On the surface, front-burner issues in West Tisbury don't appear to have changed much in the last couple of years.
Week in and week out, selectmen still do battle over the impact of transit buses in their historic village center, listen to evidence of marauding dogs accused of devouring a neighbor's chickens and tweak parking rules meant to alleviate congestion at Humphrey's bakery.
But underneath all that, the town's political landscape is vastly changed. More than five months ago, after a hotly contested political campaign, voters ousted their four-term selectman Cynthia Mitchell and elected Glenn Hearn to his first term on the board of selectmen.
But the margin was a razor-thin 20 votes out of more than 900 cast, and many officials now say town politics in West Tisbury no longer take place in the friendly manner of years past.
"As far as the workings of the board of selectmen, there's definitely some tension," says selectman John Early, who had backed Mrs. Mitchell's bid for reelection. "Any time you have a realignment, there's a period of adjustment."
But in a town that has strived to preserve its rural character and small-town appeal, there are now stories of social connections severed in the aftermath of the election, of friends who once chatted at the post office and don't anymore.
"All this goes back to the election and who supported whom for the office of selectman," says another town official who asked to be unnamed.
Even Mr. Early acknowledges a changed mood in the town. "The general sentiment in town I've perceived is that there's a lot of anger out there," he says. "It's not particularly focused. It could be part of the aftermath of 9/11 or the economy."
Last month, selectmen turned to a professional mediator to help resolve a dispute between a town resident and a town hall employee. They ended up with a report from the mediator, Patricia Worlock Moore, citing the selectman's race as the underlying cause of friction in town hall.
Ms. Moore said the town's reputation for civility and openness to dissent is at stake.
"This atmosphere of tolerance and acceptance is today badly strained, and the strains are showing up in our town hall," Ms. Moore wrote in her report filed with selectmen in late August. "While some might disagree, I think a significant part of the problem may be traced to emotions engendered by different opinions regarding Steamship Authority issues, and positions taken during the recent West Tisbury election campaign."
The roots of political discord in West Tisbury go back to before the Mitchell-Hearn race. At a selectmen's meeting last December, both Mrs. Mitchell and Mr. Early blasted fellow selectman John Alley for his vote as a county commissioner to appoint Kathryn A. Roessel as the Island Steamship Authority governor, replacing J.B. Riggs Parker.
At the selectmen's meeting, Mrs. Mitchell called the county commission vote "a corrupted process." Mr. Early described the action as "irresponsible" and "base." Within three months of the lashing from his fellow selectmen, Mr. Alley was openly campaigning for Mr. Hearn.
On the other side are town hall employees, their allegiance to Mrs. Mitchell solidified by years of working side by side. Mrs. Mitchell has been the town treasurer since 1986.
"There is a lot of mutual respect between Cindy and other employees," says one longtime town employee. "She was the selectman you could go to. She could be completely trusted, and she was supportive of town hall staff."
Mrs. Mitchell is no longer a selectman, but her role as treasurer sparked new controversy this summer. She was offered a new full-time job as head of an affordable health insurance program called the Island Health Plan.
But she wanted to hold on to her job in the treasurer's office, and approached selectmen with a plan to hire an assistant and work part-time. The deal, she said, would save the town about $20,000.
But neither Mr. Hearn nor Mr. Alley liked the plan, preferring to see Mrs. Mitchell retire. They voted to schedule a special town meeting to consider both Mrs. Mitchell's proposal and another solution they supported.
The meeting took place in July and drew 165 voters. It was an awkward meeting at which voters approved a motion for an Australian, or secret, ballot. One woman stood up to say she could sense "negative feelings" in the hall and called on her fellow townspeople "to reunite the community in a less hostile relationship."
In the end, voters came out against Mrs. Mitchell, voting down her proposal in a 98-64 decision.
Yesterday, Mrs. Mitchell told the Gazette she is done with West Tisbury politics and won't seek reelection as treasurer or a return bid for the board of selectmen. She is working both full-time jobs, logging an average of 70 hours a week between the treasurer's desk and her new post at Island Health Plan.
To Mr. Early, the doubling-up of jobs is no cause for concern.
"The town's work is getting done, and it's her decision how this plays out until next election," he says. "I've heard no complaints from the financial people in town hall. A lot of people work two jobs."
Former selectman James Alley, though, questions why Mrs. Mitchell is clinging to the treasurer's job. "Why were we paying her a full-time pay all these years?" he says. "Cynthia did a lot of good, hard work for the town, but she chose her method, and it backfired on her."
Meanwhile, a political rift remains in West Tisbury. "We were surprised at ourselves to find the extent of the division and the heat of the division," says Ms. Moore, who is working for the town on a pro bono basis.
Ms. Moore helped draft a series of guidelines aimed at town hall employees and members of the public who come to town hall seeking information or assistance. In essence, the guidelines call for both sides to treat each other with respect and courtesy.
After a rancorous political year in West Tisbury, Ms. Moore says, "we are struggling to return to that."