A three-way race for the two elected Tisbury seats on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission is heating up as voters head to the polls over the next two weeks.
The Martha’s Vineyard Commission, the Island’s regional planning agency, is made up of 17 voting commissioners: Nine are elected by voters in Island-wide elections every two years, six are appointed on an annual basis by the boards of selectmen in each Island town, one is appointed by the Dukes County Commission, and one is appointed by the governor. Four other members are appointed by the governor, but do not have voting rights on developments of regional impact or districts of critical planning concern.
This year voters will see nine candidates and nine spots to fill, but the ballot is still a contested race. The top vote getter in each town is elected to the commission, and then the next three top vote getters are elected as at-large candidates — each town is only allowed a maximum of two elected members.
This year Tisbury has three candidates running: Clarence (“Trip”) Barnes III, Ben Robinson, and Josh Goldstein. West Tisbury and Edgartown have two candidates running, and Oak Bluffs and Aquinnah have one candidate running.
Barnes has served on the commission since 2013. He founded Barnes Moving & Storage, was the first president of Vineyard House, and is a well-known auctioneer.
Referencing the commission’s recent approval of its DRI checklist, Barnes said the commission shouldn’t be telling homeowners how to build their homes. “They’re telling people how to build their house. That’s wrong. If people want to be concerned about it, put [solar panels] up on their roof, and they can afford to do it, fine. I don’t think it should be legislated,” Barnes said.
Barnes did praise the commission’s effort to raise awareness around climate change, stressing the importance of recognizing the issue, but making sure whatever changes the commission makes are realistic.
“The reason I stay on is because I am a businessman. I’ve been working on this Island since 1960, and working very hard,” Barnes said. “I don’t have a lot of education, but I know what works on the Vineyard and what doesn’t work.”
Barnes said he’s always looking out for what’s best for the Island that he’s called home since the 1960s. He added that both Robinson and Goldstein are good guys, and have been friends on the commission.
“I think that I’ve done a lot of good because I’m trying to look out for the business side of things. I love the Vineyard more than anybody else, I think,” Barnes said. “I just want to try and keep it going.”
Goldstein has been on the commission since 2013. He said he’s enjoyed his time getting to see the underside of projects that come through the commission’s review: “The commission is a volunteer position, and it takes a lot of time, but I’ve enjoyed it and I’ve enjoyed people coming in, and I always hope there will be new people running.”
As one of the younger members on the commission and as a hotelier, Goldstein said he brings an element to the planning agency some of his fellow commissioners don’t.
As for what separates him from Barnes and Roninson, Goldstein said it’s different for each opponent. “What separates me from Trip is Trip knows where all the bodies are buried, and I’m just learning. That’s what you get for 40 years of moving every single person to and from the Island,” Goldstein joked.
As for Robinson, Goldstein said the two, who are both Island natives close in age, differ on how the Island should be developed. “What’s great about me and Ben is we’re both Island kids who really love this place,” Goldstein said. “I want to make sure that we preserve and protect while encouraging development. I want to make sure that there’s still a thriving business community here, and I see it from a perspective as someone who grew up in the back office of a hotel.”
Goldstein added he wants to see changes at an appropriate pace. “I want to make sure we move to solar. I want to make sure that we start walking away from fossil fuels, but we can’t just turn it off,” Goldstein said.
In a follow-up email, Goldstein wrote that his support for a new Tisbury School in 2018 is one of the most significant differences between himself and Robinson. “I supported a new Tisbury School. He led the charge against it. I support new development done right,” Goldstein wrote. “Here we are, two years and millions of town dollars later, and we are no closer to a new school then we were two years ago. The taxpayers in Tisbury are out all of the money spent on designing and redesigning the project, and the $14 million–plus in state aid is no longer available. The cost of the renovation has ballooned to over $53 million (a significant increase over the cost of a new school).”
Robinson has served on the commission for the past four years as the Tisbury select board appointee, but is now seeking one of Tisbury’s elected seats. As Tisbury’s appointee, Robinson has served on the MVC’s Finance Committee and the DRI Checklist Review Committee.
Known for his advocacy around climate change issues, Robinson also chairs the Energy and Green Building Policy Review Committee, and founded the commission’s Climate Action Task Force.
Robinson told The Times he decided to run to see if Island voters supported his mission around climate change issues. “You’re representing the town as their appointee, which was fine in the beginning, but as my work progressed at the MVC, I was taking on a bigger role across the Island with climate issues,” Robinson said. “I think running on the climate issue is an important vote to be taken by the Island. The things that I’m attempting to do with others at the commission are becoming controversial. It’s asking for change that people may or may not want to make. I wanted to get a sense if the public was behind some of this stuff.”
Robinson said he sees himself as an underdog in the race, since Barnes and Goldstein both have strong support from voters. He also doesn’t see his fellow Tisbury residents as opponents.
“Trip Barnes and I have ideological differences on a lot of issues, but are friends … The nice thing about the commission is it is a broad segment of the Island population, and people bring in different viewpoints, and it allows for fairly healthy debate on a lot of issues,” Robinson said.
He added that Tisbury has been well represented over the past few years with himself, Barnes, and Goldstein.