Susanna J. Sturgis   Martha's Vineyard writer and editor
writer editor born-again horse girl

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Connect the Dots

August 07, 2005

A riffle through last Thursday's Martha's Vineyard Times revealed that this particular issue, dated August 4, provided rich raw material for a piece on "The Conundrum That Is Martha's Vineyard," so I thought I'd write it. I quickly realized that this project would take all weekend (I'm on serious deadline), if not all week, and maybe the rest of the year. Hell, I've been trying for twenty years to put this stuff together and I've barely made a dent. So here are notes for the blog I didn't write. If you figure it out, please let me know!

OK, lead story: "27th Possible Dreams realizes $730,000 plus." "Possible Dreams" is an annual celebrity auction at which rich summer people buy "dreams" that supposedly their money couldn't buy otherwise: stuff like a sailing date with Walter Cronkite, a picnic lunch with Clifford the Big Red Dog, and walk-on parts in movies and TV shows. Once two people paid about $26,000 to have Carly Simon come to their respective houses, sing them a song, and make them a peanut butter sandwich. Carly and her erstwhile sister-in-law Kate Taylor are pictured serenading humorist Art Buchwald, who's been auctioneer in charge since forever. The extravaganza benefits Martha's Vineyard Community Services, a social service agency. When the auction is on, and during the summer in general, it seems to be bad form to mention Community Services' chronic labor unrest and management problems, and no one ever asks why we need all those services anyway.

"Cozy Hearth plan members endure long wait for homes." That's on page 7. The Cozy Hearth plan was spearheaded by Bill Bennett, a local electrician and business owner, to help some of his employees buy houses here so they wouldn't have to move elsewhere. In 2002 eleven individuals and couples pooled their resources and bought three contiguous lots totaling 10.9 acres, which they proposed to subdivide into eleven buildable lots. Trouble is, that area requires three acres per house. They've been fighting their way through town and regional bureaucracies ever since. Possible dream? Maybe not.

"Tension runs high on airport commission." This is not exactly news: tension is always running high on the Martha's Vineyard Airport Commission, which is appointed by the Dukes County Commission (another less-than-tranquil body) to run the county airport. Not long ago the airport commission's micromanagement lost them an excellent manager and acquired them a lawsuit. What put the tension back on page 1 is that in an e-mail this past May a commission member accused the commission chairman of being a "Nazi control freak." This isn't exactly news either: way back in the 1990s the accuser was party to a child custody fight that generated spectacular screaming matches on the ferry docks and even made a column in the Boston Globe. (This individual is currently the county rodent control officer. That says something, but I'm not sure what.)

Martha's Vineyard is an organizer's nightmare. It's New England squared: a bunch of self-perceived individualists with no organizational skills and no interest in learning any. When William Butler Yeats wrote "Things fall apart / The center cannot hold," he could have been writing about island organizations. A loose cannon on the airport commission calling a fellow commissioner a "Nazi control freak" is same old same-old. The big news here is that the Cozy Hearth people pooled their resources (and presumably their egos) to create something they all need and want; that they've hung in against considerable odds for three years -- and that they might lose anyway.

"Appellate Tax Board convenes in West Tisbury." This is about William Graham's suit against the town of West Tisbury, which he says has unfairly assessed the 235-acre property on Lambert's Cove that he inherited from his mother, the late Katharine "Washington Post" Graham. The property is assessed at $51,116,700; his 2003 tax bill was $283,388, which was then lowered by abatement to $253,036. (And I thought I had financial problems.) He thinks he should pay $100,188. I think he should turn his tax bill into a Possible Dream: one of those frenzied rich people might buy it.


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