A semi-retired financial consultant from Vineyard Haven is the lone challenger vying to unseat one of three incumbents in this year's race for a spot on the Dukes County Commission.
George J. Balco, a Republican from Vineyard Haven and former chairman of the Martha's Vineyard Airport Commission, is running against Democrats John S. Alley of West Tisbury, Leonard Jason Jr. of Chilmark and Roger Wey of Oak Bluffs.
In separate interviews with the Gazette, all four candidates spoke about the range of issues facing county government - including the power struggle between the county and the airport commission, the construction of a new jail facility at the airport and the impending appointment of a Vineyard representative to the Steamship Authority board of governors.
The county commission oversees various regional facilities and properties including the Vineyard airport and the Edgartown House of Correction.
The commission also manages services for veterans, supplies emergency and engineering services and makes appointments to regional boards.
Mr. Alley is no stranger to public office; he was a West Tisbury selectman for 27 years and served as a county commissioner for 21 years and as an airport commissioner for 23 years. He's also a member of the board of the Vineyard Transit Authority (VTA).
"What the county provides, it just doesn't make sense for the towns to do it on an individual basis," Mr. Alley said. "And that saves money for each town in the process."
Mr. Alley, 62, has played a role in the construction of a new terminal at the airport and the development of the Island public transportation system. He considers replacing the current county jail with a new facility at the airport a priority.
"The county jail is overpopulated and outdated, I think everyone agrees on that," he said. "Our job is to provide an adequate facility to house prisoners."
Like most of his fellow contenders, the SSA - specifically the upcoming appointment of a Vineyard governor - tops the list of concerns.
"The Island's governor will be the chairman of the board of governors and, I believe, will need to possess an acute understanding of the financial and business aspect of the boat line," he said. "The most important quality I look for is the ability to work with the elected officials as well as listen to the residents of the Vineyard. And of course, there needs to be a clear understanding of what the Vineyard's unique transportation needs are."
Mr. Alley remained terse on the topic of Vineyard SSA governor Kathryn A. Roessel's job performance. "She has done some good things, and some things we have publicly questioned," he said.
After all his years of service, Mr. Alley said he still has the energy and enthusiasm it takes to be an effective county commissioner.
"I have the time and experience as well as the knowledge and ability to get the job done," he said.
Mr. Balco is a 64-year-old former Wall Street mutual fund manager, who moved to the Vineyard full-time nine years ago. Chairman of the Tisbury finance committee for seven years, he also served as an airport commissioner.
"I think I would bring a new energy to the commission," said the challenger. "I have substantial financial background which I think is needed.
"The county government should serve two major functions," he continued. "First, it provides a number of long running services, such as the sheriff and jail, the registry of deeds, and second, it wields the power of appointment, which is its most important duty."
In his view, the county should not be carving out new tasks and roles on the Island.
Mr. Balco agreed that the commission's most important appointment is this year's selection for the Vineyard SSA governor.
"I don't think the county commission is chief spokesman for the SSA, but it should be able to express its own point of view with regard to the Steamship Authority," he said. "The Island representative will have to be decisive and have the background and knowledge and, perhaps the most important quality, the ability to spend time on an issue."
He described Ms. Roessel as "conscientious and a hard worker," and said he looked forward to reviewing all applicants.
Mr. Balco wants to see the county commission scrap the practice of appointing its own members to other regional boards.
"Any of them - the housing authority, the airport commission, the retirement board - if you appoint a county commissioner to one of these boards, it can create conflicts. What the county should be doing is getting other people actively involved," he said.
Such conflicts, he said, laid the groundwork for the lawsuits filed by airport personnel, the airport commission and county commission.
"I support stopping the litigation and settling this matter," he said. "I would make every effort to do that."
Leonard Jason Jr.
A building inspector for Chilmark and Edgartown, as well as an assessor in Chilmark, Mr. Jason has served on the county commission since 1995.
He believes his straight-forward approach to problem solving makes him an effective county commissioner.
"I understand regional issues," Mr. Jason said. "I think I have the experience, the knowledge of the community and a reputation for getting things done."
The Island affordable housing crisis represents both the promise and shortcomings of county government, he said.
"We are struggling to provide the community with housing for lower income residents," he added. "As a regional entity, we would fail the community if we didn't look into those needs."
The county needs this flexibility and openness to new ideas when the situation calls for it," Mr. Jason said. "Regional services should be available whenever a new need arises," he said.
Mr. Jason hopes to raise county revenues enough to lower the county assessment fee for each of the towns. One idea, he said, is to increase the two per cent land bank transfer fee by one point.
The current litigation between two airport employees and the airport and county commissions over disputed salary hikes highlights problems that need to be looked into, Mr. Jason said.
"You have to ask yourself why the problems occurred, where the overlapping issues were, and I think it is easy to see why the airport commission and the county commission should be separate," he said.
He agrees with Mr. Balco that county commissioners should not be serving on other county boards.
With regard to the SSA, Mr. Jason said it's the most important appointment the commission makes. As for Ms. Roessel, he was blunt, giving her a grade of C-minus.
Mr. Wey, a building contractor and chairman of the board of selectmen in Oak Bluffs, is seeking a second term on the county commission. Mr. Wey, 63, said the SSA appointment is a top priority.
His biggest wish is establishing a strong working relationship with the boat line. The Island governor will need to be "a real team player," he said.
"This position requires not only the knowledge of the Island's needs but also the ability to speak your mind on the multiple issues facing the SSA," Mr. Wey said. "But it's critical that there is a trusting relationship between the commission and the governor."
Mr. Wey supports siting a new jail at the airport.
"The sheriff has done a lot with what he has," he said. "It is very difficult to work in the current building, but the key is funding."
Another challenge the commission will face will be finding new ways to raise revenue if it is going to keep up with rising fixed costs, he said.
Despite only one term on the commission, Mr. Wey believes he brings an important quality to the table.
"My experience as a selectman has given me considerable knowledge on regional issues," Mr. Wey said. "The services the county provides are very important. I think I bring my questioning, and say what I feel is right."