Five Vie for One Tisbury Selectman's Seat
By MAX HART
When Tisbury voters gather Tuesday to elect a selectman, they will have plenty of choices.
Five candidates are vying for the open seat on the board - a pool that includes four men and one woman, ranging in age from 30 to 67. They are a 10-year veteran of the finance and advisory committee; a businessman who bills himself as a fiscal conservative; a retired designer who has served on an array of town committees; a Marine who served a tour of duty in Iraq; and the president of the Martha's Vineyard Community Television (MVTV) board of directors.
But while their backgrounds vary, each believes Vineyard Haven can retain its place as the Island's foremost year-round town. And if there are common themes among the candidates, it is communication and accountability; each has pledged to make town hall more open, informed and accountable to residents.
The polls at the American Legion Hall on Martin Road will be open from noon to 8 p.m.
Mr. Balco, a semi-retired financial consultant, has lived in his home near the third green at Mink Meadows Golf Club for 30 years - 11 as a year-round resident. He has been active on the town finance and advisory committee for a decade, eight of them as chairman. He also has served on the Martha's Vineyard Airport Commission for one three-year term and is the treasurer and vice president of Mink Meadows, where you can mostly find him these days.
"I'm not smart enough to be a politician," he said with a smile last week from the golf club. "In most cases, the right thing to do is quite obvious. I think my judgment along with my strong background in analysis and finance can be very useful to the town."
Mr. Balco, 65, said the workings of town government have been hindered by poor communication: "If I were elected, I would set up periodic meetings of all the town's various department heads, but no selectmen," he said. "Maybe through a luncheon or some informal gathering, each department head would share what they were working on. I think sharing this information would allow each manager to know what is going on in town. I think it would really improve communications."
He said the biggest challenges that face Vineyard Haven in the near future are building projects, such as the proposed emergency services facility and the town hall relocation. He thinks the town should combine the fire and police departments into one new facility - and should not be averse to the idea of selling the town-owned land where the police and fire departments currently sit.
Mr. Balco also favors the sale of beer and wine in town restaurants, a proposal now under examination by a study committee: "It is the historic character of the town to be the year-round commercial port. I am supportive of a viable, year-round business community, and I don't see how selling beer and wine in a few restaurants would be a detriment to that character," he said.
Looking ahead, Mr. Balco said his experience working with various administrators and department heads would help him transition into a spot on the board. And if that happens, there is another trait he will employ.
"My daddy told me that there are five subjects - religion, politics, money, health and children - that in order to talk about you need to introduce humor. I try to do that. If you want to make any progress in dealing with tough issues, you need some humor."
Jamie Douglas is no stranger to running a business. As the director of retail operations for his family's business, The Black Dog Tavern, Inc., he oversees the growing number of retail stores across the Cape and Islands. Tuesday will mark the fourth consecutive annual town election in which his name appears on the ballot, and while some things have changed in Vineyard Haven in those four years, Mr. Douglas maintains the town is still plagued by weak leadership and poor decision-making, two things he is eager to remedy.
"There needs to be more professionalism, a more business-like mentality in the governance of this town. I have said it before - the town needs to learn to follow timelines and not be so haphazard in its decision-making. The atmosphere up there is too informal," Mr. Douglas, 33, said from behind the counter at the Black Dog Bakery on a recent afternoon.
Mr. Douglas says careless spending has led to taxes that are too high and budgets that are too large. He says plans for new municipal buildings - including the emergency services facility that would house the fire department and ambulance service - are examples of unchecked spending that should not move forward without careful consideration of the impact to taxpayers.
"I am not against the fire department, but I wouldn't vote to build something that was not cost-effective," he said. "I would not want to go and build a $7 million facility when we could build something just as adequate for less. I know I wouldn't have bought a fire truck without a place to put it."
Mr. Douglas spoke favorably of the recent plan devised by the planning board - of which he is a member - for a pedestrian friendly network of roads and footpaths around town, and said he supports the limited sale of beer and wine in town restaurants. "Some people are afraid of change in this town, but I am not," he said. "I think a better looking town and one that can compete with the other towns will help keep Vineyard Haven the year-round hub."
Even with his harsh criticism of the current selectmen, Mr. Douglas, who has also served on the revenue enhancement committee, the emergency services facility committee and sewage flow review board, maintains he can work with them, and pledged to compromise on divisive issues.
"I think I can effect change with those two folks," he said. "I will probably be the odd man with those two, but I will make it apparent that I have good ideas. I think they will realize, ‘This guy knows what he is talking about.'"
Nancy Hall has been keeping a close eye on town hall lately - not hard to do given that she lives next door.
"It's nice, I can open my door and walk to a selectmen's meeting in less than a minute," she said from her kitchen, which has a view directly into the Katharine Cornell Theatre. "It is nice to be in the middle of things."
A retired designer whose previous work took her to South America and England, Ms. Hall, 65, wants to lead the town she has lived in for the last 26 years. An admitted newcomer to politics, Ms. Hall said this week that she wants to bring transparency and accountability to town hall - two goals she said might be more easily facilitated with a feminine touch.
"I think a woman would do well here," she said. "I think the process of coming to a decision is more constructive when there are men and women involved. I want to focus on making it work, getting all of these jobs done. I think my experience has helped me learn how to run a good, productive meeting."
Ms. Hall cites her work on various town boards as proof. She served for five years on the Tisbury historic commission, three years as the chairman of the library trustees and was a member of the Main Street Project committee during the planning phase. She was also chosen this year to be a member of the town beer and wine committee.
"I enjoyed the Main street committee work so much because it let me incorporate my planning experience, and I think as the town moves forward that experience will be needed," she said. "I feel I work well with people, have good common sense and would bring a refreshing change."
Bringing vibrancy to the downtown is also at the top of Ms. Hall's to-do list, and she said she would look into ways the town could provide incentives to businesses. But while some point to the sale of beer and wine as an incentive, Ms. Hall is not so sure.
"Right now, as a member of the committee looking into it, I am leaning against voting for it," she said, but added she would not vote against it as a selectman if the town wanted it.
Ms. Hall added that she is concerned with how the town attends to business once a decision has been made: "There has to be better follow through," she said. "I think a lot of old business gets lost or forgotten, and momentum for a project will just stop. The town needs to keep track of its old business."
At 30, Jared Meader is the youngest candidate on the ballot, but don't let his youth fool you - he grew up around some of the Island's most well-known politicians.
"My grandfather [Anthony (Tubby) Rebello] and uncle [Todd Rebello] were both selectmen for Oak Bluffs, so I guess it runs in the family," Mr. Meader said in a phone interview this week. "I have always been around it."
Mr. Meader was graduated from the Martha's Vineyard Regional High School in 1993, after which he joined the Marines. Returning from service, he started work for the Dukes County sheriff's department as a correctional officer in 1999. Then in 2003 he began a 14-month tour of duty in Iraq; he returned in November and still works in the sheriff's department, where he is a sergeant.
A political newcomer, Mr. Meader said he decided to run after watching several selectmen's meetings on television. "I just wasn't liking what I was seeing," he said. "It seems a lot of time is spent putting out small fires instead of getting rid of the source. There is too much time spent dwelling on the small things when we should be looking at how to improve the big picture."
He cites the focus on the beautification of the Water street area near the Steamship Authority terminal and along Main street as an example of town leaders avoiding the real issues at hand.
"If you don't have businesses in town staying open, then you can beautify all you want, it won't matter - the town is still going to be empty," he said. "Why don't they work to encourage more year-round business in town? Right now, it's a dead town."
Mr. Meader's remedy is to launch a campaign to boost business. "I don't know why the harbor is not more built-up and inviting to visitors," he said. "There should be more dock space, maybe some restaurants. I see a definite need for the planning board's plan to improve the waterfront. I think the town really needs to clean it up and make it look nicer."
Mr. Meader also spoke to the affordable housing crisis: "Being younger, I am concerned about my peers not being able to stay here," he said. "I hope to live here forever, and I want my kids to be able to stay here if they want. As a selectman, I can do something so they can."
Sitting in the kitchen of Denys and Marilyn Wortman's home on Hines Point, you get an expansive view of Vineyard Sound, Lagoon Pond and Vineyard Haven beyond it. It is a view Mr. Wortman grew up with throughout his youth, lost for 35 years, and then reclaimed 10 years ago.
Mr. Wortman is happy to explain.
"My father sold the house in 1961, and I was crushed because I grew up in it," he said from his kitchen on a recent morning. "So when I had an opportunity to buy it back, I did."
That was in 1996, when he and his wife, Marilyn, moved back to the Island year-round. Since then, Mr. Wortman, 67, has been active on boards and committees around the Island. He served five years on the Tisbury finance and advisory committee, two years on the revenue enhancement committee and one year on the capital programs committee. He is currently the president of the board of directors at MVTV, the community access station he helped found; a board member at Featherstone Center for the Arts; and president of the local chapter of the Experimental Aircraft Association.
"I think I bring a very positive attitude to the table," Mr. Wortman said of his decision to run. "I am a good listener, and am good at bringing people together, and I have the time and the historical perspective I think is needed to be really effective."
Mr. Wortman comes from a financial background, have worked as an investment advisor in Boston before moving to the Island full-time. He also has an engineering background, which he said would benefit the town. "A lot of the town's plans for the future include new projects and new designs for how the town should look. I am excited to see these get started, but we must look at them from every angle."
Working closely with the various town offices over the years helped hone his consensus building skills, which he thinks is critical to an effective town government.
"I want there to be better communication between the board and town departments, better communication between the board and the businesses and better communications between the board and its residents," he said. "We need more informal meetings to generate good, creative discussions and ways to include more people into those discussions."
Of all the candidates, Mr. Wortman has been the most vocal opponent to allowing the sale of beer and wine. While he said he would not vote for it today, he said the ultimate decision should be made by the voters, concluding:
"I support an honest, open discussion and many opportunities for the public to share their input. I just don't see what the real benefit is to the town."