Candidates’ Night

There are only two contested races on West Tisbury’s town election ballot, and so far the buzz is not exactly overwhelming, but the turnout for Candidates’ Night on Wednesday was respectable enough.

The event was organized and moderated by the League of Women Voters. The time-keeper sat in the front row with two signs, one announcing a one-minute warning and the other (red, of course) saying STOP. Candidates in contested races were allotted five minutes each, those in uncontested race got three, and no limit was imposed either on questions from the audience or the responses to them.

Candidates spoke in the order their offices are listed on the ballot. Those running unopposed gave a capsule description of what their jobs were about, which made the evening a short version of the “What Makes West Tisbury Tick?” forum that was held in the same room in early February.

Dan Waters, unopposed candidate for moderator, led off. As the one who runs town meetings, the moderator is one of the most visible town officials.

Dan had never expected to hold the office: his predecessor, Pat Gregory, first elected in 1991, seemed tailor-made for the job. Then in May 2014, just a month after town meeting, the whole town was shocked by news of Pat’s murder while he was hiking in California.

So Dan — artist, poet, printer, muscian — stepped up to the plate and was elected to the position that fall. Part of his self-education for the job involved watching videos of 11 town meetings that Pat conducted. His main task is, he noted, “to make sure that everyone feels free to get up and speak,” especially newcomers to town, new voters, and anyone daunted by the prospect of speaking before 300+ of their townsfolk.

One of the two contested races this year is for selectman. In West Tisbury, as in many New England towns, town meeting is, in effect, the legislature and the board of selectmen is, more or less, the executive. In a year there’s always one annual town meeting and maybe one or two specials. The three-member board of selectmen meets weekly. It’s not hard to figure out that much of the day-to-day business of running the town falls to the selectmen. Selectmen are elected for a three-year term, and one seat comes open each year. Turnover is not great, and contested elections are not all that common. This year incumbent Richard Knabel is being challenged by Kent Healy, a civil engineer who’s served the town in various capacities.

At the table, candidates for selectman Richard Knabel (left) and Kent Healy.

In the interest of full, or semi-full disclosure, I have to say that I’m not remotely neutral in this one. I like Kent Healy, but I’m also on Richard’s small but valiant campaign committee. So I’m not going to go into the blow-by-blow of who said what — just read whatever campaign literature comes your way.

Katherine Triantafillou, running for re-election to the finance committee, spoke about what the fincom does: basically they review every article that appears on the town meeting warrant, and if it involves spending money (as many warrant articles do), they examine its implications for the rest of the town budget and the tax rate. Gary Montrowl, also running for re-election, wasn’t able to be present. Since there are two seats open, they’ll both be re-elected.

There followed unopposed candidates for the board of assessors (Maria McFarland), tax collector (Brent Taylor, represented by a written statement), and town clerk (Tara Whiting).

The other contested race on the ballot is for library trustee, where three candidates are vying for two slots. Candidate Rob Hauck spoke for himself, and a statement from candidate Wendy Nierenberg was read to those assembled. They both sounded well qualified for the job. I’d heard some interesting stories about why the third candidate was running, but that individual neither appeared nor sent a statement so I’m no wiser than I was at the beginning. I believe I’ll vote for the other two. This race did elicit the (to me) most interesting factoid of the evening: 85% of West Tisbury’s residents have library cards. Yay us!

Town clerk Tara Whiting oversees all aspects of elections and issues dog licenses, among several other duties. She’s running unopposed this year.

Next came the Parks and Recreation Committee and the Planning Board, and the town’s representative to the Martha’s Vineyard Land Bank Commission. Binnie Ravitch is running for the latter. Vote for her.

John Powers, the town’s retired former health agent, hadn’t known exactly what the constable’s duties were, but he did know that of the town’s two constables, one had retired and the other moved to another town. Turns out the constable mainly serves at the direction of the town clerk, helping oversee elections. It’s the constable who sits by the imposing ballot box at the polls and makes sure that it’s only one ballot per voter. So John decided to run, and since he’s unopposed it looks like he’ll be elected.

No one was there to make a presentation about either of the two ballot questions — one resolves to ban moped rentals in town and the other is a non-binding referendum about whether to establish a housing bank to support affordable housing. So we adjourned a little early and went into the night at the still-respectable hour of 8:20.

NB: You find find out almost anything you want to know about West Tisbury town government, including the Annual Town Meeting warrant, at the town website. To find out other stuff, you could hang out on Alley’s porch, at the library, or in the post office parking lot and listen to people talk.

About Susanna J. Sturgis

Susanna edits for a living, writes to survive, and has been preoccupied with electoral politics since 2016. She just started a blog about her vintage T-shirt collection: "The T-Shirt Chronicles." Her other blogs include "From the Seasonally Occupied Territories," about being a year-round resident of Martha's Vineyard, and "Write Through It," about writing, editing, and how to keep going.
This entry was posted in public life and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Candidates’ Night

  1. Posts like these give the rest of us inspiration to just get involved… The way you detail small government reminds us that all of us have more in common with politicians than we prefer to think because it takes a lot of US to create a politician AND a government. Thank you for taking the time to write about this!


    • I’m partly educating, or re-educating, myself, so I’m glad it’s useful to others too. One thing I’m continually reminded of is that working with other people is often a challenge, even when we agree on most of the major points. I suspect that’s a big reason that people choose not to get involved, or drop out PDQ. At the same time, it’s all too easy to stand back and criticize from a distance, especially when one doesn’t understand how much skill and patience goes into getting something done.


  2. Helen Green says:

    Who is the third candidate for Library?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.