Editor’s Note: Five candidates appear on the ballot for seven seats on the Dukes County Commission. One write-in candidate has announced her candidacy. If no write-in qualifies for the seventh slot, the seat will be filled by appointment via the county commission and Dukes County clerk of courts Joseph E. Sollitto Jr. Write-in candidates must receive at least 25 votes to be considered. In interviews with the Gazette, the candidates answered questions about county management and its future role on the Island.
Mrs. Loberg said wastewater planning is one area where the county could play a regional role. She said she would like to see the county assist with consolidated services and regional initiatives. She added that the county also owns valuable property that would go to the state if the county did not exist. “That includes the courthouse, some beaches, airport property, that in my view ought to be taken care of locally,” Mrs. Loberg said. “If there was no county government, then all county property would go to the state. That makes it more distant government than is appropriate for the Vineyard. I think we are unique, and the state doesn’t pay that close attention to our unique circumstances. I think it’s better that we keep government closer to home.”
She praised the new county manager, Martina Thornton. “She has strong credentials in addition to a sharp legal mind. She knows what the problems and challenges are, and has tackled them head-on,” she said.
“The county has kind of a bad reputation in making poor decisions, and my goal is to say that if the towns are really interested in finding a way to consolidate services, I would like the county to be able to show the Island that it could be enough to handle the responsibilities of the towns.”
Mr. Israel said county government is well-positioned to facilitate Islandwide initiatives like the integrated pest management program and retirement programs. But he said the county needs support and involvement from the towns to prioritize regional efforts.
“While county commissioners certainly have ideas about initiatives and have put them forward to the community, I think it’s really up to the towns to tell us what kind of services they would like us to facilitate,” said Mr. Israel.
He added: “I’m a selectman and I have seen from the town’s point of view that it’s very important that [the county] is there to facilitate ideas that come from the community, and to not try to make the towns buy into programs that they are not enamored of.”
Mr. Israel praised the new county manager, saying: “Organization and efficiency is only going to improve.”
He concluded: “We are all very focused on state and national politics. But I always say it’s the local government that really affects most individuals’ lives in the biggest way. And local government is also the easiest to participate in if citizens so choose.”
Mr. Alley said the county acts as an essential intermediate layer between the state and towns. “Where towns look up to the county to do something, the state looks down and says, ‘County, will you please handle this particular situation?’ The county government does things for the towns that they cannot do effectively themselves,” he said.
He said the consolidation of the parking clerk and veterans’ agent positions at the county level saved the towns money. In the future Mr. Alley wants the county to be the lead agency for developing wind and solar energy projects on the Island.
“This is a regional government,” he said. “For years it was a dirty word to say regional, but regional government is important to the Island.”
He concluded: “I have watched the county government evolve over the years. I think it’s important to have some continuity with the past and future ideas.”
“What makes our Island unique is that we have six really different towns, but that also makes it difficult to get things done and have mutual cooperation,” Mr. Hallahan said. “I think the county really represents the entire Island. Town resources vary across the Island. I personally think there are areas where there could be much more regionalization.”
He said he wants the county to play a leading role in future regional initiatives involving transportation, health care and alternative energy. He would also like the county to assist organizations like the Center for Living that do not fall under one town’s responsibility.
Mr. Hallahan said communication among the county and the six Island towns needs improvement, but he believes County Manager Martina Thornton will play a key role in this area. “I have no doubt that she will improve those relationships with the towns,” he said.
“The county has had such a long history of combativeness and not being productive that it will take a number of years to get beyond that. But we are doing a public service to help the Island.”
Leon Arthur Brathwaite
Mr. Brathwaite said his involvement with off-Island politics gives him an experienced yet fresh point of view for the county commission. He has worked in both state and city government, among other things serving as chairman of the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, and as director of affirmative action for the city of Newton.
“I think the Vineyard is unique in the way it is structured,” he said. “And I think the county government provides another area where programs can be advocated on the Island.”
In light of Hurricane Sandy, Mr. Brathwaite said emergency management is one area where he would like to see the county have more involvement.
He has been attending county meetings to get a feel for the issues at hand.
“I want to see where the county is now and where it should be going in the future,” he said. “I bring a fresh perspective and new ideas to the county and also the Island itself.”
Ms. Todd sees the county as a plus for its ability to provide regional services and solutions.
“I admire and respect all the individual communities on the Island, but I think it’s important for all of us to act collectively,” she said.
She said her work in development has given her experience in local business, organization and people skills.
“I’m going in eyes wide open and ears wide open,” the candidate said. “I’d like to get a good sense of what issues are brewing. I just want to be an active participant in bringing about positive change.”