There’s a well-respected tradition among East Choppers to rag on Oak Bluffs politics. “Taxation without representation,” is a common refrain. “All those folks know how to do is spend money,” is another. “Things are a mess, as usual.”

To test these suppositions, I recently spent some time with our own Walter Vail, who was sworn in as a selectman eight weeks ago. Walter and Scottie have been longtime summer residents of East Chop and recently retired here three years ago from New Hampshire.

I didn’t waste much time on small talk. “Okay, Walter, what can you tell me about Oak Bluffs politics now that you are a part of it?”

His reply: “The first thing I’ve learned is how much learning I have to do. There is a steep learning curve to being a selectman. You have to become familiar with all aspects of town government. It’s a fun challenge. I’m asking a lot of questions.

“One thing that has really impressed me is all the dedicated residents who volunteer their time to serve on town committees. Many of them are retired. For example, Bob Huss, Terry Appenzellar, and Fred Hancock are members of an ad hoc committee looking into ways for us to save money. There are several committees like that. These people are great.

“I have also learned that we have many dedicated and hardworking town employees. So, there are many good things about Oak Bluffs politics. One thing I’m committed to changing is our management style. We need to run the town more like a business. We tend to muddle through from crisis to crisis. We need more long-range planning, more attention paid to setting goals and clear objectives. These changes will take time. The good thing is that people are demanding them. What is frustrating is that the political process grinds so slowly.

“Finally, I have learned that the choices you have to make are often not easy. The budget for next year is a case in point. Nobody wants to raise taxes, and most of the easy expenditure cuts have been made. The revenue side of the budget is always an unknown. You try to forecast as best you can the amount of revenue the town will receive for a given year, but so much is out of your control. For example, if gas prices continue to rise and fewer boats come to Oak Bluffs harbor as a result, we will have a shortfall there.

“If our forecasts are incorrect and we have a shortfall next year, the choices will be very difficult. The only thing I’m committed to spending more money on is the hiring of a town accountant. It’s penny-wise and pound-foolish not to have one. You can’t run the town like a business without maintaining strict controls on how the money is spent. Budget cuts have prevented us from filling that position, but we will have to find the money to do it.

“So, I’m having fun, and spending a lot of time in meetings. Check with me next year to see if we are making progress with the management style changes. That is the one issue I am passionate about.”

I might just do that. It’s nice to know I have a friend in government who lives right around the corner.

On another front, we may have made progress last week on cleaning up the eyesore on 222 East Chop Drive across from the lighthouse. The deed for the house was owned by an investment company that was fighting foreclosure. On June 23, the house went up for auction.

Bidders were required to make an initial down payment of $50,000. Thirty-five East Choppers attended the auction, but no checkbooks were in evidence. The one qualified bidder, LBM Financial, a mortgage company in Marlboro, bought the house for $2 million. This is good news because the property will now be cleaned up, the house completed, and eventually sold.

Finally, don’t miss the annual beach club picnic this Monday, July 4. The festivities begin at 6 p.m.