This is an open letter principally to my fellow members on the Dukes County charter study commission, but also to the selectmen of the towns within Dukes County, the newspapers, and anyone else seeking better local government. These are frank observations which may be difficult to swallow and somewhat indigestible.
In our work to evaluate and reshape county government we may have become distracted from the factors which precipitated our existence, namely a public perception of poor performance and an apparent failure of fiscal responsibility exacerbated by dwindling revenue sources and increasing costs.
I think we all agree we must resolve these core problems, however structural alterations made without careful analysis are merely changes, not reform. I believe the single most powerful remedy is the election of individuals with creativity, imagination, resourcefulness, tenacity, dedication, and focus, combined with business management and people skills.
Fine, that was easy. So where do these supermen and women come from? They are right here, but like our fine local seafood don’t expect them to jump out of the water and into the boat. Citizen groups must seek these people out, beg them to serve and help them get elected. Voters need to demand that our selectmen be a part of the solution. (Yes that’s a bit strong, but desperate times call for desperate measures.) Selectmen can show leadership by addressing the issue at town meetings and encouraging townspeople to serve, or seek out others to serve. High quality leadership is here, but you can be damn sure it won’t just magically appear. In fact those who do magically appear may be some of the very people who are part of the problem. What truly sane and intelligent person would take on such a task without the urging of his or her peers?
At the charter study level perhaps we can recommend small changes to facilitate the above goal.
Although we are neither mandated nor empowered by MGL Ch 34 to move in this direction, consider why we were elected. It wasn’t because the voters wanted a study of county government. It was because a majority of voters were dissatisfied with county government and saw the creation of a second charter study commission as the only avenue which could pave the way to something better.
It’s a bit like owning a car. Most people don’t know or care much about the intricacies, they just want it to work. And taken a step further the owners of this old car have reached such a point of frustration with the temperamental nature of this beast, that they feel compelled to set it afire and abandon it altogether. While such rash behavior may feel good, it probably isn’t the best course of action.
Then everyone asks: But what will the county do?
I have no idea, That, my friends, will have to come from leaders with the attributes previously mentioned.
Skeptical? Of course you are, we’re New Englanders and Vineyarders to boot.
Okay, here’s an example: all the towns, various Island agencies (Martha’s Vineyard Commission, land bank, etc.), and other entities (Martha’s Vineyard Museum, etc.) need archive quality record storage. Who better than Dukes County (perhaps at the airport) to build and operate such a facility as both a public service and a viable, cost effective revenue source.
Is this a good idea? Maybe, but that’s not the point. The point is this the kind of idea that’s needed.
However we need not only those with imagination and creativity, but also people who can actually execute ideas and bring them to fruition. That’s why we need leaders with different skills and experience, because rarely, very rarely, will you find an individual who possesses all the necessary aptitudes for success. The world is full of great artists and wealthy businessmen. Can you think of many who are both?
I’ll say it again. It’s not the car (although it does need a tune-up), it’s the drivers, and simply decrying the present ones isn’t productive and never will be. As a wise man once said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results.
Ted Stanley lives in West Tisbury and is a member of the Dukes County charter study commission.