County government is here to stay.
This is the recommendation the Dukes County charter study commission will make to Vineyard voters when the commission issues its final recommendation on county government by the end of the month.
At their regularly scheduled meeting last Thursday, the commission took a nearly unanimous vote in favor of continuing the regional form of government which includes the Vineyard and Gosnold.
The 23-member study commission was formed following the November 2006 elections. Charged with conducting an 18-month study of county government, the commission has until the end of this month to vote on recommendations for the future of county government. The recommendations will be compiled in a final report later this month and will be put on the ballot for Vineyard voters to take up in the November election.
After months of research and discussion, Thursday’s vote marked the first formal action by commission. “We are reaching the end, clearly,” acting commission chairman Paddy Moore said this week. “I am gratified and I think that the process is a good one.”
On Thursday, the commission vote was 19-2 in favor of retaining some sort of county government. Dan Flynn of Oak Bluffs and Woody Williams of Tisbury voted no.
Chairman William O’Brien 3rd was absent from the meeting.
Next, the commission voted 19-0 to recommend that members of the county commission continue to be elected on an Islandwide basis. Mr. Williams and Tristan Israel, a county commissioner and Tisbury selectman, abstained.
The group then began a discussion on the structure of the county commission. Issues included the number of commissioners and the length of term for each commissioner. Debate was lengthy and passionate, especially when talk turned to the number of years a county commissioner should serve. Some on the study commission favor four-year terms, the current length of term for county commissioners. Others favor two-year terms. When the question was called to retain four-year terms, the vote was a 10-!0 tie. Mr. Williams abstained.
At this point Mr. Flynn left the meeting. Reached by telephone this week, he spoke about his dissenting views.
“I’m not mad. I’m not angry. I’m just generally frustrated,” he said. “The form of government that they wanted is so similar to what they have now, they’re not giving the voters a choice in the November election.”
He continued: “After all we’ve done and all the information we have, to not give the voters a choice was doing a disservice to me and the time I’ve put in.”
The commission also voted 13-4 to recommend a county commission with seven members. Current county commissioner Paul Strauss, Mimi Davisson, Timothy Connelly and Mr. Williams voted no. Mr. Israel, Holly Stephenson and Ted Stanley abstained. Mrs. Moore ruled that without a super majority voting in favor, the issue should be revisited at the next meeting. “People care about this stuff, we’ve been working on this for awhile,” she said.
The charter study commission met again last night at the Oak Bluffs Senior Center. In addition to the makeup of the commission, the study group planned to discuss county manager form of government versus with a board chairman. They also planned to discuss various administrative recommendations.
As the study commission completes its work, the future of county government remains uncertain with public confidence at a low ebb.
Nevertheless, Mrs. Moore expressed an optimistic outlook.
“Overall I think the process has been a decent one. We have worked hard,” she said. “I think we still have work to do now to be sure the residents of the Island understand what we’ve done and have a chance to weigh in on approving that, as they did after the first charter.”