Tisbury will hold a special election Tuesday, Jan. 24, in order to find someone to complete the term of Larry Gomez, who resigned from the select board for health reasons. On May 9, the seat will be up for election again, for a full three-year term.
In anticipation of the upcoming election, The Times reached out to the four candidates — Abbe Burt, Christina Colarusso, Donald Rose, and Bruce Campbell — and asked them some questions to help town voters get to know them a bit better.
Abbe Burt: Retired real estate broker, office manager, and bookkeeper
Bruce Campbell: Retired
Christina Colarusso: Facilities manager, Martha’s Vineyard Airport; water and wastewater operator
Donald Rose: Retired assistant deputy superintendent Dukes County Sheriff’s Office
Training or education (degrees, certificates, experience):
Burt: B.A. in English and history
Campbell: Attended Boston University, worked for Campbell Energy Advisors, ran a party boat out of Oak Bluffs, and a tugboat for the Army Corps of Engineers.
Colarusso: B.S. Marine Engineer, Massachusetts Maritime Academy, USCG Merchant Mariner; credentials: 2nd Assistant Engineer Unlimited, Advanced Marine Firefighting, OSHA 10 Certified First Responder, Lifeguard, Universal Refrigerant Technician, MA Grade 4, Municipal Wastewater Operator, MA VSS Water Operator, Incident Command System 300 and 400
Rose: Former faculty member of the Massachusetts Sheriff’s Association Education and Training Council, former instructor with the Massachusetts Police Training Committee, former national instructor with Project Lifesaver International. Awards: Deputy Sheriff of the Year in 2008, Sheriff’s Meritorious Service Award, Sheriff’s Office Achievement Award, two Silver Lifesaving Medals, two Outstanding Volunteerism Awards.
Elected or appointed government positions previously or currently held:
Burt: West Tisbury finance committee, West Tisbury affordable housing committee, Dukes County Regional Housing Authority representative, Tisbury affordable housing committee, Tisbury municipal housing trust committee, Tisbury Community Preservation Act committee
Campbell: Tisbury’s finance committee and police advisory committee
Colarusso: Department of Public Works advisory board, wastewater planning committee, sewer advisory board (chair), emergency management director, Martha’s Vineyard Emergency Management Directors Association (vice chair), Lieutenant, Chilmark Fire Department
Rose: Appointed member of the board of directors, Tisbury Council on Aging
Favorite ice cream flavor:
Burt: Breyers Chocolate
Campbell: Peppermint Stick
Colarusso: Ben and Bill’s Pistachio
Rose: Black Raspberry
Do you find the partial office space occupation of the Katharine Cornell Memorial Theater to be an acceptable remedy to cramped conditions on the ground floor of Tisbury’s town hall? If so, how would you balance community use of the auditorium with municipal occupation of it? If not, what solution would you propose for the lack of space for municipal office workers?
Burt: I would like to see the Katharine Cornell Theater again used for public events and as a theater as soon as it is possible for municipal uses to return to the lower level and other spaces are found to accommodate town employees. Options for additional municipal spaces should be explored in existing town buildings and in rental opportunities. And I believe we need improved public access to our municipal offices in the lower level.
Campbell: No, [it should be used for] what it was designed for — as a public hall.
Colarusso: In regard to the current usage of the Katharine Cornell Memorial Theatre as utilized as town offices, I suggest the select board and townspeople together review and discuss the terms and conditions, if any, to the original donation usage as stipulated in the original bequest. There should be both an immediate and long-term discussion with actionable solutions making sure we are in alignment to the master planning goals of the town of Tisbury. There should be a needs assessment conducted for town employees, and open dialogue on office needs townwide. I can see how the COVID restrictions with spacing played a role in our current state of affairs, but what was a temporary solution should not be made permanent (think of the Annex). Until we have a solution, we will have to be creative, and may have to consider renting space.
Rose: It is not appropriate to use the theater as office space, but due to unforeseen circumstances, such as COVID, tough decisions had to be made. I believe that we can adjust, temporarily, and then look for better solutions. We need to look for better usable space, outside of the theater.
What, if anything, would you like to see done to strengthen the protection of Tisbury’s historic buildings and cemeteries?
Burt: The Tisbury Community Preservation act committee (CPC) has done and will do an excellent job of providing funding for the protection of Tisbury’s historic buildings and cemeteries. And the finance committee does have a capital improvements plan and fund. The CPC is permitted by statute to fund the acquisition, preservation, [and] rehabilitation of historic resources. But CPC regulations do not permit basic maintenance funding. The Tisbury CPC has funded hundreds of thousands of dollars for such projects in Tisbury, and Island-wide over the past 16 years of its existence, including funding the restoration of the recently reinstalled steeple at the Katharine Cornell Theater, and cemetery headstone restoration work in Tisbury cemeteries.
Campbell: What, and who are endangered?
Colarusso: Working alongside the Tisbury historic commission and the William Street Historic District Commission, and inviting the townspeople, we could review current policies and recommend additional protections of historic places and buildings in Tisbury. The movement to digitize the building permit process has been monumental to prevent things from slipping through the cracks of systems in place. Integrating historical data and adding disclaimers directly into PermiEyes software should be looked into, if not already implemented.
Rose: Just a better eye on the overreach of commissions. The William Street Historic District is doing a good job, but I have concerns that some of these commissions may overstep, or overreach, in their responsibilities. As far as the cemeteries go, they are taken care of by the DPW, which has many responsibilities regarding maintenance in the town. All of these responsibilities need to be reviewed.
Where do you see Tisbury’s most pressing traffic problems, and how would you like to see those addressed?
Burt: Tisbury’s traffic problems in its main entry points of State Road and Five Comers are exacerbated by the volume of boat traffic, which is regional in nature. Regional cooperation should be explored.
Campbell: Edgartown–State Road traffic light
Colarusso: Traffic at both Five Corners and at the intersection of State Road and Vineyard Haven–Edgartown Road are at the top of the list for traffic concerns. The Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s Transportation Plan and Transportation Surveys listed these two locations as the “most dangerous intersections and stretches of roadway, for cars, bikes, and/or pedestrians.” In 2015, reversing the one-way direction of Union Street has presumably eased some of the traffic at Five Corners; there have even been discussions of turning Lagoon Pond Road one-way, or allowing only service vehicles on Beach Road Extension but no movement one way or another. These two locations are of serious concern with no easy answers. Coordinating traffic needs with flooding concerns is a top priority.
Rose: I feel that as we attract more visitors to the town, we need to pay more attention to pedestrian traffic in the downtown area. We allow bikes to be rented at Five Corners, with few safe choices of direction to ride.
Are there any parts of Tisbury’s government that you’d like to see regionalized? If so, why? If not, why?
Burt: Regionalization of some parts of Tisbury’s government may be inevitable, as the financial pressures of town needs have continued to rise steadily. Regionalization does not always mean all six towns are included — for example, we already have cooperation with Oak Bluffs in some areas of town operation, and the boards of health Island-wide already work together, as evidenced by the COVID-19 issues. Tisbury has a small land size with a limited tax base and increasing town expenses, so the property tax rate is rising and becoming too burdensome for many residents, especially those with fixed or limited incomes and seniors. We probably will have to increase our operating cooperation with some other Island towns in various town departments within the foreseeable future in order to contain our tax rate within reasonable bounds. Such town areas and services may include police, fire, emergency services, assessor’s offices, boards of health, animal control, and transportation infrastructure.
Campbell: Yes, EMT to Oak Bluffs regionalization
Colarusso: If COVID taught us one thing: The Island as a whole needs to work together in times of emergencies. At what point is this issue an emergency? First steps would be to establish a cost-benefit analysis and feasibility study. Expanding mutual aid between towns to other departments such as water, wastewater, and harbor, etc. Standardizing certain operating procedures or possibly equipment to be interchangeable between towns are areas to look into. One area where inversely we should be collecting for the regional impact is for out-port infrastructure, and especially for any remedies implemented at Five Corners.
Rose: The term regionalize sometimes scares people, but we do have concerns that we could address as an Island and not as a town. Trash disposal, boater safety, workplace housing, marine and shellfish issues, climate concerns, and more, are concerns that travel from town to town. What sense does it make to have one town find a solution to an issue that affects all of us, yet we can’t benefit without our own committees and boards taking years and many meetings to discuss?
How would you characterize the administration of town government over the past 10 years?
Burt: Sometimes there is not enough public communication and education about town issues; we need more encouragement for public input, involvement, and volunteerism, and we need a more welcoming public environment at the town offices.
Campbell: Are you kidding? The overall picture of Tisbury’s governance is not good. It’s got the highest tax rate; and I expect some very unhappy people, in respect to what they think of their town government.
Colarusso: There has been substantial progress made in the past 10 years, specifically with technology and going digital. We still have a way to go, and could benefit by utilizing the town calendar and website to their highest potential. Adoption of best practices and updating policies has helped to prevent abuses of power and illegal activity. In some regards, leadership came across as reactive, versus proactive. There were major steps to consolidate the power of the select board by abolishing other committees, and the select board is currently both the public works commissioner and sewer commissioner. Although it is painful to review missteps in leadership, I think it is important to prevent the same issues from coming up again.
Rose: It appears to take place without effective communications with the appropriate town residents. Sometimes people learn about decisions made after the possibilities of proper discussions with those concerned with the issue. I would work to have better communications throughout town government, and from all offices.
What, if anything, would you like to see Tisbury do to protect against sea level rise?
Burt: Especially as a port town, we must understand the scientific facts about sea level rise possibilities, and then develop specific action that could be taken to mitigate any negative effects of any sea level rises. We now have a town climate committee to identify and initiate specific town action needed, and to explore taking advantage of state and federal grants offered to combat climate change. There was a Climate Action Plan developed and published by an Island-wide group of participants in 2022, with actions outlined for all the towns. Let’s follow up.
Campbell: Face reality.
Colarusso: With regard to sea level rise concerns in Tisbury, I suggest a review and thoughtful phased implementation of the strategies outlined in the Tisbury Coastal Resilience Planning Report by the EPA, including but not limited to enhancement of breakwaters and culverts. In addition, we should be considering emergency utility preparedness and installation of vegetative swales.
Rose: Any idea that works toward the climate control issue is necessary. We all see that the environment is changing, geographically, on Martha’s Vineyard. Soon, Beach Road will be no more, and we will again be talking about building a new bridge, but this time, about a half-mile long.
Would you be in favor of Tisbury buying houses for municipal employees? If so, why? If not, why?
Burt: I am not in favor of buying houses for municipal employees specifically. As a longtime community housing advocate, I believe we need to try to create home ownership and rental possibilities for a wide variety of Tisbury residents based on need, regardless of their occupation, age, or sex. The housing committee is advocating for more zoning changes to increase housing possibilities.
Campbell: No, you can’t buy enough; and where would money come from?
Colarusso: I encourage the creation of affordable, year-round housing to support the needs of the year-round workforce population within the town of Tisbury. Working with the town of Tisbury housing committee, select board, community housing professionals, and townspeople to implement initiatives outlined in the Tisbury Housing Production Plan FY 18-22, including but not limited to earmarking a percentage of the proceeds from the short-term rental occupancy tax to affordable housing initiatives, incentivizing municipal employee, volunteer and resident preferences for affordable rental and ownership opportunities, and implementing zoning changes to enhance conversion opportunities.
Rose: I would be generally in favor of the town purchasing property for municipal employees, with further discussions, because the issue is not just “affordable housing,” it is about “AVAILABLE HOUSING”; “WORKFORCE HOUSING,”
Are you satisfied with municipal waste disposal in Tisbury? If so, why? If not, why?
Burt: I understand that new state regulations regarding food waste are underway, so we must adjust to those regulations and increase composting options Island-wide.
Campbell: [I recommend] increasing capacity, cross-connecting the three [down-Island] towns.
Colarusso: I think it would be nice for the fee to be included in our taxes; it would increase use of the system, but also encourage everyone to keep it clean and tidy. The service is top-notch, and the employees are very hospitable and hardworking.
Rose: Here is another issue that probably deserves more conversation, but I currently have no issues. I would have to hear more from those that do, or from the department itself.
What would you like to see the select board get better at doing?
Burt: I would like to see the select board improve communications with the public about ongoing activities and issues in town, improve accessibility to our public offices, explore
ways to address the rising tax rate, actively enlist and support increased public participation on all town boards and committees, and finally, build our town employees and volunteers into a feeling of working as an effective, collaborative team in Tisbury — because we are a team, and we are all part of a beautiful, vibrant community fortunate enough to dwell next to one the best little harbors on the New England coastline!
Campbell: [Being] more open to voters.
Colarusso: The biggest area that I believe the select board could improve on is communication. When I was on the DPW advisory board back in 2019, I was briefed about the Main Street bumpout project, but had not heard anything about it until the project had begun. I think utilizing social media more could really benefit the town as a whole.
Rose: EFFECTIVE COMMUNICATIONS … Talk more directly to (and not just in an occasional Zoom meeting) those interested parties. Direct conversations with the Tisbury businesses (owners and managers) regarding work associated with their area. With marine officials, fishermen, boatyard owners and operators, about issues directly affecting them, with face-to-face meetings to better understand what their concerns are. Meeting with innkeepers regarding issues around short-term rentals. Regular meetings with public safety officials, police chief, fire chief, EMS, to assure that Tisbury is the safest town on Martha’s Vineyard. I intend to be that select board member who will be available and accessible to these residents, workers, and public officials.