Selectman Contest Is Three-Cornered

By CHRIS BURRELL

To hear Kerry Scott say it, next Thursday's annual town election in Oak Bluffs and the race for selectman, in particular, mark a pivotal moment in town.

"We're at a crossroads," said Ms. Scott, a 52-year-old business owner who is one of three candidates running for a spot on the board of selectmen. She and Vincent Chestnut, a locksmith and Vietnam War veteran, are trying to unseat incumbent Todd Rebello.

The election comes at a time when Oak Bluffs voters have plenty to digest - lessons from the fight over the southern woodlands, for example; increases in property taxes this year. And the candidates have distinct views; look at their stance on the southern woodlands issue.

Mr. Rebello allied himself with Connecticut developer Corey Kupersmith, who failed to win approval from the Martha's Vineyard Commission for construction of a private golf course.

Mr. Rebello then backed efforts to have the town withdraw from the commission and clear the way for the Down Island Golf Club. That effort failed in a special election last May.

The 43-year-old selectman, who wants a second term, has no regrets.

"There was a great opportunity for the town to take care of funding. We can't turn our noses up to forms of economic development," he said this week.

Ms. Scott was on the other side, opposing the development proposal and leading efforts to keep Oak Bluffs in the commission.

This week, sitting in the office of her downtown store, Good Dog Goods, she offered stinging criticism of the selectmen who sided with Mr. Kupersmith and against the commission.

"Do we want someone who, when confronted with a development proposal, advocates for the developer? Or do we want someone who lets the project rise and fall on its own merits?" she asked.

Her defense of the commission, she added, turned on principle, not golf. To leave the MVC would have put the town at risk. "Selectmen, with the notable exception of Roger Wey, [advocated] that, and they were reckless," Ms. Scott said.

Finally there is Mr. Chestnut, an outspoken critic of town government and leadership, who is equally scathing in his assessment of the commission's role in the southern woodlands debate. Speaking at the candidates forum last week, he said: "The Martha's Vineyard Commission should be speaking for all of us, not just a few tree-huggers."

No Agreement on Taxes

On the topic of taxes and the fiscal health of the town, the three candidates are just as divergent.

Mr. Rebello argued that the town's financial management is in solid hands. "It's a new financial management style brought to the town by this board," he said.

He pointed to balanced budgets and the lack of tax overrides. When asked about the tax increases that hit property owners last fall, Mr. Rebello placed the blame with town meeting voters.

"The increases of the past years have nothing to do with departmental spending. It's the extras that town meeting voters have voted," he said. "This year alone, a person with a $500,000 home value is going to pay an extra $90 just for the new library expense."

The lesson, argued Mr. Rebello, is that more people should come to town meeting and not let a minority of voters decide the budget.

On the subject of taxes, Ms. Scott said: "We need to make real numbers available to people, telling them, ‘This is what this is going to cost you in taxes."

She also said that town leadership needs to control spending by finding solutions that fit Oak Bluffs. She offered two cautionary examples: the roundabout planned for the blinker intersection and the new library project which breaks ground later this month.

"Do we need a library that is nearly twice as big as any other library on the Island? We accept state money, and we're told to build a library bigger than we can perhaps afford or need," Ms. Scott said. "We need to come up with uniquely Oak Bluffs solutions when the state imposes these suburban standards."

Mr. Chestnut, talking yesterday over a cup of coffee at Linda Jean's, argued that selectmen have failed in their fiscal management and planning. "They sold the old school and then tried to buy it back again [for a town hall]," he said. "Have you seen the tax bills? Sure, they have a balanced budget."

All Are Business Owners

Given the chance to reflect on their campaigns and their strengths, candidate responses revealed not only distinct personalities but also different visions for Oak Bluffs.

Mr. Rebello put the focus on his initiatives to cut back the numbers of mopeds for rent in town. He also reacted sharply to statements in the last two weeks that he said downplayed or discounted his role in the latest southern woodlands deal - an agreement by Mr. Kupersmith to sell 190 acres to the Martha's Vineyard Land Bank and build a 26-lot housing subdivision on the remaining 90 acres.

Last week, Priscilla Sylvia, a member of the Oak Bluffs land bank advisory board, credited Martha's Vineyard Land Bank executive director James Lengyel with crafting the agreement that was reached with Mr. Kupersmith's agent, Brian Lafferty.

But Mr. Rebello said this week, "Most people just sat back and were just going to allow this to take a collision course to the courts . . . Todd Rebello was the only one who proposed plans. He didn't give up."

If there is common ground between the three, it is that they are all small business owners. Mr. Rebello owns three retail shops in downtown Oak Bluffs - The Locker Room, Island Apparel and Sunsations.

"I want to reach out to every voter in Oak Bluffs," he said. "I promise to continue to work hard."

Mr. Chestnut, who is 55 and the owner of Alpha Locksmith, is not an expansive talker. "I offer a definite fresh approach, a common sense approach," he said.

A former staff sergeant in the Air Force, he spent his time in Vietnam jamming enemy radar. An Island resident since 1991, he's concerned about the changes he sees but not sure of solutions.

"What I see is an exodus of workers, the greediness of property owners," he said. "If I knew what to do about it, I wouldn't be a locksmith."

Ms. Scott has not held an elected office in town but she served on the land bank advisory board for three years and fought for the establishment of the Oak Bluffs harbor district of critical planning concern. She has also volunteered for the Possible Dreams auction for 23 years, helping raise millions of dollars for Martha's Vineyard Community Services.

"People feel cut off from the leaders of the town, and that's not healthy for a democracy," she said. "One thing people surely know about me is that I'm accessible."

Polls for the annual town election in Oak Bluffs will open Thursday from 10 a.m to 7 p.m. in the Megan Alley Community Room of the Oak Bluffs School.