Tisbury needs to wake up


By Geoghan Coogan

Ten years ago I started a term as a Tisbury selectmen. I was 32 at the time, had a young family of my own, and envisioned a substantial career as a member of the select board. As my term wound down, I decided I could not continue serving. My family was a factor, but the other driving force was the simple fact that it felt impossible to get anything done in this town.
In 2010 we moved the Town Hall Annex employees to trailers up near the landfill. I vividly remember promising those employees that they would only be there for a few years at the longest, until we had plans for a new town hall. A decade later, those employees are more comfortable in the trailers than the employees in the ancient Katharine Cornell Theater, and there has been zero discussion about a new town hall. In 2012, the town struck down the Connector Road concept. Islanders Talk on Facebook is ablaze all summer long about how bad the traffic is in Tisbury from Cronig’s down to the Steamship. Why can’t we fix it?
Now we have this debacle with the Tisbury School. This should be the tipping point for this town. Two of my own children will now spend the rest of their elementary school experience in trailers. Why does this town keep shooting itself in the foot? Two reasons. One, the common refrain that no change is good in Tisbury. We’re a “sleepy,” “working harborfront” town, and we should leave it the way it is. Two, our taxes keep going up, so every project that comes across the town’s table is just going to raise our taxes more, so forget it.
These two reasons are linked. Residents are right to fear tax increases. We do not depend on a large tax base, and because our town refuses to wake up to what we actually are, we lose opportunities to generate the kind of local revenues that could prevent those tax hikes. We are not a working harborfront town. Our harbor consists of many businesses which are profitable because they provide goods and services to the tourist economy. On one hand, we promote and support these operations as vital to our town’s economy, but then we restrict any additional development along our harbor under the premise we are a “working harborfront.” This town cannot continue to believe we pull the shades down at 4 pm and turn in for the night. Our industry is tourism. 

Oak Bluffs and Edgartown have embraced their identities as port communities that thrive off the tourism industry. Edgartown isn’t pretending to be a whaling community, and Tisbury should stop pretending that we’re a sleepy working harborfront. When tourists arrive on the Island and immediately leave this town to enjoy the island’s other towns, we have failed. When we don’t accept what we are, we don’t advance, and our taxes go up.
We debated beer and wine in restaurants years ago. That decision has not had any negative impact on our town. Recreational marijuana stores are about to open here, yet you can’t go to a store and buy a bottle of wine. The old Bowl & Board building, with a nice restaurant and bar, maybe some outside tables, would be a central attraction, yet it sits empty year after year. 

If we stopped pretending we’re a sleepy town, and embraced our identity as a tourist destination, the town would finally start seeing the funds needed to fix our municipal buildings. After all, it’s not just the school. Our police department is located in the most congested area of town, in a substandard building. We tore down our old fire station, and we’re renting parking spaces for a pittance, most of which sit empty on a daily basis. The Santander building hasn’t sold, probably in part because the town, and now the MVC, is mandating red roof shingles. Really? Why not move past the shingles and focus on putting some of these properties back on the tax rolls? This would not only increase tax revenue, but bring in more development and tourism, which increase local revenues. 

We will have a special town meeting in September to vote to authorize $1.5 million to house our students in trailers, for what could be a few years, at a minimum. We spent $875,000 on a feasibility study to determine options for a new or renovated school just a few years ago. The work has been done. The money has been spent. We can’t fix the past, and it does no good to point fingers and cast blame. We can’t solely rely on those who volunteer their time on various town boards, or even those who work for the town. The leaders in this town, and those employed to manage this town, need to start making progress. If the people who live and enjoy this town want to see this town progress, we need to speak up and be ready to help however we can. Right now, we have one opportunity. We need to pull out those $875,000 plans and make a decision. And once that’s done, clear a path to embrace what really runs this Island and what will really help our town. Then and only then will Tisbury wake from its slumber. 


Geoghan Coogan was born and raised in Tisbury. He’s been practicing law in Tisbury for 17 years, and was a Tisbury selectmen from 2010 to 2013.


  1. Well written and true. Sadly, I think your town has a majority of voters who only care about low taxes. Not quality of life. Tisbury is the laughingstock of the island.

  2. The people in Tisbury aren’t all against higher taxes. The taxes are high, but we don’t get anything for them. Tisbury just wants to raise taxes instead of changing some things so there will be money in their coffers. Why can’t there be a waterfront with restaurants and shops? Why can’t they encourage businesses instead of the opposite. The town has been quietly dying since they stopped guaranteed standby. Tisbury is still pretty much a pass through town. Look what Tisbury did to the Stop & Shop. Now people complain about the store. We had our chance. The town needs to be shaken up!

    • Rosiegirl, because your town voted in, for 25 years, someone telling you that you couldn’t have beer / wine or alcohol, that you and the businesses couldn’t handle it. For 25 years one selectman told the masses that business was bad and taxed them higher, that stop and shop was bad, that the police department was bad, that a separate dpw was bad, that the school didn’t need repair or a new school, that the ssa was the problem, that the old fire station was fine and the new one was too expensive, that beach road did not need to be redone, that millions from the state for a new school was not needed. rosiegirl, your town has your shakeup, that one person is now gone!

      • TT there are 3 Selectmen. And one recently re elected by a thin margin who had 2 previous terms to get things done and failed. Your irrational bitterness is obvious as you disparage and blame one longtime Selectmen for all the problems in this Town . At least you always knew where that Selectman stood, and he never made any anonymous comments. This Town needs to be shaken up, starting with, as Mr Coogan said, stopping the finger pointing and blaming.

  3. a refreshing honest assessment hopefully people will wake up to the reality you have brought to into the spot light. thank you

  4. Attorney Coogan I am so grateful for your well written and 100% spot on assessment of our town. You provided a long overdue voice of reason. So many parents in our community are feeling powerless and disenfranchised. Will you consider throwing your hat into the ring in the future? My hope is fading and we are considering relocating. The exorbitant cost of living would sting less if at least we had a lead, mold, asbestos and radon free school. Heck even if we had an open school!

  5. Well said! People wake the heck up! VH has been floundering. It’s time for real change. Your children and community deserve better

  6. Very well written and it is for this reason why I will not buy a home in Tisbury. I can not in good conscience send my children to school in trailers when the town will not take the initiative to either rebuild or refurbish the school and mitigate the lead paint in the building. This is for the children, there should not even be a discussion for it except to possibly revamp the board of selectman and vote in people who actually care for the town and the people that live there instead of how they can line their pockets.

  7. Nice work. Not because I’m related to you but because you checked off all the boxes. Growning up as the sons of a Selectman I remember our pop at Cronigs talking to residents about small issues and making sure those things would come up in town meetings etc. It made me proud to be his son. You have kids in trailers while they should be in a real school. Lets make sure something gets done, and ASAP. Keep grinding that axe Geoghan and maybe get back in that selectman seat. Great stuff…Good luck VH!

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