Study Commission Members
William O'Brien III (Chairman), Paddy Moore (Vice-Chairman), Jeff Kristal (Treasurer), Jim Newman (Clerk),
John Alley, Tim Connelly, Tad Crawford, Mimi Davisson, John Early, Art Flathers, Dan Flynn, Carlene Gatting, Tristan Israel, Lenny Jason, Richard Knabel, Les Leland, Nora Nevin, Linda Sibley, Ted Stanley, Holly Stephenson, Paul Strauss, Roger Wey, Woody Williams
Executive Summary (From the Dukes County Charter Study Commission- Final Report)
After meeting in full session approximately forty times over a period of seventeen
months, the 2006 Dukes Charter Study Commission recommended on May 1, 8, and 15, 2008
1. County government be retained.
2. County Commissioners be elected at-large.
3. Seven Commissioners, no more than two from a town, be the legislative branch of
4. The length of term for Commissioners be two years.
5. The form of governance be the County Manager Form, as per Massachusetts General
Laws (cited herein as “MGL”) ch. 34A §18.
6. Special legislation be requested exempting Dukes County from the provisions in MGL
ch. 34A §18, stating that the County Manager “shall serve for an indefinite term” and
“that the position is and shall be a full-time position.”
7. The new charter takes effect on January 1, 2009.
8. The County Commissioners adopt an extensive set of administrative recommendations.
These eight recommendations, made by super-majorities or unanimously, by those
present and voting, reaffirm the findings of the 1990 Charter Commission in all respects except
for the length of term of the Commissioners. The one change in the charter recommended by
2006 Charter Commission that will require voter approval is to reduce the term of office of
County Commissioners from four-year, staggered terms to two-year, concurrent terms, thereby
increasing the direct accountability of the County Commissioners to the voters.
The ballot question for the November 5, 2008 election will read:
Shall the County Manager Plan be adopted for Dukes County, with the provision for a board of
commissioners of seven members for concurrent two-year terms and elected at large?”
Assuming the voters adopt the new charter, its provisions will be implemented on
January 1, 2009. Three Commissioners will be elected for four-year terms in November 2008
under the provisions of the current charter. These three Commissioners will serve their four-year
terms through 2012. Four Commissioners will be elected to two-year terms in November 2010.
Therefore, beginning in January 2012, all seven seats on the County Commission will be elected
every two years. Failure to approve the recommended change in the charter will leave the current
charter in place with its four-year terms of office.
The recommendation to seek special legislation exempting Dukes County from the
provisions of MGL ch. 34A §18, has already been accepted by unanimous vote of the County
Commissioners on May 7, 2008. This recommendation is independent of the outcome of the
ballot question in November, and will be pursued by the County Commissioners with the
This Commission has also decided not to pursue the adoption of a custom charter for
Dukes County, which was an available option, although some Commissioners felt a custom
charter would better meet the needs of the County. The lengthy and cumbersome process of
writing such a charter, and obtaining the necessary prior approval of the Legislature, would delay
a vote on charter change until at least November 2010. Our elected state representatives also
recommended against such a course of action.
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. Issues relating to the actions of the
County Commissioners, their relationships among themselves, with their appointees, the
approach of County Managers to their positions, and poor public relations in general have in the
aggregate been responsible for hindering relations with the towns, and the poor public perception
of County government
These issues do not lend themselves to easy solution through legislation or a restructuring
of County governance. As a result, the Charter Commission has chosen instead to make a series
of administrative recommendations designed to address the functions and functioning of the
County. These recommendations are consistent with the provisions of MGL ch. 34A which
allows a Charter Commission to make recommendations to improve the efficient and effective
administration of the County.
The Charter Commission has approved an extensive set of non-binding administrative
recommendations to be adopted by the Dukes County Commission as soon as possible. These
recommendations address a large number of concerns that have been voiced by the public. They
affect the County Commission’s accountability to the voters, its relationships with the various
towns and other regional entities, county finances, the appointment process, and measures
designed to broaden the availability of candidates for election as County Commissioners.
Building on the decision to reduce County Commissioners’ terms of office to two concurrent
years, the measures designed to improve the accountability of the County Commission to the
voters call for a periodic review of the County Charter every eight years and clarify the
provisions supporting the recall of a County Commissioner.
The Dukes County Commissioners are not bound by these recommendations. They may
adopt them in whole or in part, regardless of whether the new charter is approved by voters.
However, the current County Commissioners participated actively both in drafting the initial
recommendations and in securing their approval by the full Charter Commission. As a result,
these recommendations offer the promise of far more impact on the actual performance of
County government than structural changes.
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 sub-committee, 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.
The ultimate success the Charter Commission’s recommendations will be determined by
the spirit, enthusiasm and competence with which they are implemented. These
recommendations have the unanimous approval of all 7 current County Commissioners and the
overwhelming endorsement of the full Charter Commission. However, for these
recommendations to be truly effective, it will be the responsibility of the citizens of the County
to approve the proposed charter revisions; to step forward and serve, where needed; and to hold
the County’s elected representatives accountable for ensuring their full and complete
Study Commission Mandate
The Dukes County Charter Commission was formed as a result of the November 2006 election. It is made up of 23 commissioners, fifteen of whom were elected Island wide and seven are the sitting Commissioners of the County of Dukes and one who serves as the Chairman of the County Advisory Board on Expenditures.
The Charter Commission’s operations are strictly governed by the General Laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and in particular Chapter 34A Section 8 which states:
“It shall be the function and duty of the Charter Commission to study the form of government of the county, to compare it with other forms available under the laws of this state, to determine whether or not in its judgment the government of the county could be strengthened, made more clearly responsive or accountable to the people or whether its operation could be more economical or efficient, under a changed form of government”.
By law the charter commission must report its findings and recommendations to the citizens by May 2008. After that, depending on the recommendations, the matter is to be submitted to the citizens for their vote at the November 2008 general election.
The Charter Commission faces a substantial task. It has been hard at work for the past few months getting organized and developing a work plan. Soon we will begin the first part of the work plan—studying the existing form of government here in Dukes County. Each of the 23 Commissioners takes the mandate from the citizens very seriously and is committed to doing the best possible job.
Lastly we are interested in your participation with us in this very important mission. In that regard we invite you to come to our meetings or, if not able, then to tune in to the proceedings as they are shown on MVTV. We invite you to write the Commission with any questions or information you would like us to receive at P.O. Box 2925 Oak Bluffs, 02557.