Vineyard Haven Voters Decide June 12 on Successor to Edmond G. Coogan
By JOSHUA SABATINI
On Tuesday, June 12, Tisbury voters will decide which of two candidates, Cora Medeiros or Ray LaPorte, will fill the vacancy on the board of selectmen resulting from the death of Edmond G. Coogan earlier this year.
Mrs. Medeiros and Mr. LaPorte spoke with the Gazette in separate interviews to discuss the race and the issues before the town.
Mrs. Medeiros, born and raised on Nantucket, has been a resident of Tisbury for 51 years. She raised her six children, three sons and three daughters, on the Island. For 31 years she has been involved in Island businesses; she remains the owner of two gift shops, Plum Creek and Neptune's Sea Chest.
Mrs. Medeiros has served as selectman for the town of Tisbury for a total of 17 years, during which time she originated the Tisbury Street Fair, now in its 30th year, helped establish the regional high school boosters club and originated the eighth grade school trip from Tisbury to Washington, D.C. Mrs. Medeiros is making a return to politics after a retirement of nine years.
Gazette: What has made you decide to come back into politics?
Mrs. Medeiros: I feel that the town needs somebody that knows what went on in the past, to be able to bring that into the future. I just want to serve out the rest of Mr. Coogan's term; to give some input as to what went on in the past and maybe some things that really have not been carried out.
In my 17 years they have known what I have done and I can point to many accomplishments that were done during my tenure as a selectman. I had an awful lot of phone calls saying, ‘Look Cora, we are not asking you to go in there and stay there, we are asking you to go in and let your knowledge be available.' I will serve the two years. They can pick my brains, they can ask me what went on in the past.
Because so many people called me and asked me, saying, ‘You know what went on in the past, you know that you can help, why don't you try to run,' I decided I would.
Gazette: What town issues are on your mind?
Mrs. Medeiros: Nine years ago, the town of Tisbury at a town meeting voted to take the last piece of property by the Manter well site any way possible. To this day we don't own it. If you don't protect the water in the town of Tisbury, you are going to have deep problems in the future. Therefore, about three months ago I initiated a petition with the help of the selectmen and I got every selectman past and present to sign the petition, petitioning the general court through Mr. Turkington to ask to move the procedure to get the land free and clear from the bottom of the pile to the top of the pile. They are still researching it. Now, for nine years we've had it there. Don't you think it's about time that the state of Massachusetts could move on this?
I know a lot of things that went on in the past that people tend to forget. The school department has something called the Manter Trust, which was set up many years ago by Mr. Manter and his wife to provide - in this day and age it is not necessary - but to provide shoes for children that couldn't afford them. Right now they have $280,000. However, we are paying $1,800 a year to the town of Oak Bluffs because the town of Tisbury owns seven acres of land in Oak Bluffs that was near the Manter lagoons. Prior to the closing of the lagoons, the land wasn't really worth anything, but now that the lagoons are closed, what do you think somebody will pay the town to purchase seven acres that only one house could be built on? In this day and age, with property so sky high, now is the time to sell. Put the money into the Manter Trust, the principal of which could never be touched, but that would give the [Tisbury] school additional monies to be used for projects that can't be funded through the regular budget. If you can find some way of helping out the schools, then you would reduce our budget as well. But you have to educate the children. They are your future.
Gazette: Affordable housing is a key concern for many residents. Can you share some of your views?
Mrs. Medeiros: There is land around the Manter well that is not within what they call the "zone of influence," so if that land could be sold, let's give it a chance to low or moderate-income people to buy the land, put it back on the tax rolls of the town of Tisbury and build a home for themselves which by nowadays kids are never going to be able to afford. You have got to give the kids a chance. There is a great deal of property off the tax rolls. Why not see if we can't give it to the planning board?
Gazette: There are innumerable issues pertaining to the SSA; can you speak to some of them?
Mrs. Medeiros: I think that you have to let the SSA work out its own problems. I wish one thing would happen, though. We have a full hundred-car parking lot in the town, under-utilized. Maybe you get 20 cars in there at a time. Why not offer the SSA to take it over, pay us like they pay Falmouth for the use of the parking lot, and let them utilize it as a place to park so people won't congest the downtown when they are going away?
Gazette: How do you feel about how Tisbury town government has been functioning?
Mrs. Medeiros: I think they should open the communication again with the heads of the boards and have back again a "jam session," where they got together the heads of the boards and asked them if they had any problems and saw if they couldn't work out those problems. The communication is good, but you can always do something to better it.
Mr. LaPorte was born and raised in Lowell, and moved to Tisbury in 1987. Mr. LaPorte and his wife, Bernadette, have a son attending college in Wyoming. Mr. LaPorte served as director of the United States Department Interior, Lowell Historic Preservation Commission for eight years, worked as a loan officer for Plymouth Savings Bank of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket, and is now a financial advisor for Advest Inc. in Vineyard Haven. He has held five appointed town government positions in Tisbury as a member and chairman of the zoning board of appeals, a member of the planning committee, and, most recently, the chairman of the town administrator search committee.
Gazette: Can you share your thoughts on affordable housing?
Mr. LaPorte: We just hired in February [town administrator Dennis] Luttrell, and I worked for six months to try and find the individual who could fit both in temperament and experience and be able also to afford living out here. And that whole process really brought back again the dilemma that we all face out here. How can we attract, compensate and retain skilled help whether its for public service, like the school system, or the private sector that supports this economy?
It's amazing how the Vineyard suffers the similar things that other resorts suffer - Aspen, Vale, Cape Cod, Nantucket. The difference, though, that the Vineyard and Nantucket have is that you can't commute easily from anywhere else. We really have a difficult task of being able to accommodate my son's generation, who wants to stay here and work here because there is opportunity here. There wasn't opportunity 25 years ago for someone out of college to develop a career professionally or a business that you can now.
So we are in a dilemma: On the one hand we have our driving economy, but on the other hand we have such a driving economy that we made it unaffordable for the 20-something-year-olds to create an affordable household. How do we do it? One town can't do it alone. Part of my hope as selectman would be to help develop a planning strategy, and the dialogue has to include the five other towns.
The issues of housing are complicated. Just finding a few lots and doing a lottery isn't going to solve the problem. I think it's structural and Islandwide and it would involve planning, rewriting zoning bylaws, financial incentives and some creative solutions that are not cookie-cut in nature.
Gazette: What are some of your priorities?
Mr. LaPorte: The biggest part of the budget is the school budget. A priority for me, is how do we as a community, not just Tisbury, but all Island towns, address the value system of providing quality education, attracting and retaining talented teaching professionals, keeping the student-teacher ratios at quality levels and addressing the population growth?
There is a bit of a disconnection between how the school budget is established and how the finance committees of the towns view that process. They haven't quite bought into each other's purpose. So my job would be to try to help get the finance committee, selectmen and the school committee early on in the process agree to how to establish an acceptable budget process. No one likes the numbers, but we ought to come to some understanding on how to get there, the same approach. Town meetings should be more of a celebration of the work of the committees and board members. It doesn't have to be a drawn out battle-royal which then discourages others to attend the next meeting.
Gazette: The Steamship Authority is large issue for the town. Please say a few words about it.
Mr. LaPorte: One thing Ed Coogan wanted to do was to strike a better relationship with the Steamship Authority. That would be one of the highest priorities that I would have, to try to improve on the relationship that I think is sadly lacking right now with the SSA in the town. How do we manage the impact of the traffic, automobile, truck and pedestrian traffic; and the impact that it all has on shopping, parking and the vitality of the town?
Clearly, planning is part of where I envision my role to be. I am not a pothole kind of public servant. I come with a planning background and I would be more inclined to do the long-term planning and strategy development as it relates to these issues. Most of that traffic goes to other towns. It's a Vineyard Haven impact but an Island-wide issue. We need to get the streets cleared for parking for shoppers and promote parking facilities for the commuter and for other longer-term parkers.
We have the second-most-traveled port in the system, yet we have no place at the table, no input into decisions made that impact our town and so we need to have a place, whether it's through legislation or through invitation. One way or another we should have a voice and it should be heard.
Gazette: How is the town government operating now and how will you fit in with the current selectmen?
Mr. LaPorte: I think we have a great professional staff. We don't have conflict, and I am grateful for that. I know them [the selectmen] very well and I understand what their strengths are, and I think I can do much in helping to focus some of their discussion that will advance the issues of Tisbury.
Gazette: Do you have a vision for the town?
Mr. LaPorte: There are plenty of opinions out there and plenty of positions that have already been staked out. I think my approach is process and reason versus some emotion out there. I would be asking questions more than coming out with my own solutions. I am more of a processing and question and vision planning kind of guy.