Ahead of the Tisbury town election on Tuesday, June 23, we reached out to incumbent Melinda Loberg and challengers Larry Gomez and Melanie Englert, who are running for a single seat on the select board. Each candidate shared responses to several key issues. The election will be held at the Emergency Services Facility (West Spring Street). Polls are open from 12 noon to 8 pm.
Why are you running for office? What separates you from your opponents?
Melinda Loberg: Spending 10 years on the Drawbridge project demonstrates my perseverance in seeing things through. There remain initiatives I would like to help see implemented. The school project is high on the list. The Beach Road DOT project is set to begin in the fall, with contractor White Bros.-Lynch. Because so many properties are considering their future plans along Water Street and Beach Road, this is an ideal time to re-envision the harborfront, Tisbury’s greatest asset. The town is laying the groundwork to ensure the continued protection of this corridor so that businesses can anticipate a future and the town can benefit from a vibrant commercial tax base. Tisbury has tremendous potential as a cultural district. The M.V. Museum moving to our town has been a catalyst for highlighting the town’s many cultural assets. This designation really distinguishes Tisbury from other towns on the island, and should be more aggressively marketed. The most compelling reason for my candidacy is to keep a balanced board and a voice for the environment. Differences between the candidates can perhaps be best appreciated by viewing the Candidates’ Forum, conducted by the League of Women Voters on mvtv.org.
Melanie Englert: I’m running because Tisbury is my home, and I want to make a lasting contribution to it if I can. I’ve been here for six years now, and I’d like to be a bigger part of the community, and if I can help improve things, better still. I think the fact that I’m not a politician separates me from my opponents. I’m seeing things with new eyes and ears, and I will listen to people. I think my lack of experience is an asset, because I’m a fast learner and can bring a fresh perspective.
Larry Gomez: Because I want more decisive decisions made. We tend to overthink the way we do things. I understand we need to follow local, state, or federal guidelines, but does it have to take forever to make a decision? I want a selectman to say yes, or no. Not table it and create another committee. Put target dates down, and shoot for that date to make a decision. I want our taxpayers to see physically something getting done. Let’s fix that pothole in front of Joe’s house. People are thrilled and excited when they see physical things getting done, and quickly. I know we get a lot of grant money. But the grant money goes to things that take a year or two to complete.
What should be done with the tennis courts on Church Street?
Loberg: Responding to the wishes of the community, the open space committee is looking to continue recreation in this historic residential district. They are researching a less costly court, management practices for the use of the courts, as well as alternative types of recreation. Picnic amenities plus some additional parking spaces could be added. I support this planning process. In order to provide funding support, we could explore a partnership with inns and hotels in town to offer the use of the court(s) for their customers. Further, I hope the town will return to its past practice of offering recreation programs, like swim lessons, tennis lessons, and the like, to encourage more widespread use of our park facilities. A win for everyone. Game. Set. And match.
Englert: I know an open space is ideal. Perhaps a mixed-use park with a community garden is something to look into. I feel the neighborhood could benefit from something we can all put an effort into — individual people like labors of love, why can’t a community? If the town is interested in a revenue source, a good bet is a trampoline park.
Gomez: If we can buy new police cars, we should be able to find the money to refurbish and maintain the tennis courts, or find the money and have a professional company to maintain them. I support the tennis courts.
Do you support the mixed-use development proposed for Beach Road?
Loberg: As initially presented to the town by the developer, the project presented challenges, as outlined in a letter from the planning board and select board to the Massachusetts Housing Department. Primarily, the ongoing problems with flooding in this area are legendary. The area between Lagoon Pond Road and Beach Road is a filled wetland. As we deal with climate change and sea level rise, we shouldn’t be investing in infrastructure, especially for affordable housing, in an area where storms are worsening; insurance, if you can get it, will be ever more costly; and people, rather than just buildings, might be put at risk. Alternatively, the best use of our tax resources and CPC money for infrastructure in support of much-needed affordable housing should be sited in areas designated for “smart growth.” The Island Food Products proposal, for example, is on a major transportation route, has close access to sewer, an adjacent business district, consists of primarily workforce housing rather than the minimum percentage, and is out of danger of flooding. Further, it has the promise of opening up alternative routes, like the unfinished connector road, and easing traffic at the State Road/Vineyard Haven–Edgartown Road intersection.
Englert: I’m not crazy about 40B developments — they are problematic from many standpoints. I think that anything that’s built in a floodplain should adhere to a rigorous permitting process and whatever zoning laws apply. No shortcuts. We haven’t had a major hurricane in a while, but I’d like to be able to say we did everything by the book should something go awry.
Gomez: Yes, I support it. We need more business in that corridor that will help our taxes and bring in new businesses. We lose a lot of business to other towns. We need to capture that visitor to stay longer in Vineyard Haven. I was also the only selectman who voted for the symmetrical road plan in 2015.
Who is responsible for the problems with lead and asbestos at Tisbury School?
Loberg: Buildings the age of our school were constructed using materials such as these as common practice. Over the years, as the building was maintained and added onto, these materials were removed or mitigated according to best practices. This will be further addressed as required in the renovation. I believe the community will widely support a renovation project that honors our history while offering modern amenities and design, at a cost the town can afford.
The School Building Committee has been working hard with the same architecture firm that designed our last addition. They will be presenting their proposed schematic design in the fall. The plans will address the education program needs as set out by the school committee. The interior climate systems will be totally upgraded, and made energy-efficient. The building exterior will be weather-tight while maintaining its historic façade. At present, additions are planned to address the space needs and adjacencies of classroom and support services. The landscape plan is also taking shape, and addresses the goal of providing for outdoor education and recreation appropriate to the K-8 cohort. Let’s look forward together, rather than backward, and finish this exciting project for our kids, parents, and teachers.
Englert: Whoever was in charge and did not remediate these problems years ago. I feel that the possibility of a new school led some to wonder if it was worth investing any serious time and money in the old one: Why bother putting any money in a beater that needs brakes if you’re getting a new car in a few months? But then funding for the new school wasn’t approved, and some problems with the old school that had piled up exponentially had to be dealt with, lead and asbestos being two of many. However, those problems should have been dealt with long before the thought of a new school. Ultimately, the anticipation for a new school ended up being a major source of other problems.
Gomez: I don’t think anyone is fully responsible, but possibly we let bidders decide what’s right or not, and then try to fix it after awards are made. I fully support the school, and have done so since 2015, when I served as a member of the select board, and again, was the only selectman to fully support the school. We gave away $14 million.
Did the select board make a mistake by disbanding boards and forming the natural resources committee?
Loberg: During my tenure I have worked to increase coordination and planning across town departments. Tisbury’s water resources remain among our most important and most threatened assets. Our natural resources department was created to optimize coordination to protect and develop these assets. This is a model that has worked in other coastal towns, and I supported this approach for Tisbury. We began by bringing the harbormaster and shellfish wardens and their staff together, and by combining their respective roles into one advisory committee. The committee has indeed struggled to find its footing. We in town hall, including myself, failed at the outset to provide the necessary support, including the provision of a sufficiently specific charter. The committee members themselves were drawn from membership of the previous committees, plus a member of the ConCom, and are up to the task. I continue to be a strong advocate, and if re-elected will seek to reinvigorate this and other town committees that seek the support of the select board in order to better serve the community.
Englert: I don’t think it was a mistake as much as it was executed without a clear mission. I feel everyone on the committee had the necessary credentials and experience, but lacked a compass in terms of what their purpose was and where they fell in the scheme of things. People like knowing what they’re supposed to do, especially when it’s a public trust. I think guidance is a key issue here, that and an objective.
Gomez: Yes and no. Maybe the disbanding of boards was done too quickly. I was on the DPW advisory board when I received a letter in my mailbox saying I was terminated. Caught a lot of people by surprise. No warning. It’s possible we need to review, but not completely necessary at this time.
What do you see as the major issues facing the town?
Loberg: One of the top issues is how best to maintain services and increase development/housing while preserving sustainable beauty and quality of life. We will need “smart growth” development plans and associated zoning. We will need the assistance of the MVC and its Island Plan. We also need a long-term capital improvement plan to manage the town’s investment needs, initially for the school project, and later for the much-needed Town Hall, and for the relocation of the Police Department out of the vulnerable waterfront area.
Climate change and predicted sea level rise threaten the future viability of our waterfront district, and must be addressed. The Island’s grade school children are teaching us sustainability. We must honor their efforts, and learn from them. One day they will need to be the stewards of all of today’s efforts. We should not ignore quality-of-life issues. Supporting redevelopment of the Stop & Shop, addressing the condition of some noncompliance properties around town, and keeping an eye on the maintenance of roads, sidewalks, and bicycle routes will serve as a source of pride in our community.
Englert: We need to come up with some long-term solutions for affordable housing. The development of Beach Road is definitely of great concern to Tisbury residents as well. And the problems with parking certainly have to be addressed. I’d like to see the park and ride open earlier; it would be a big help to people who work early, and would open up more spots near Main Street. There are environmental issues to look at. The recent changes regarding alcohol consumption are going to change things, and we don’t want to have an identity crisis regarding what we are as a town.
Gomez: Not enough worker bees. All departments are hamstrung without enough people to do the work. We also may be seeing issues when long-term employees begin to retire. Granted, we have no space for more employees, but again, we’ve been talking about a new Town Hall forever. What’s wrong with 55 West Spring St.? Have we done anything? No. Why? We owe the taxpayers an answer. They approved the purchase at town meeting. However, this has been an ongoing problem. Can I fix it? Not by myself, but I can make the wheel squeak. Tisbury taxpayers should rise up and say, “No, we aren’t going to take it any longer.”