Political Notebook

Super Tuesday kicked off the Island political season this week, and the four annual town meetings in Edgartown, Oak Bluffs, Tisbury and West Tisbury were notable for their themes of economy and tight purse strings in these financially straitened times.

In Tisbury, which addressed its big decisions on capital outlay for emergency facilities last year, there was a notable lightness of spending and of spirit this year. The biggest decision still to come is in two weeks, when the town takes up for the second time in two years the divisive question of whether to allow alcohol sales in restaurants. The poor economy may well play a role this time around in tipping the balance on that vote, but it will be up to voters to examine their collective conscience about the quiet character of the main port town and whether it is time to change — or not. For many it comes down to a hard choice in hard times.

In West Tisbury there was a congratulatory mood and plenty of town camaraderie to go around this year. Voters found easy compromise on their hardest issues and applauded themselves after finishing a forty-eight article warrant in three hours.

In Edgartown it was all about getting the job done, and sixty-three articles were dispatched within two short hours. No problems.

In Oak Bluffs it was a different story altogether. Problems abound in this town which has been unable to balance its budget for three years running and appears at serious risk for descending into financial chaos, a precarious and dangerous scenario for any town. At the annual town meeting this week, voters were forced to confront a nearly incomprehensible warrant freighted with a long list of ordinary spending requests broken out as overrride questions. “Let the voters decide,” the town finance committee and town administrator said. But the result was widespread confusion and a drawn-out town meeting that remains unfinished and will reconvene on May Fourth. Reading the warrant and observing the chaos this week left the unshakable feeling that the finance committee had shirked its responsibility for making the tough decisions, preferring instead to hand them off to the voters. Is this what voters wanted? Somehow we think not.

The ultimate responsibility for this mess rests directly with the five town selectmen, who collectively should be held accountable for their utter lack of leadership in town financial affairs. Who will put Oak Bluffs back together again? The selectmen must urgently address the crisis at hand. They owe this to the people who elected them. A town summit of the selectmen and finance committee is in order.