Concluding an exhaustive 18-month study, the Dukes County Charter Study Commission issued recommendations for the future of county government in its final report released Thursday.
The report leaves intact much of county government as it is known today.
“The charter commission has opted for minimal change in the charter because in the course of its work it became apparent that governance structure was not the underlying cause of the problems that gave rise to the creation of the commission,” the report states.
It continues: “The commission is mindful of voices in the community calling for the abolishment of county government. As a result, this option was studied in detail by a subcommittee and was rejected by a near unanimous vote, twice, by the full commission. Maintaining local control of considerable county assets, providing a ready mechanism for Island-wide cooperation to solve common problems, and strong recommendations against abolishment from our state representatives as well as from representatives of abolished counties, persuaded all but two commissioners to oppose abolishment.”
And it concludes: “The ultimate success of the charter commission’s recommendations will be determined by the spirit, enthusiasm and competence with which they are implemented.”
The recommendations will come before county voters in the November election.
They include retaining county government with a county manager, but imposing term limits on the job with an option to hire a part-time manager.
Dukes County is currently the only county in the commonwealth that uses a county manager form of government.
The report also recommends the county retain a seven-member county commission, and that commissioners continue to be elected at large, with no more than two from each town sitting on the commission at one time.
The only substantial change is a recommendation to reduce the terms of county commissioners from four to two-year terms. This recommendation marks the only substantial change from the current structure of county government.
If approved by voters, the new charter will take effect on January 1, 2009.
On Thursday, the commission also approved a set of nonbinding administrative recommendations to be adopted by the current county commission.
Much of the meeting Thursday, the last of some 40-odd meetings the commission has held since it was formed following the November 2006 election, was devoted to editing and making minor amendments to the 35-page report. But discussion grew passionate at times, even prompting chairman William O’Brien 3rd to request a five-minute recess. After Mr. O’Brien asked that an MVTV camera filming the meeting be turned off, he exchanged heated words with his co-chairman Paddy Moore. The exchange prompted study group member Leonard Jason Jr., who suggested the break, to remark: “This is not what I meant by a recess.”
When the meeting resumed, member Roger Wey made a motion to adopt the final report as amended. Commissioner Dan Flynn was the lone dissenter in the 22-member group.
“A lot of hard work by this group produced this final report,” said Mr. Flynn, reading from a statement he hand-wrote earlier in the meeting. “However, my signature on this document would indicate that I concur with the findings and conclusions therein. I do not. Therefore, I will not offer my signature.”
Instead of signing the report, Mr. Flynn wrote “present” above his name.
Another early dissenter, Woody Williams, decided in the end to join the group. “From day one, I was for abolishing county government,” said Mr. Williams. “I am satisfied with the recommendations. I signed my name.”
Member Tristan Israel, who is also a county commissioner and a Tisbury selectman, praised the efforts of Mr. O’Brien and Mrs. Moore and group treasurer Jeff Kristal. “The hours have been exhausting,” Mr. Israel said before a round of applause from the commission for their work.
Mr. O’Brien also extended thanks. “What our mission was, in my view, we have done that and we’ve done it well,” he said. He gave a nod to the sitting county commissioners and to Margaret Logue, a member of the original county charter commission of 1992 who sat in as an observer on all but three of the current commission’s meetings. It was the work of that first group, chaired by Mrs. Logue’s late husband, Ed Logue, which led to the composition of Dukes County government recognizable today: a county government with a charter, a county manager and a county commission of seven.
“I think the process of democracy is a messy one and I think we’ve proven that,” Mrs. Moore said. “But, it is a necessary one.”
Member Linda Sibley, a former county commissioner, acknowledged the deep research the group had conducted over nearly two years. “I think we found the longest and hardest way to do this. I do hope the next group won’t feel that they have to do everything from scratch,” she said. “I think we deserve some credit for doing it the hard way.”
Ted Stanley, the only member of the current group who also sat on the 1992 study commission, agreed. “I think we did a lot of hard work. Ultimately, our work will be decided upon by the voters,” he said.
On Friday, the group filed its report with county clerk Joseph E. Sollitto Jr., who then distributed a copy to all elected county and municipal officials, all members of the counties’ legislative delegation and the state secretary. Copies will also be available to the public and will be printed in the local newspapers before the recommendations appear on the November state ballot.
As the meeting drew to a close, Mr. Stanley acknowledged the lack of change recommended in the report, a fact he did not consider a fault. “We prepared the garden, we fertilized it and maybe we planted the seed,” said the member, whose repeated use of the analogy prompted more than one smile at the table. “Now, we will see what grows from it,” he said.
The final report is dedicated to member Arthur Flathers, who died on April 10.