The Tisbury select board appointed town administrator Jay Grande as the town’s representative to the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (MVC) on Wednesday, Jan. 20, in what they hope will be a temporary, stopgap appointment.
There were two candidates who applied for the position on the Island’s regional planning agency — David Ferraguzzi and Elaine Miller — and neither of them was all that enthusiastic about the job. In fact, the discussion quickly turned from interviewing the two candidates to wondering why there weren’t more volunteers stepping up.
“To tell you the truth, I’m surprised there are only two people from the town of Tisbury interested in that position,” said Ferraguzzi, who previously served on the MVC. “I know maybe at my age you’re saying I’m too old, but where are the people who are in the 30 or 40 age brackets? … That’s a criticism I’ve had for a while.”
Select board chair Jeff Kristal also weighed in. “Where are those 30-year-olds, and how are we not reaching them? Maybe we didn’t leave it out there long enough, I don’t know,” Kristal said. “I feel your befuddlement.”
That was followed by select board member Larry Gomez suggesting that the board delay the appointment and advertise for more candidates.
He got no argument from Ferraguzzi, who still serves on the town’s Community Preservation committee, or Miller, who is on the Tisbury planning board and the Vineyard Transit Authority advisory board. “I certainly heard the dialogue, and I certainly understand we’re all looking for young people. I have no problem with that,” Miller said.
As we reported a few weeks ago, the Coalition to Create the Martha’s Vineyard Housing Bank sees stipends as a possible solution to get younger people to join what will eventually be the town advisory boards working on affordable housing. (This is all dependent on the legislation getting approved at town meetings and at the state level.)
Speaking of the housing bank, it could be that people who rent — especially those who move around — will never feel invited in. If we don’t provide housing for young people, we can’t expect them to feel like they’re part of the community. And if that’s the case, perhaps the Island has to look to some of its seasonal taxpayers to join in the conversation. Especially in the age of Zoom, living off-Island part of the year is not an impediment, and many of these folks are interested, experienced, and smart.
Keith Chatinover, who ran for and won a seat on the county commission at 18, is a rare breed — a young person on an Island board. He agrees that modest stipends could help attract some younger candidates. “Most young people don’t have the time to serve because they’re working, can’t afford a sitter, etc.,” he wrote in a text message.
Engaging potential candidates where they’re at is another way to recruit. Tisbury and other Island towns barely have a social media presence, with the exception of Island police and fire departments, which do a really good job of getting their messages out. In Tisbury, you can sign up for email alerts on the town’s website, but emails easily get lost in the inbox clutter. Edgartown has the right idea by allowing folks to sign up for text alerts. Perhaps other towns could do that too, and send out alerts when they have important openings on boards and committees. That might spark some interest.
We’re in the time of year where towns are in the nomination period for upcoming spring elections. They’re all different dates, and there are a multitude of positions available, including at least one select board position in each of the six towns. While the League of Women Voters does a good job of getting the word out about elections and nominations, they’re only one group, and let’s face it, they’re reaching an older demographic.
What are the towns doing to encourage younger constituents to get involved in their communities? Putting up signs inside town halls isn’t going to get the job done. We’ll do our part to raise awareness, but it’s imperative that officials find other ways to engage.
Perhaps reaching out to the civics class at Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School would inspire some younger people to consider running for office and take some of the mystery out of serving.
Chatinover offers this perspective: “There should be more active efforts to engage young voices at the procedural level, and take their opinions seriously. Who of the plastic bottle ban youngsters would want to run for town office in Edgartown after the way they were dismissed and almost taunted at town meeting?” he wrote.
Chatinover appreciates that he’s able to participate on the county commission remotely — a situation he set up pre-COVID. Some communities, like Tisbury, allow remote participation by officeholders, but they’re not allowed to vote.
“I’m grateful that my county commission colleagues have let me Zoom in from college, but other committees wouldn’t allow that (I think some/all of the select boards have a rule against voting by phone, for example),” Chatinover wrote. “I think I do a good job representing the Island, and the slight change in meeting modality is critical for me to do my job.”
If the same people seek appointment to multiple committees, we’re missing out on an opportunity. It’s a detriment to the Island if not enough new people with fresh ideas get involved. Let’s do something about it.