Tisbury select board candidates meet the voters


Updated April 25

The three candidates running for Tisbury Select Board had the opportunity to meet with and listen to constituents this week during a forum hosted by the League of Women Voters of Martha’s Vineyard at the Tisbury Senior Center. 

Incumbent Abbe Burt, Christina Colarusso, and MacAleer Schilcher are running for the open seat. League member Bob Laskowski moderated the forum.

Burt has served on the board since January, winning a special election after Larry Gomez resigned in October for health reasons. Colarusso was also a candidate during the special election. 

Burt touted her experience in municipal government during the forum. She lived in West Tisbury for more than 25 years, and served as the executive secretary and town accountant for the up-Island town. Burt also chaired the West Tisbury finance committee. After moving to Tisbury 21 years ago, she continued public service on the town’s affordable housing committee, and led an effort in Tisbury for a Martha’s Vineyard housing bank in 2005. 

“I very much enjoy working on the select board and attending meetings of the finance committee, actually all the town committees, to see how they functioned and how I could better help facilitate open communication,” she said. 

Colarusso was a seasonal resident of Martha’s Vineyard since 2000 before moving to the Island year-round in 2012. She earned a bachelor’s of science in marine engineering. After college, she spent five years at sea working for organizations like Military Sealift Command and Transocean Deepwater Inc. as a third assistant engineer. She is currently the facilities manager and water and wastewater operator at Martha’s Vineyard Airport. 

During the COVID pandemic, Colarusso acted as Tisbury’s emergency manager; she serves on the Tisbury department of public works advisory board, and is a lieutenant in the Chilmark Fire Department. 

“I’ve been on committees. I’ve been a town employee. But I think to impart real change, I needed to step up and try to be a select board member so that we can put some more policies in place to make sure we are sailing the ship in the right direction,” she said. 

Schilcher grew up in Tisbury. He showed his second grade report card and eighth grade yearbook from Tisbury School as proof. He double-majored in international affairs and political science. A self-described “policy nerd,” he interned in the office of former Sen. Ted Kennedy for more than a year after college. He was the Northeast sales manager at Global Brewers.

Schilcher took time during his introduction to go over recent incidents he was involved in, such as orders for him and Tisbury Police to stay away from each other, after Schilcher’s dog was stabbed. Schilcher said he filed a criminal complaint against Tisbury Police and town administrator Jay Grande for harassment. Schilcher also said during the forum that he was ordered to stay away from Tisbury Police for an attempt to break into the police station in relation to the dog-stabbing incident. 

Schilcher said he was running for his best friend, who passed away. “I’d rather live on a postage stamp in Tisbury than anywhere else in the world,” he said, adding that the town is facing many issues, like a lack of infrastructure for children. “This whole town’s a mess … and I’m going to stay [here]. So, that’s why you should vote for me. Because I’m here for the long term,” he said. 

Tisbury residents raised various concerns during the forum, and the candidates had differing ideas on how the town should handle them. 

Affordable housing was one issue. Burt said the housing bank could help the Island with the shortage. She said a possible option was to ask state legislators for permission to use a portion of the Manuel F. Correllus State Forest for a large housing project. 

Colarusso said the renting model on the Vineyard was not the way for people to make generational wealth, and she said that homeownership should be the goal. Schilcher said that the town should bring back youth lots, which he said was town land given to people who go to school in Tisbury. 

The candidates agreed that the town needed to consider amending zoning bylaws for workforce housing. 

Another concern was the seeming disconnect between the select board and town committees. Burt said while she’s only been a select board member for a few months, she has heard complaints. And she wants to improve communication. Colarusso said that volunteers on committees seem to be given a heavier workload than in other towns. Schilcher said decisions are made with only a few people, and committees need to be brought in more for their expertise.

All three candidates said communication to Tisbury residents, particularly with the town website, needs to improve. 

One resident asked how the town can balance the interests of businesses and town residents, particularly since the select board seems to have become more pro-business in recent years. Burt said the town will need to proceed carefully. She said several issues need to be addressed, such as the increase in both residents and visitors, and year-round businesses having difficulty paying high rents on Main Street. 

Colarusso said her father was a small business owner and her mother was a teacher, so she could see both sides of the argument. She said all information needs to be put on the table to find a balanced approach. But she also pointed out that most Tisbury businesses are not open late. Schilcher said business owners feel there’s a disconnect with town government. He also said Tisbury’s government favors Williams Street and West Chop, adding that the needs of year-round residents were not being properly addressed. 

After the questions and answers, the select board candidates provided final statements to voters on why they should be chosen. 

Candidates in uncontested races also had the opportunity to meet with the public. Several of them were unable to attend the forum, but some candidates sent statements to be read to voters by Laskowski. 

The town election will take place at the Tisbury Emergency Services Facility at 215 Spring St. on Tuesday, May 9, from noon to 8 pm. The full recording of the forum will be available on the MVTV website.