Charles W. Clifford Will Leave Commission Post After 15 Years of Service

Gazette Senior Writer

Martha's Vineyard Commission executive director Charles W. Clifford announced late last night that he will resign at the end of the year from the unique regional planning agency where he has held the top post for a total of 15 years, including the last 11 straight years.

"This is a big event in the commission's history. Chuck Clifford has been part of the birth and the infancy and the adolescence of this whole agency - and this is a big deal," said commission chairman James Vercruysse.

Mr. Clifford's announcement was delivered to the commission in sealed envelopes at the end of a three-hour meeting last night in the commission office in the Olde Stone building in Oak Bluffs. Silence fell over the meeting room as 15 members of the commission tore open their envelopes to read Mr. Clifford's announcement. The announcement was framed in several lines of poetry.

Mr. Clifford did not speak and the moment was marked largely by a tense and awkward silence.

Mr. Clifford, who is 62, plans to leave the agency by Dec. 31. It is not clear whether he is resigning or retiring, but last night it was revealed that the MVC executive committee had forged a separation agreement with Mr. Clifford that includes provisions for retirement, vacation pay and health benefits for the longtime executive director.

Commission member Jennie Greene urged Mr. Clifford to stay on longer, until the commission has completed a review of two large development plans for a tract of land in Oak Bluffs.

"We need your guidance, we need your wisdom, we need your knowledge - we really truly need you," Ms. Greene said.

A few minutes later, when Mr. Vercruysse passed around copies of the separation agreement for approval, Ms. Greene tried to mount a protest.

"How did you come up with the numbers you have here - I want to be very sure we are being fair to Chuck Clifford," Ms. Greene said.

"The numbers came from Chuck, and I can assure you that Mr. Clifford feels we are being fair to him," Mr. Vercruysse said.

"This is a very difficult thing for the Martha's Vineyard Commission, but I don't think we should make it more difficult. I think we should respect what Chuck has asked for and move on," said commission member Kate Warner.

"It seems a little odd to be talking about Chuck as if he wasn't here and I would like to ask him to comment," said commission member Christina Brown.

"I am just going to ask you one thing - vote the damn thing and get it over with," Mr. Clifford said.

"Well, I think this has been a bad process," Ms. Greene said.

Mr. Vercruysse replied: "This has been a long process - sometimes difficult, sometimes funny, but handled with grace by Chuck and I hope we have fulfilled his needs."

In the end the commission voted to approve the separation agreement with Mr. Clifford, and the meeting was adjourned.

Mr. Clifford first came to the commission in 1982 when he became the fourth executive director in the history of the regional planning agency that was formed in 1974. In 1986 he left the Vineyard to take a planning post in New Hampshire. In 1990 he was again named executive director of the commission following the resignation of Carol Borer. He been at the job since then.

Mr. Clifford's long and distinguished career in regional planning goes back to the early 1970s. He was executive director of the Central New Hampshire Planning Commission in Bow, N.H., from 1974 until 1982.

Among other things, he has a master's degree in landscape architecture.

"The father of regional planning in New Hampshire," said the late Michael Wild in remarks about Mr. Clifford when he was first hired in 1982. Mr. Clifford succeeded Mr. Wild as executive director at the MVC.

Mr. Clifford is known for a planning philosophy that promotes consensus. "Development is the art of compromise. You get the best for you and I'll get the best for me," he said in an interview in the Gazette in 1983.

He has presided over much change on the Vineyard and at the commission. When he first came to the commission in 1982, two towns - Edgartown and Tisbury - had pulled out of the regional planning agency. By 1986, the two towns had come back into the fold.

"The flip side of regional is paralysis," he said in an interview just after the commission had passed its 25th anniversary. "Regional is all about consensus. You have to give a little to get a lot."

Last night when he announced his retirement, Mr. Clifford chose lines of poetry from the poem Jabberwocky by Lewis Carroll. He wrote:

"The time has come,"

the Walrus said,

"To talk of many things:

Of shore - and ships -

and sealing wax

Of cabbages - and kings -

And why the sea is boiling hot -

And whether pigs have wings."

He also wrote:

There is a time for everything:

Of existing - and of expiring,

Of sowing - and of reaping,

Of arriving - and of departing.

"My last day in the office will be December 31, 2001."