Ferries, democracy, and cats


Here are some things we’ve been thinking about as we’ve scurried around waiting for town election results and sitting through town meeting discussions.

With the exception of Peter Jeffrey, Falmouth’s representative to the Steamship Authority board, we were struck by the nonchalance of board members to a consultant’s report that three freight ferries are close to the end of their useful lives. Jeffrey has quickly become a presence on the board, asking tough questions and unwilling to just rubber-stamp requests made by the SSA administration. We hope he keeps up the pressure and influence. Jeffrey’s approach has been refreshing.

During that same Zoom meeting, we noticed that board chair Moira Tierney was taking phone calls during the meeting while discussions of important issues were taking place. SSA board meetings are once a month for two to three hours; a committed board member ought to be able to keep his or her schedule clear for that amount of time. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen Tierney preoccupied during a meeting, but now that she’s chair, she should be giving the board and SSA issues her full attention.

Lost in the other news out of last week’s board meeting is that the water portion of the Woods Hole project was just completed. The project had a whopping $16.4 million in change orders, and the final price was 38 percent above the original contract of $43.1 million. If you’re doing the math at home, that’s not good. A personal peeve about the project is that the $2.2 million canopies are pretty, but virtually useless because someone thought it would be a good idea to install the ticket scanners at the end where passengers enter the canopy, instead of at the end near the door. (The more modest canopies in Vineyard Haven and Oak Bluffs work well because the ticket scanners are on the correct end.)

Staying on the ferry theme for a moment, we were happy to see the mask mandate lifted for the SSA fleet. We have supported mask mandates, but we’re at a point where people, including most children, have the ability to be vaccinated. Because of that, mask-wearing should be a personal choice in public places. It made no sense that you could sit indoors at a crowded theater or inside a stadium without a mask, but on a ferry — especially one the size of the Island Home — where it’s possible to socially distance, masks were still mandatory. And let’s face it, the SSA was never really committed to enforcing the mask mandates, even at the height of the pandemic. They put up signs, made announcements, but that was the extent of it. By the way, you’ll still see us wearing a mask on the crowded SSA shuttle buses, even though they’re no longer required. Have a mask ready when it makes sense.

It will be interesting to see what this next week brings in terms of COVID-19 cases. There were certainly a lot of people traveling on- and off-Island. As we’ve seen during other parts of the pandemic, that usually results in an uptick in cases.

While we’re on healthcare, the important Vineyard Smiles program fills a gap in dental coverage on the Island. Great work by the Martha’s Vineyard Community Foundation and the Island boards of health to bring the free dental clinics to the Island for those unable to get the services elsewhere. 

Chilmark select board members made the right decision when they agreed to have an antenna removed that would have allowed for security cameras at the West Dock in Menemsha. Sometimes you have to cut your losses, even when the money has already been spent. We hope the select board uses this as a learning opportunity to get all of the questions answered ahead of spending the money in the future.

With three town elections in the books, we are stunned once again with the lack of competitive races for select board seats and other positions on town committees. In some cases, there were no candidates at all, including for key positions like the finance committee. We need to figure out why people don’t feel compelled or comfortable to put themselves out there and volunteer for town government. We also repeat our suggestion that part-time residents of the Island be encouraged to run for these positions, especially in the era of remote participation.

Don’t think your vote counts? Ana Irwin of Oak Bluffs would like a word. She showed up at the polls with one minute to spare on election night, to cast her ballot for incumbent Gail Barmakian. Barmakian would go on to win by just two votes, a margin that held up in Monday’s recount requested by Barmakian’s opponent, Dion Alley. Speaking of Alley, we could all learn a thing or two from Alley about being gracious in defeat. Both on election night and after the recount, Alley made a point of approaching Barmakian to congratulate her on the victory. Alley was correct when he said that the election and the subsequent recount should provide some reassurance that our voting system works. There were no hanging chads, and certainly not any “stolen votes,” as former President Donald Trump has falsely alleged in his lost election.

A cat visited Chilmark town meeting Monday night — not once, but twice — showing a strong interest in how the democratic process works. Both times, feline tamer and select board chair James Malkin picked up the cat and ushered it outside. We have unconfirmed reports that the cat’s name is Stella, and she was visiting from nearby Beetlebung Farm. As one Twitter user put it, the cat was “disen-fur-chised.”

Finally, where did all the letter writers go? We miss you. For several months we’ve had a flurry of letters from the community on all types of issues, from the housing bank to PFAS and playing fields, to the funding formula for Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School. We appreciate all of you who take the time to write letters, and welcome you to continue sharing your thoughts. 


  1. Perhaps the reason fewer people run for town office is because, with housing insecurity, they don’t know if they’ll be living in the same town for any extended amount of time.

    • Just in general, renters seem to be seriously under-represented on boards and committees of the various towns. One reason is probably that given the time and energy required to make rent (if you’re lucky enough to have a year-round rental), there isn’t much left over for volunteer or semi-volunteer commitments, especially if one has family responsibilities.

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