Oak Bluffs voters face a choice at the ballot box next week, with three candidates — none new to the town, or to Oak Bluffs voters — vying for two seats on the board of selectmen. Incumbents Gregory A. Coogan and Kathleen A. Burton are running for re-election, while former selectman Roger Wey has thrown his hat back into the ring for a seat on the board. There are no other contests or questions on the ballot. The annual town election is Thursday, April 12; polling hours are from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. in the meeting room in the public library.

In interviews with the Gazette this week, the two incumbent selectmen said they think the board is stable and should stay the same. Mr. Wey expressed concern about the “dismal” situation the town has faced, and his desire to be part of the solution.

“We’ve started going in the right direction here,” said Ms. Burton, who was elected in 2009 and is now chairman. She said she is seeking a second term on the board to continue what she called the town’s positive momentum.

“I personally have learned a great deal,” Ms. Burton said of her first term. “I ran because I believed in the town of Oak Bluffs, I love the town of Oak Bluffs. I just wanted to see if I could help . . . I thought I could help and I believe I have.”

A seasonal resident for 26 years and a year-round resident for about 18 years, Ms. Burton has a daughter who is a junior in high school, and she owns a real estate firm in Edgartown. She has worked as a real estate broker for 18 years, and worked in the corporate world and as a teacher before that.

Ms. Burton has also served on the Cottage City Historical Commission and worked with the Bureau of Ocean Management and Energy to address plans for wind turbines in the waters off the Vineyard, saying she argued to push the turbines further from shore.

She said the town’s recent financial problems stemmed from a combination of factors. “What was happening was not only a terrible, terrible economy but essentially, we were overestimating our revenue and not living within our means,” she said. “That’s the biggest message to me.”

To right the ship, she said, the town needs to be conservative with revenue estimates and spending.

A new town administrator and town accountant are on board, she said, giving selectmen monthly financial reports. Before, selectmen were not presented with that information.

Ms. Burton said other issues facing Oak Bluffs are also financial in nature, including the town “not taking advantage of the collection of revenues that were owed to us, especially fees and fines.”

She said she’s been working to update and computerize fees, fines and procedures, to make the town “a lot better at collecting [revenue], which will keep the tax rate down and keep revenue.”

Ms. Burton said she’s working on adopting a transparent and open manner, with cooperative meetings where everyone has a chance to speak, to combat the town’s reputation for having a combative and controversial political landscape. “I think I’ve worked really hard to change the perception and the message this past year,” she said, adding that when bad news came out, she “completely took responsibility for it and worked with the board and the town administrator to correct it going forward.”

Her goal, she said, is “working toward a positive image of the town you love. I’m not about any of that negativity in the past.”

What is she reading these days? Ms. Burton said mostly materials related to the town meeting. But on vacation in Florida, she said she enjoyed Susan Wilson’s One Good Dog.

Stability was the word used by Greg Coogan, who is seeking his fourth term as a selectman. “We’ve been going through quite a bit of turmoil the last couple of years,” Mr. Coogan said, but the town “all came to respect one another, came together and made a lot of good decisions the last year.”

Greg Coogan
Greg Coogan: “I think we’ve made some great progress.” — Ivy Ashe

Mr. Coogan, who has taught math for 18 years at the Tisbury School, has been coming to Oak Bluffs his entire life and has been living on the Island full-time since 1971. His two children were both born here, and he has served as chairman of the elementary school building committee, of the town conservation commission, and on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission.

Like Ms. Burton, he said the new town administrator and town accountant will help the town, and that he is running for reelection to stay the course.

“I think the financial part of the town we’ve really worked hard on,” Mr. Coogan said, and Oak Bluffs is “running as well as we could considering . . . ” He continued:

“In these very difficult times I think we’ve made some great progress. The board worked well together this year, thing are going well right now and we really want that to continue, we want to keep things going smoothly.”

The town “lived through a sort of perfect storm,” he said, with the loss of a financial director and accountant and difficulty finding qualified people to fill those positions. “I think at the time we thought we could limp along a little bit.”

He praised town administrator Robert Whritenour. “His strength is the financial side, and I think that our problems have played to his strength,” he said.

“This is not the right time to [change],” he added.

Beyond financial concerns, Mr. Coogan said he would like to look into sharing services with other towns, including possibly police and solid waste services with neighboring Tisbury. “But none of these things are going to happen overnight,” he cautioned. “People in both towns have to buy into it.”

As for the town’s reputation for political controversy, Mr. Coogan said: “There’s been a little bit of that at times, but I don’t feel that now. People are accepting we’re all going in the right direction.”

His reading list includes David Baldacci novels, and he recently read a book about the hockey team at his alma mater, Boston College.

But right now, a seven-week-old Labrador puppy, still unnamed, has “taken up all of my waking hours and some of the hours I haven’t been awake,” he said.

Roger Wey served for seven terms as a selectman and after a three-year absence is now is looking to return, prompted by the town’s difficulties, he said. “Things looked dismal in this town,” said Mr. Wey, who stepped down as a selectman in 2009 after 21 years on the board. He works as director of the Council on Aging. He has also served on the Dukes County Commission and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. He has lived on the Island since 1975, and his seven children were raised here.

He expressed concerns over the town’s sizeable free cash shortfall, saying the town got by this year, but might be headed for trouble at this time next year. He questioned how the town would pay off its deficit.

With projects to work on, a new roof for the police station, for example, “somehow we’ve got to come up with some revenue somewhere,” Mr. Wey said. “I feel that I have the experience, the integrity and the commitment to the community [for the job],” he added, citing his contacts at the state and local level as a plus.

If he wins, he said he will give up his position as senior center director.

Mr. Wey said Oak Bluffs is unique in its problems.“No other town on the Island is in the predicament we’re in,” he said. “And we’re all similar towns.”

He opposes increasing real estate taxes, but said one option to raise revenue would be paid parking on town streets — with residents receiving exemption stickers — which he believes could raise hundreds of thousands of dollars. He said the idea would have to be approved by town voters.

Another potential money maker could be a fuel station at the harbor, Mr. Wey said.

And he suggested that financial concerns plague town residents. “I see it here at the center — so many older people and younger people just struggling. It’s not an easy time for anybody.”

Going forward, he said, “I think we all have to work as a team for the benefit of the town. I think there’s got to be respect for each other and we have to listen to each other.”

“I look forward to working hard,” he continued. “There’s many things I think I can do, but I can only do it together with the others.”

As for his reading list, Mr. Wey enjoys Stuart Woods novels and he reads Joseph Campbell’s book The Power of Myth “over and over.”