Seismic Shifts, Trustees Too Silent

The announcement last week by The Trustees of Reservations of major staffing and organizational changes on the Island operation is unsettling less for what it said than for what it did not say. Ordinarily personnel changes may be taken as matters of ordinary business — a new manager is named here, a position is eliminated there. But the changes announced by the Trustees in a garden-variety press release that arrived by electronic mail are anything but ordinary.

Major positions have been eliminated — including that of Chris Kennedy, former southeast regional director. Mr. Kennedy has not lost his job but in what amounts to a clear demotion — and pay cut — he has been named Martha’s Vineyard superintendent and now will take up residence in the superintendent’s house on Chappaquiddick. Chris Egan, the longtime superintendent at Long Point Wildlife Refuge, who has worked for the Trustees for many years and is well known in the community, suddenly has no job because his position has been eliminated.

And all this in a press release.

In a brief interview last week Mr. Kennedy said the changes are not driven by budget concerns but rather are structural and aimed at a shifting emphasis toward heavier staff coverage in the summer months and less year-round staffing.

All fine and good, but we would like to hear more about this plan and how it will affect the Vineyard properties that the Trustees owns. A more in-depth interview was scheduled with Mr. Kennedy for this week to allow him to talk about the changes and what lies ahead for the summer and beyond at Cape Pogue, Wasque, Mytoi, Long Point and Menemsha Hills.

Then the interview was suddenly cancelled by someone at the Trustees’ headquarters in Beverly.

So what is going on at the Trustees? The venerable Massachusetts land trust founded in 1891 by Charles Eliot has a presence on the Vineyard that dates to 1959 with the significant preservation at Cape Pogue thanks to a gift from the late Oliver Filley and Charles Bird. Today the Trustees is one of the largest landholders on the Vineyard, with more than fifteen hundred acres at its five properties and conservation restrictions and management agreements on hundreds more acres of land across the Island.

The Trustees’ properties have long been well managed and are jewels among the Island’s many conservation lands. And the organization has long had close ties with the Island, including with many donors large and small.

It is troubling to see the Trustees take on this latest, distant, corporate veneer. We look forward to hearing from them in detail about their plans for the future on their Vineyard properties. Perhaps some kind of meeting is in order to inform the public about these latest changes and allow people to ask questions and air their concerns. The Mary Wakeman Conservation Center would be a fitting location for such a meeting. The late Mrs. Wakeman was a great benefactor of the Trustees, and if she were alive today she no doubt would be asking all the same questions.