Government needs young people 

1

To the Editor:

After four years as your Dukes County commissioner, I have decided to step aside as I prepare to start law school in the fall of 2023. I would be remiss if I ended my time as an elected official without thanking the community that made me feel welcomed and appreciated. Martha’s Vineyard is a special, special home. The care and respect that I felt at places like the Charter School, and in groups such as We Stand Together/Estamos Todos Juntos, helped me gain confidence and find my voice.

This Island voted me onto the county commission as an 18-year-old with no previous experience in government. It would have been all too easy for you to insist that I wait my turn, to surmise that young people are too naive to serve, or to view my candidacy as the first step on an ambition-fueled ladder.

But you didn’t do any of those things. Instead, you trusted me to do all of the things that good elected officials do: Prepare for meetings, ask tough questions, and push the envelope. I was far from a flawless elected official, but I am really proud of the work that I did to make the Island a more progressive and equitable place.

None of what I accomplished would have been possible without a large network of activists and Island leaders who supported me, pushed me to do better, and taught me the tricks of the trade. I especially want to thank my fellow county commissioners, who were always willing to walk me through a topic that I wasn’t understanding, and who stood by me as I began to call for changes to the way the Island governs itself.

I want to leave you with just a few (I promise) parting thoughts, now that my time in public service has come to a close. First and foremost, we need more young people in government. The next time someone like me comes around, give them a fair shot and encourage them as you did with me. No one, young or old, deserves unwavering support as an elected official, but young people are underrepresented, and disproportionately viewed with suspicion in government positions. We’re not perfect. But no one in local government is.

Second, local government is to be taken seriously. We need more people of all backgrounds to serve, because the decisions we make can have a huge impact on the lives of Islanders. I was happy to see a handful of new folks step up to run for the county commission this year. Some of these additions are inspiring, and bring knowledge that I certainly did not have when I first ran. But we need even more participation, including from those who wrongly but understandably don’t think their experience qualifies them for public service.
Finally, I always governed with the idea that regionalization was necessary for the future of Martha’s Vineyard. At the beginning of my term, I was counseled not to even use that word (or, as it is known in some Island political circles, “the R-word”). But I didn’t listen, because I believe strongly that regionalization is the only way forward for our Island.

We have tremendous resources at our disposal, most obviously in the form of property tax revenues from people who do not utilize our public services for most of the year. We could make much-needed investments in wastewater, climate change mitigation, and affordable housing (just to name a few) if we didn’t waste so many millions and millions of dollars annually in duplicative services. Nantucket isn’t carved up into six different puzzle pieces with separate town clerks and fire departments and assessor’s offices — and we don’t need to be either.

Change is possible on this Island if we open our minds. The Housing Bank coalition, for instance, shows us that mobilizing Islanders is a doable and worthwhile task, and I was proud to do my small part to support them. But needing to attend six select board meetings, let alone the meetings of many other boards, in order to get something done does not make sense.

If there is anything that I want you to take away from this letter, it is that our Island is one. I did not go to school in West Tisbury and take my dog for hikes in Chilmark and play Little League in Oak Bluffs and live in Edgartown and ride the ferry from Vineyard Haven and learn about whose land we are actually standing on in Aquinnah. I did all of those things on Martha’s Vineyard.

For all of those experiences and more, I am immensely grateful. The more we start to view our community as one tied together by these everlasting experiences — and the less we double down on arbitrary lines — the more it will be possible for us to realize the vision I only started to implement as your public servant.

Keith Chatinover
Edgartown

1 COMMENT

  1. Didn’t always agree with Keith’s positions, but he’s got one thing SPOT ON:

    #REGIONALIZE

    Good Luck in law school, Keith.
    You’re in a civil rights GOLDMINE.

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