Oak Bluffs joins complete count committee

Committee headed by Keith Chatinover aims to count every person on the Island.

Dukes County commissioner Keith Chatinover briefs Oak Bluffs selectmen on the complete count committee. — Brian Dowd

Oak Bluffs selectmen tapped planning board chairman Ewell Hopkins to sit on the complete count committee to help brainstorm ways to get more people to fill out the upcoming U.S. Census.

In June, the Dukes County Commission formed the committee, which is tasked with helping the federal government complete the 2020 U.S. Census. 

An accurate census helps communities get federal allocation for grants and determines representation in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Committee chairman and Dukes County commissioner Keith Chatinover said the Island is lagging behind other communities who began their committees in 2018. “The census is critical, and it’s critical that we get everyone counted,” Chatinover said.

The count committee’s role is to brainstorm and take information from the community on the best ways to get people to take the census. Chatinover has been making the rounds to each Island town to get a selectman or a town administrator to be part of the committee. So far Edgartown town administrator James Hagerty, Chilmark selectman Warren Doty, and West Tisbury town administrator Jennifer Rand have all joined the committee.

The first meeting is Sept. 4 at the county office at 2:30 pm. Chatinover plans for the committee to meet once a month.

The census is traditionally completed with door-to-door visits, but the 2020 census can be completed online. The online census is available in a dozen languages, which Chatinover said will be especially helpful with the Island’s at-risk Portuguese-speaking populations. This avoids having government officials knocking on doors.

Selectman Gail Barmakian said the “fear factor” played a role in dissuading people from taking the census.

In conversations with officials from the Massachuestts secretary of state’s office and the U.S. Census Bureau, Chatinover has been told the 2020 census faces a lot of issues due to attempts at getting a citizenship question on the census.

The census aims to count every person residing in the U.S., including citizens, noncitizen legal residents, and unauthorized residents. Along with the standard demographic questions, the Trump administration made a push in early 2018 to ask people, Is this person a citizen of the United States?

Opponents of the question felt it would prompt fears among among undocumented immigrants and their families, resulting in undercounts for states that mostly favor Democrats. That could result in smaller House of Representative delegations, and less federal funding.

The question was eventually blocked from the census in a Supreme Court vote, but Chatinover says at-risk populations will still be hesitant to complete the census. “Frankly, it’s real scary when folks from the federal government are knocking on your door, whether you have documentation or not,” Chatinover said. “Particularly because of the Trump administration. They tried to get that citizen question on there.”

Chatinover plans to reach out to Vineyard Grocer owner Elio Silva and The Times’ Brazilian community columnist Juliana Germani to be on the committee.

“There has to be a multipronged approach to this, because knocking on doors doesn’t work in a lot of places, just as online doesn’t work in a lot of cases,” Chatinover said.

Ewell Hopkins agreed to be Oak Bluffs representative on the committee.

In other business, selectmen agreed to send a letter to the Steamship Authority (SSA) advocating for continuation of the 5:30 am boats.

“It’s absolutely necessary for the Island,” Robert Huss, Oak Bluffs port council representative, said.

The SSA has offered the early morning trips from May through September for the past five years. Marc Hanover, the Island’s representative to the SSA, said the early boat gives food delivery trucks a jump on traffic, and is used by Islanders who need to get to medical appointments off-Island.

Hanover said the Southeast Massachusetts Regional Transportation (SMART) Citizens Task Force, a group focused on traffic issues, is approaching the Falmouth selectmen to get rid of the early ferry due to complaints of increased traffic on the Cape and in Woods Hole by residents.

Selectmen suggested reaching out to the other towns, Nantucket, the county commission, and the Martha’s Vineyard Cancer Support Group, who depend on the early boat to get to medical appointments. 

Selectmen also agreed to hold the second annual Ladyfest on Oct. 19, and Tivoli Day on Sept. 14. Last year Ladyfest, which promotes women artists, raised $20,000 for Connect to End Violence, a program of Martha’s Vineyard Community Services (MVCS), to raise awareness about domestic violence and abuse on Martha’s Vineyard.

Selectmen approved opening dates for the scallop season in Sengekontacket Pond and Lagoon Pond. For Sengekontacket, recreational fishing opens on Oct. 12, and commercial fishing opens on Oct. 21. For Lagoon Pond, recreational fishing opens on Oct. 26, and commercial fishing opens on Oct. 28.