Dukes County searches for gaps in up-Island cell service

Commissioners also discuss updating 2008 charter plan.

The Dukes County board of commissioners last week began review of black holes in up-Island cell phone service that may pose a threat to public safety in the case of emergencies.

The commissioners heard concerns that the now cell-based Island 911 emergency call system is not available now to callers in areas where cell service is unavailable or inadequate. Discussion of the issue centered on accessing objective data that would identify service problem spots, and the commissioners got input from Chuck Cotnoir, Dukes County emergency management director, who attended the meeting.

“The safety issue also also extends to [two-way] radios, and is starting to show impetus from the state. Talk to them and the police and fire departments. They are the powerhouses. The 911 call system is cell-based now, so if there is no cell service, there’s no 911 service,” Mr. Cotnoir said.

Several commissioners said that analyses provided by service providers are self-serving and do not indicate problem areas. Commissioner Robert Metzger favored a “boots on the ground” approach to provide empirical evidence of problem areas. “Muck around, talk to people, town managers, and boards of selectmen. For example, there are three spots on North Road in Chilmark where you can find contractors gathered in order to use their cell phones,” he said.

“We should be responsible [in data-gathering], but forming a [study] committee means it will take three years to get anything done.”

Commissioner Christine Todd suggested the investigation should not be limited to up-Island towns but should be an Island-wide effort, including Chappaquiddick, an opinion shared by commissioner Tristan Israel. “I think it is a regional problem,” he said, asking county manager Martina Thornton to research data the state may have on the subject as a first step.

In other news, the board responded favorably to a suggestion by Mr. Israel to revisit the Dukes County charter, last revised in 2008, which requested an update in eight years.

Commissioners discussed whether the process required a more lengthy study format or whether an outreach program to Island stakeholders would provide feedback needed to adjust the charter to reflect changes in the Island community and to measure the effectiveness of county policies and procedures.

The 2008 commission charter included language calling for a future review. In part, the document said, “The measures designed to improve the accountability of the County Commission to the voters call for a periodic review of the County Charter every eight years and clarify the provisions supporting the recall of a County Commissioner. The Dukes County Commissioners are not bound by these recommendations. They may adopt them in whole or in part, regardless of whether the new charter is approved by voters. However, the current County Commissioners participated actively both in drafting the initial recommendations and in securing their approval by the full Charter Commission. As a result, these recommendations offer the promise of far more impact on the actual performance of County government than structural changes.”

Commissioners were provided with copies of the 2008 Charter document for their review before the next county commissioners meeting, at 4 pm on Dec. 6.

Finally, the board voted to appoint Mike Joyce to complete a term on the Dukes County Health Council, which is open because of the resignation of Karen Kukolich. Mr. Joyce would serve the remaining three months in the vacant position.

The commissioners voted 5-1 to appoint Mr. Joyce, and by a 3-2 vote approved advertising end-of-year openings to the Dukes County Retirement Board and to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC). Both posts are being advertised this week, while the county board reaches out to incumbents Roger Wey (retirement board) and Lenny Jason (MVC) to determine their interest in continuing to serve. Mr. Wey has sent a letter to the board indicating interest in continuing his position, county manager Martina Thornton said.