After eight terms spanning 24 years of service to the town of Tisbury, moderator Deborah Medders plans to vacate the podium. Medders will preside over town meeting one last time this spring. Nomination papers for the position were available as of Monday, according to assistant town clerk Joanna Jernigan. The last day nomination papers can be turned in is March 21, Jernigan said.
In an interview with The Times, Medders said it wasn’t anything in particular that caused her to consider retirement, but she did contemplate it prior to her last election. However, Medders said she decided she wanted to see the Tisbury School project through.
In 2018, a $46.6 million replacement for the Tisbury School passed town meeting, but died at the ballot box by 21 votes. Significant state funding perished in the process. In 2021, town meeting voters backed a $55 million school project. Instead of a replacement school, the project featured an addition and renovation. Voters subsequently upheld their town meeting approval at the ballot box. In 2022, it became evident costs for the school project exceeded initial projections, and another $25.6 million would be needed if the project were to move forward. The select board managed to bypass the need for a ballot box vote on the funding, so it was all down to a special town meeting presided over by Medders.
Medders recalled the September special town meeting for additional school project funding, at nearly 500 people, to be the largest showing of voters during her time as moderator.
That meeting saw the vote taken by secret, or Australian, ballot. Medders said it was the first time in her eight-term tenure that such a ballot vote had occurred in Tisbury. In the past, she said, ballot votes had been proposed from the floor, but they never succeeded.
Medders said she had no idea how the vote was going to turn out. The ballot vote turned out to be an approval that cleared the two-thirds majority required for passage.
The way articles are brought up for votes at town meeting has changed during Medders’ time in office. She entered the role of moderator with a standing bylaw that required articles to be chosen for vote at random, essentially in raffle or lottery format. Medders said this was done by placing plastic chips representing the article numbers in a vessel, and fishing them out one by one. The vessel she used was her great-grandmother’s buttermilk pitcher. However, in 2018, Tisbury voters abolished that practice, and since then, articles are voted on in the order they appear on the warrant.
Medders said it was her understanding the lottery method was an attempt to maintain attendance, most importantly a quorum, throughout town meeting.
A core philosophy Medders has maintained as Tisbury’s moderator is being neutral, and in an effort to do that, she has vowed not to cast any tiebreaking votes. By statute, Medders said, she is allowed to cast tiebreaking votes.
“That position, that lens, that attitude, I think has allowed me to maintain the neutrality that I think I have had through my years as town moderator,” Medders said.
Born and raised in South Texas, Medders has long been a Tisbury resident, and has no plans to move elsewhere. She’s been active with the League of Women Voters and the American Red Cross, and intends to keep helping out those organizations. Previously an emergency mental health practitioner, Medders said she has maintained her license, and puts it to use working with the Red Cross. Medders also said she was one of the founding members of the Martha’s Vineyard Mediation Program, and served there for 26 years.
Medders reserved special appreciation for former Tisbury town clerk Marion Mudge, whom she described as “quite a mentor” to her.
As advice to the next town moderator, Medders recommends being perceptive of what’s happening on the town meeting floor, and taking cues from the voters.
Medders reminded voters that they constitute the legislative branch of Tisbury’s government, and have a lot of sway through voting on warrant articles. “Here in Tisbury, you literally have power over how your town is run,” she said.
Medders expressed gratitude for her time in office. “It truly has been a privilege,” she said.