The Tisbury department of public works has come under some deserved criticism for its less than stellar performance during this winter’s serial snowstorms, and surely an operational review is in order.

But the Tisbury selectmen seem to have jumped to the conclusion that the department should be abolished and placed under their control. With a stroke of the pen and virtually no public discussion or study, selectmen decided last week to put an article on an upcoming town meeting warrant to start that process. Voters will be asked to allow the town to petition the state legislature to repeal a 1989 law that created the DPW. The selectmen argue that putting the department under their supervision will streamline town management.

Ironically, that was the exact justification for creating the department more than twenty-five years ago.

Operating under a state grant, the Massachusetts Municipal Association in 1988 conducted a detailed study of how to improve government functions in Tisbury and also Edgartown.

A key recommendation of that study was that Tisbury consolidate its highway, health, sanitation, park and recreation and cemetery functions under a single department of public works. The department would be headed by a paid director and governed by a separate board elected by town voters.

News coverage in this newspaper at the time shows the study was the focus of much townwide discussion, including at public hearings. At a special election in March of 1989, voters agreed overwhelmingly to the MMA’s recommendation. The change had to be approved by a special act of the state legislature, and in December of that year, Gov. Michael Dukakis signed the act into law.

Since then the Tisbury DPW, working under an elected five-member public works commission, has managed everything from highway work to trash collection to clinics at the town tennis courts and summer band concerts at Owen Park. In 1991, the department was widely praised for its response to Hurricane Bob. In 1999, it was roundly criticized for its handling of some personnel matters. This winter the department drew darts from some town residents over poorly plowed streets.

The selectmen say they are not reacting simply to the recent snow removal response and that they’ve been contemplating a restructure of the DPW for a long time.

But whatever discussions have occurred have not been given nearly the same study or public airing that was given to creation of the DPW in the first place.

It may be that turning back the clock is the right answer, but before the state legislature is asked to undo a special act, the issue deserves a full examination and opportunity for public comment. The selectmen owe it to voters to explain why they think they can run things better than another popularly elected board.