OB Select board candidates talk the issues

The annual town election will be held Thursday, April 13.

From left to right: Moderator Larkin Stallings, President of the Oak Bluffs Business Association; candidates Mark Leonard, Dion Alley, and Tom Hallahan. — MV Times

The three candidates vying for two open seats on the Oak Bluffs select board were given the opportunity to acquaint themselves with town business owners and local stakeholders at a forum hosted by the Oak Bluffs Business Association at the Portuguese-American Club Monday evening. 

Mark Leonard, Tom Hallahan, and Dion Alley are looking to replace current select board members Ryan Ruley and Brian Packish, who are not seeking re-election. 

The three all agreed on a number of issues, including supporting more community use of municipal parks and the pending legislation for a local-option transfer fee, along with the urgency of upgrading the town’s wastewater management facility. 

Mark Leonard is a retired Army veteran currently serving as chair of the Oak Bluffs affordable housing committee. Following a 25-year military career, Leonard and his wife formed a consulting firm focusing on business development for small companies looking to work with the Department of Defense. 

Having been a full-time Oak Bluffs resident for around seven years, Leonard has since helped to spearhead a number of housing initiatives, creating dozens of affordable and veteran housing units. 

On the town’s relationship to Oak Bluffs businesses, Leonard stressed the need to maintain flexibility, and actively support local organizations and ventures, and their endeavors in an ever-changing climate.

The town must “change and stay up to speed with what’s happening with the economy, the world,” he said Monday. “The town’s responsibility is to provide the programs and policies that encourage [residents] to do that.”

“We need to be open-minded enough to say, ‘Let’s try it;’ let’s see what our businesses can do … Give them an opportunity to grow and be a part of the community.”

Tom Hallahan is currently senior director of administration, advancement, and finance for the Sheriff’s Meadow Foundation, and has been a resident of Oak Bluffs since 1991.

He taught at the Tisbury School and Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School, later becoming executive coordinator and executive director of Healthy Aging Martha’s Vineyard and Hospice of Martha’s Vineyard, respectively. 

Hallahan has served on the Dukes County Commission, Oak Bluffs School advisory committee, and a number of nonprofit boards. 

A single father to his 23-year-old son, Hallahan said his biggest motivation for running for a seat on the select board is to ensure viable futures in Oak Bluffs for future generations. 

Echoing his peers, Hallahan voiced support of a proposal to designate a portion of the town as a recognized cultural district, which had been recently rejected by the select board.

“The cultural diversity we have in our town is amazing, and something we need to embrace,” he said, adding that the designation proposal is a “no-brainer.”

Dion Alley is again seeking a spot on the board after garnering just two votes less than incumbent Gail Barmakian at the town election last year. 

Alley is a U.S. Navy veteran with vast experience in the energy and technology sectors. Born in Oak Bluffs, he touts ties to the Island going back multiple generations. 

Alley has experience serving on the towns’ energy committee and finance advisory committee, and is currently the Oak Bluffs representative to the Cape and Vineyard Electric Cooperative. 

On Monday, Alley emphasized the need to act in the best interest of Oak Bluffs, and to create and maintain a dialogue among stakeholders. 

At the same time, he said the town must be willing to engage with other Island municipalities regarding Islandwide initiatives. “We need to be Oak Bluffs proud, but Island aware,” he said. The tourist season in Oak Bluffs has expanded from a few months to nearly half a year, he said: “The town departments haven’t really grown to keep up with the growth of the town itself.”