Aquinnah voters will decide one contest at the polls Wednesday, May 11, a race for a seat on the three-member board of selectmen that finds incumbent Camille Rose, a veteran town official, defending her job against Beverly Wright, a former chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe.
The polls will be open Wednesday, from noon until 7 pm in Aquinnah town hall on State Road.
Ms. Rose seeks a third term. She has lived and worked in Aquinnah for the past 38 years, much of that time as a commercial fisherman. She has an extensive record as an elected and appointed official. She has served in various capacities and on different boards, including the finance committee, shellfish committee, planning board, Martha’s Vineyard Commission, and several advisory committees over the years.
Ms. Wright was chairman of the Wampanoag Tribe for five terms, from 1992 to 2004. She is currently an elected member of the tribal council and a board member of various tribe and Native American organizations. In the early 1980s she served one term as town treasurer.
Ms. Wright divides her time between Aquinnah and Charleston, West Virginia, where her husband has his business headquarters. She has two grandchildren who live in Aquinnah.
Why are you running for re-election? As part of your answer, please outline some of your accomplishments and specific goals if re-elected.
Camille Rose: In the six years I have served as selectman there has been a sea change in our town government. We are functioning as an efficient business, our staff works harmoniously and have corrected many improper practices. Our neglected town buildings have been rehabilitated; we finally have a safe emergency shelter in the Old Town Hall with its new kitchen and generator. Through careful fiscal planning we have been able to present a balanced budget without cutting any services and keeping debt to a minimum. I am running for re-election because I would like to help continue this momentum.
Why are you running for election? As part of your answer, please outline some of your specific goals if elected.
Beverly Wright: For more than six decades I have been a resident of Aquinnah and my family from time immemorial. I believe I understand the complexities of Aquinnah and I have the resolve and capability to undertake issues that arise. Each year there is a meeting of summer residents. I would like to see this become a meeting where all residents would be welcomed. I believe that Aquinnah residents could work together toward our shared goals if there was a common project presented. Such projects, to name a few, continuation and solidification of the visioning process, quality of life issues and housing for families and elders. There are many talented business leaders, and to not take advantage of that opportunity would be a disservice to the town. Former selectmen, Carl Widdiss and Michael Hebert, along with present selectman Jim Newman have worked hard to stabilize the financial well-being of Aquinnah, and I would want to continue that process. Regionalization needs to be discussed sooner or later. I remember dinner-table discussions to establish the regional high school. Today, it is part of the landscape as is Tri-Town Ambulance. Regionalization discussions will be a long time on the table, but talks must begin and why not now?
Please outline some measures you would take to control town costs and restrain the tax burden placed on town property owners.
Ms. Rose: I have been actively involved in the effort to ensure that the proposed wind farm development off the shore of Gay Head is sited with full respect for our interests and benefits. The next few years will be crucial in this process. I have been working to establish some fiscal changes which would make our town budgets more sustainable. Regionalizing some town services and re-examining inter-town agreements could save us hundreds of thousands of dollars in the coming years. Some of these savings can be used to finance a community center, public safety quarters, or a new library building.
I would like to see the town move toward becoming a green community. Not only would we benefit from lower energy usage, but we would become eligible for grant money. All these initiatives require time and energy and commitment, which I have always been happy to give.
Ms. Wright: Over the last couple of years the town departments have been level-funded and the economic forecast indicates we may need to continue to tighten the belt for the foreseeable future. Again, this would be an opportunity for all residents to work together to generate funding for a particular item or program that could not be a part of the budget. My experience as chairman of the tribe has shown that through mutual interest agreements, the acquisition of equipment, road repair, police and fire services and the like, through federal grants that there would be no cost to either the town or the tribe and a gain for all residents of Aquinnah. This process has been successful in the past and warrants exploring again.
Underpinning the tribe-town relationship is the 1983 settlement agreement that led to federal recognition and was signed by the Wampanoag Tribe, the Gay Head Taxpayers Association (since renamed the Aquinnah/Gay Head Community Association Inc.), the town, and the state. It specifically provides that the tribe’s lands shall be subject to all federal, state, and local laws, including town zoning laws, state and federal conservation laws, and the regulations of the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. Tribe-town issues cut across Aquinnah’s political landscape. Please speak about how you view your responsibility to fairly represent members of both communities, as well as summer property owners, all of whom are your constituents?
Ms. Rose: I see no difficulty serving the needs of all of our residents, regardless of affiliation or seasonal status. I believe that individual concerns need to be addressed with equal consideration and no one is more entitled to privilege than another.
Ms. Wright: My friends and acquaintances in the Aquinnah community consist of both year-rounders (tribal and non-tribal) as well as summer residents (tribal and non-tribal). The 1983 settlement agreement is the law of the land, but sometimes the interpretation of the law is required before moving forward. These issues need to be addressed proactively before they become contentious. In representing all of the constituents of Aquinnah, communication will be the first step to resolving issues. My belief is that there are no winners and no losers. I would strive for compromise where everyone feels that they have gained. I am approachable, and before I make my decision as a selectman and as a town resident…agreements, politics, and policies need to be understood.
Several mechanisms have been suggested (and some tried) to head off and resolve conflicts between town and tribe before they become acute. These include an “Intergovernmental agreement on cooperative land use and planning between the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) and the town of Aquinnah” signed in 2007. Regular communication seems a key to the success of such efforts. Do you agree, and how would you try to improve communication and cooperation between the sovereign nation and the town?
Ms. Rose: As to the relationship between the WTGHA and the town, there seems to be adequate framework for communication already in existence. We have repeatedly agreed to meet and talk regularly, and if that has not happened it is probably because the need doesn’t exist. The town is extremely open in its conduct of official affairs. Meetings are posted, advertised, televised. I don’t know how we can be more accessible. We strive to deal with issues in good faith and an honorable manner. In a timely manner we inform the tribal officials of current developments we feel have a special impact on them. We are in constant contact with their department of natural resources about ongoing projects. I hope in the future that we can find the time to communicate more on a regular basis and welcome the opportunity to share information.
Ms. Wright: I am familiar with all members of tribal council and the selectmen so communication would automatically improve. There have been a series of town/tribe agreements each requiring communication. Good communication revolves around trust, timeliness, and the ability to listen. Any one-sided effort will never succeed. We are too small of a community to sustain the kinds of divisions that have arisen. A major goal of mine would be to insure that any town-tribe communication elicit a rapid response given the speed of government action, but, there is no reason not to expect a response within a few weeks rather than never.
We must work together to make Aquinnah a community where communication can naturally happen.
by Nelson Sigelman