Charter study group focuses on least expensive model
At the close of a far-ranging discussion of its own processes, the Dukes County Charter Study Commission (DCCSC) voted to focus primarily, if not exclusively, on the "board chairman" form of county government. The vote was 13-3.
The board chairman form is one of three patterns of county government pre-approved by the state legislature. The DCCSC can simply nominate it - along with the number of commissioners, the length of their terms, and how they are to be elected - to the Massachusetts state secretary, who will place it on the ballot for the November election. If the voters approve, new commissioners would be elected in the November 2010 election, and the new county government would take effect on Jan. 1, 2011. If the voters this fall reject whatever the DCCSC proposes, the present system will continue indefinitely.
At earlier meetings, the DCCSC had voted not to recommend the continuation of the present "county manager" system unless altered significantly, nor to recommend an elected county executive. They had also voted not to recommend a custom designed charter or the abolishment of county government, both of which would require extensive negotiations with the legislature and the governor.
At the start of last week's meeting the DCCSC was still considering an altered form of the present "county manager" system. Although many members of the DCCSC feel that in its present form the county manager system has failed, some think that the legislature might quite quickly approve a few changes that would make it more likely to succeed here. Last week, DCCSC members Mimi Davisson and Paddy Moore voted against the board chairman form only because they felt that a "tweaked" county manager system had not yet had a sufficient consideration by the panel. Dukes County commissioner Lenny Jason, who was not at last week's meeting, has consistently argued that the county manager form still holds the most promise for the Island.
Any of the rejected actions could be reconsidered before a final decision is made.
The board chairman
In the board chairman form, the commissioners elect one of their own number to serve as the executive of county government for a one-year term (she or he may be re-elected). The commissioners also hire a chief administrator, who can be part-time, to manage the day-to-day operations of the county and report to the board chairman. The chief administrator serves at the pleasure of the commissioners.
Most of the voices in favor of the board chairman form focused on improving the county government's relationship with the towns and the voters. County commissioner Paul Strauss said that the board chairman form is most likely to do that. Nora Nevin stressed that unlike the county manager, who is appointed, the executive would be a person elected as a commissioner by the community. Mimi Davisson agreed, saying that accountability belongs with the commission members.
Ted Stanley, also a member of the 1991 DCCSC, commented that the designers of a county charter must balance stability versus accountability. The members in 1991 thought that the county manager system offered the most stability. Other speakers agreed but said that voters today are demanding accountability. Linda Sibley, one of the first county commissioners under the 1991 plan, opined that the county manager form was chosen to insulate the executive from politics, but in practice he or she is also insulated from responsibility.
Tad Crawford pointed out that the chairmanship system works well for town boards of selectmen.
DCCSC member and Tisbury selectman Tristan Israel reiterated a point he has made often: if what is wanted is a "minimalist" or "bare bones" county government, the board chairman form is the least government and the least expensive. DCCSC member and former county commissioner Dan Flynn, who has been proponent of abolishing county government entirely, argued that if the county cannot be abolished, then minimal government with minimal expense is the next best option.