Capping off the Vineyard season of annual town meetings and elections, voters in Aquinnah this week delivered an upset victory in their selectmen's race, handing the post to challenger Jim Newman.
Mr. Newman, 65, beat one-term incumbent Karl Burgess by a margin of just 13 votes, winning with 87 votes to 74 for Mr. Burgess. Of 352 registered voters in Aquinnah, 166 turned out to the polls Wednesday.
"I'm a true believer in community and in working together," Mr. Newman told the Gazette yesterday.
Mr. Newman, who is also chairman of the finance committee, said that in addition to tackling financial problems in town, selectmen need to build bridges with the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah).
"It's the job of selectmen to be catalysts for that. We need to develop mutual respect," he said. Mr. Newman has lived full-time in Aquinnah for the last three and a half years. Before that, he worked as a reading specialist for 30 years at a high school in Newark, N.J.
In the only other contested race, incumbent assessor Hugh Taylor easily fended off a challenge from Richard Lee. The vote tally was 127-31, giving Mr. Taylor another term on the board of assessors.
The night before the election, 82 Aquinnah voters showed up for their annual town meeting. There they approved a $2.2 million budget, defended their membership in the Martha's Vineyard Commission, and lashed out at school leaders for overspending and overreacting to the threat of state budget cuts.
It took voters about three hours to plow through 21 articles, but they must meet again June 17 to finalize their budget numbers once the state has certified the town's free cash balance.
While voters called for a line-by-line look at the annual budget, the only issue that aroused any discussion was the special requests from the Up-Island Regional School District and the Martha's Vineyard Regional School District.
In both cases - and as had happened at other annual town meetings across the Island - the schools asked voters to back a proposal ensuring that if state aid is sent to town coffers, the town will promise to pass it on to the schools.
Wendy Swolinzky wasted no time telling school leaders sitting on the right side of the hall that she was offended by their tactics to win support for their state funding plan.
"This winter, they sent home notices about Save Our Schools that said if you don't vote for the school budget, we're going to lose all these programs," said Ms. Swolinzky. "I found it underhanded. Everything that affected kids is cut, but we could cut a few administration people. There are four new people in the superintendent's office alone."
Her sharply-worded comment drew widespread applause. Then Elizabeth Carroll picked up the same line of criticism, directing her comments right at Vineyard schools superintendent Dr. Kriner Cash.
"I ask you, Dr. Cash, to keep in mind that most year-round Islanders do not earn the salary you earn," she said. "You are valued because you are a man who can put together a brilliant budget, not one that has runaway spending."
Despite the rebukes, the budget and school spending amendments passed easily. Only two other proposals generated significant debate, and both came late in the warrant.
In reaction to a petitioned article calling for Aquinnah to withdraw from the Martha's Vineyard Commission, building inspector Jerry Wiener found himself as the sole defender of the measure while at least a half-dozen voters rallied behind the commission.
Mr. Wiener said simply that the town would save money by exiting from the MVC.
"They've done lots of things and continue to do so down-Island, but we have a 15-mile buffer between us and down-Island," he said.
His comments garnered no support.
On the contrary, they seemed to set off a chain reaction of voices speaking out in favor of the commission and the need to remain within the regional agency.
"If you withdraw, you open yourself up to development interests," said Russell Smith. "It's not only ill-conceived but ill-timed to view ourselves as separatists."
It was not the first time in the discussion that the hall would erupt in applause. Later, town counsel Ron Rappaport announced that voters in Oak Bluffs had just defeated a ballot measure that would have severed their ties with the commission.
Megan Ottens Sargent, a commissioner with the MVC, said the town would lose the special protection of overlay districts created by districts of critical planning concern (DCPC) through the commission. Derrill Bazzy said a new mapping grant from the MVC would help Aquinnah's fire department and housing committee. Voters soundly defeated the measure in a voice vote.
In other action, voters decided to table a request for $150,000 to construct a new kitchen and make repairs to the town hall. Backers of the plan said the kitchen was in abysmal shape and would leave residents unprepared if they ever had to use town hall as an emergency shelter. Others questioned the price tag.
"What happened to the plan from last year where we said we would just fix it?" said Josh Yates. "Did somebody investigate if we could do a $10,000 repair job?"
Carolyn Feltz argued that the building needed the repairs anyway and the town should spend the money.
Aquinnah voters also decided to spend $36,000 over the next 15 years for their share of capping landfills in Chilmark and Edgartown. Voters also agreed to the following spending proposals: $23,500 for a property revaluation; $3,000 to help fund solar electricity in public restrooms at the cliffs; and $17,640 to enable police to send an officer to the training academy.
The next day at the polls, voters elected the following candidates: Audrey Jeffers-Mayhew to tax collector; Beverly Widdiss to treasurer; Jerry Wiener to the board of health; Betty Joslow to the board of library trustees; Berta Welch to the planning board; and Michael Stutz to the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank Commission.