive director of the Martha's Vineyard Commission (MVC), and Jim Athearn, steering committee chairman of the Island Plan, an MVC project. They discussed several "promising initiatives," drafted by the Island Plan's work groups, which might have a bearing on the DCCSC's deliberations. In preliminary form and not as yet reviewed by the steering committee of the work groups themselves, the initiatives qualified by definition as "blue skies" ideas.
In the second half of the meeting, only a handful of the DCCSC members present contributed "blue skies" suggestions.
The Island Plan
According to Mr. Athearn of Edgartown, the mission of the Island Plan is "to chart a course to the kind of future that the Vineyard community wants and design a series of actions to help us navigate that course."
The "promising initiatives" reported by Mr. London last week were from the five groups whose work is just now being completed, and he highlighted those actions for which regional action would be desirable or essential. Whether there is a role for county government in the actions would be up to the DCCSC (and eventually the voters).
The Energy and Solid Waste group suggests a region-wide energy code for new construction, required energy audits and upgrades of buildings, local generation of energy, and an Island-wide waste conversion system.
The Housing group, among other initiatives, recommends Island-wide cost sharing for infrastructure and services, such as building inspection and assessment.
The Livelihood and Commerce group proposes an eco-tourism or cultural tourism program, new food-production and processing infrastructure, a community-owned electric utility, and incentives to secure more commercial and agricultural land.
The Natural Environment work group wants the Island to re-establish public access to open spaces, beaches, and shorelines. They also suggest establishing an agricultural lands initiative and initiatives to promote Vineyard native-plant landscaping and roadsides.
The Water Resources subcommittee wants an Island wastewater management plan, a management committee for each coastal pond, and stormwater diversions at brooks and harbors.
The five work groups had many more items than these, but Mr. London selected those which might be of interest to the DCCSC.
Art Flathers in the blue skies
Most DCCSC commissioners were relatively quiet in the blue skies session. More suggested courses of future action in the session on August 23, when proposals were not on the agenda, than last week, when they were. Only Arthur Flathers of Tisbury presented ideas at length.
Mr. Flathers's ideas had a business orientation. It is his overarching view that the Vineyard is an enterprise. His concepts, he wrote, "would be best achieved within a Martha's Vineyard cooperative with a governance structure under the guidance of a board made up of representatives of each town, where financing can flow smoothly and easily Island-wide."
His suggestions, presented in writing to the other commissioners, were based on the idea that wealth is the ultimate source of revenue for government. He counseled using new technologies, viewing government actions as investments in the economic health of the Island, creating financial incentives, and making decisions based on their effectiveness and efficiency.
Mr. Flathers made several specific proposals. He would have the county lease the airport to the airport commission at an annual rate of between two and three percent of its value, and reorder the business park leases to maximize revenue. He would fix Steamship Authority tariffs to reduce congestion and reduce freight rates.
Mr. Flathers would lease selected ocean areas for aquaculture, and promote the use of conservation land to propagate and sell native plants, with a portion of the revenue returning to governments. He would develop curricula in the schools with a culinary and hospitality emphasis, develop culinary and hospitality education programs here at the post-secondary level, and partner with Elderhostel to develop short-term programs here. He would seek a grant to promote the Island as a seashore.
He would restrict the use of agriculture lands to production of "high value" farming, by which he explained he means crops other than animals - a suggestion which produced some grumbling from Mr. Athearn and others.
Mr. Flathers's cooperative would join with Cape and Islands partners in sharing expertise and expense, and lead the Cape and Islands region in lobbying Boston and Washington.
Mimi Davisson, a member of the MVC and DCSSC, suggested that under the umbrella of financial services, the county might offer financial and information technology to the towns and to school districts. The county could operate a "regional service bureau" which could provide financial information, assessing information, a telecommunications network, and information technology.
Offering factual information, Ms. Davisson reported that the total of the budgets of the six Island towns is about $75 million, but single towns with similar populations average $50 million to deliver the same services. She added, "Common sense says that at some point, our collective pocket books will cry 'Uncle' and say, 'All right already, we've got to find a better way.'"
Tad Crawford of West Tisbury said that it is essential that whatever ideas the DCCSC comes up with be vetted with all stakeholders, the towns and the public at large. On a related topic, he said that the DCCSC find an equitable way to fund regional services.
Holly Stephenson of Tisbury wanted to be sure that whatever charter is drawn up contains a built-in periodic charter review, much like Barnstable County's, in which changes can be made without going back to the legislature.
Linda Sibley of West Tisbury, MVC and DCCSC member, commented that although it would require a custom charter, more difficult to get from the legislature, it would be a good idea to give the voters the legal power in the future to take over some of the special purpose commissions on the Island, such as the MVC, the Vineyard Transit Authority, or others. "I don't envision our encompassing those right now, but I think we might give the people the power, if they choose, to merge one of those entities into the county." She went on to say that such a takeover can not happen at present, because people don't trust the county, but that may change in the future.
By definition, the "blue skies" session came to no conclusions and took no action. At the meeting on October 11, the DCCSC will begin to work toward a recommendation by taking a straw poll of its members.