It may not be the most controversial thing on the ballot, but the race for the Dukes County Commission is probably the most complicated.
There are three seats to fill; terms for John Alley of West Tisbury, Leonard Jason Jr. of Chilmark, and Roger Wey of Oak Bluffs are all ending. Mr. Wey is not seeking reelection.
Voters will see three names on the ballot when they vote Tuesday: John Alley, Leonard Jason and Linda Sibley, a former county commissioner from West Tisbury.
But because the commission cannot have more than two sitting members from one town, and current commission chairman Leslie Leland is from West Tisbury and not up for reelection, there is only room for one more commissioner from West Tisbury. That leaves Mrs. Sibley and Mr. Alley in a race against each other.
Meanwhile, there are two write-in candidates: Dan Flynn and Thomas Hallahan, both of Oak Bluffs. One will likely be elected.
The county commission election comes at a time when the mission and form of county government is in flux. This spring, the Dukes County Charter Study Commission completed an 18-month analysis of county government. Mr. Alley, Mr. Flynn, Mr. Jason and Mrs. Sibley all participated in the study. Its final recommendations — to retain county government with a county manager — came out in June. A question on the Tuesday ballot involves changes in county commission term lengths.
Incumbent Mr. Jason supports the recommendations of the charter commission. “I supported them publicly and I still support them,” he said. “I think it’s worth a try. We have nothing to lose.” A county commissioner since 1995, Mr. Jason said he is ready to see some changes in county government. “We need to make county government more inclusive,” he said by telephone this week. “I’ve talked before about having more associate commissioners to allow the county to be a forum where members from [town] financial committees could review regional budgets to better inform voters.” Mr. Jason said he would also appoint a commissioner of agriculture, bring 4-H back to the Vineyard and increase communication between the county and the towns. “I think you need some form of government that can deal with regional issues,” he said.
Fellow incumbent John Alley also favors better dialogue between the county and the towns. “A central issue is restoring trust in the county,” Mr. Alley said. “Perhaps the county needs to be more sensitive to the needs of individual communities.” Asked how he would do that, Mr. Alley said, “We would listen more, find out what people want and also hold meetings in the various towns of the county at different times.” Mr. Alley has served on the county commission for 25 years, though not consecutively. He once lost to Mr. Leland. “I believe my experience, my knowledge of the county, having lived through the good times and the bad, I am better able to work with the board of county commissioners,” he said. “I think continuity is very important to cut through a lot of red tape and help focus on the issues of the day.” Mr. Alley agrees with many of the charter study recommendations, but not all. “They propose two-year [terms] and I strongly believe they should be left as four-year terms, staggered,” he said.
Mrs. Sibley said she decided to run after participating in the county charter study. She is a longtime member of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission (she is also running for reelection to that commission) and served for six years on the county commission earlier in her career. “I was distressed to see the level of distrust that had grown up around the county,” she said. “I think the next four years will be absolutely critical to see whether the county can pull itself together and become a useful tool for the towns.” If elected, she would take special interest in the recommendations of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission’s forthcoming Island Plan, would attend all-Island selectmen’s meetings and said she would not micromanage the county manager. “I represent someone who has experience, so I understand the county, I understand how it functions and I understand the problems,” she said.
Mr. Flynn is also a past county commissioner; he was elected to the commission in 1995 and served for eight years. He currently works as a court officer at the Edgartown courthouse. “If elected, I will serve, but I’m not launching any type of campaign,” he told the Gazette this week. “Because I’ve done it before, I know how the process works,” he added.
A newcomer to politics, Mr. Hallahan lived on the Island in the early 1980s, later moved off and returned nine years ago. He recently finished a term on the Oak Bluffs School advisory committee and serves as vice president of the Vineyard Playhouse board of directors. He is a consultant with the state Department of Public Health and is vice president for government relations and public policy of the American Speech, Language and Hearing Association.
He said he decided to run after learning the commission could be short one commissioner. He said he went to the county offices and read a year’s worth of commission meeting minutes in under an hour. “Either they’re not being transparent or they’re not being productive,” he said. “I was wondering what it was exactly that they did do.”
If elected, Mr. Hallahan said he would concentrate on issues regarding energy use and the county judicial system. “There’s something creative that could be done with the jail and the courthouse,” he said. “There are many creative possibilities out there. Maybe even a campus plan dealing with the jail and the courthouse. There is room for some creative dialogue.” He said he believes his experience writing legislation and setting policy would help him in the job.