Column: Common sense still lives locally


Has common sense disappeared or has my patience for foolishness waned?

I’m a political junkie and always have been. As I watch the comedy play out on the national stage, I can only celebrate that on the local level, we are blessed with many talented and caring people willing to give up time and energy to bring intelligence and thoughtfulness to the process of governing.

That isn’t to say I don’t have moments when I scratch my head about some of what they say or do.

But generally, people who serve on elected and appointed boards here have put aside party politics and searched for reasonable solutions to protect the interests of Islanders.

When the Town Board first appointed an Irrigation Committee to study water quantity issues, I thought it was a typical political means of delaying a decision. But what that committee ultimately achieved — whether or not you agree with the law pertaining to automatic irrigation systems — was to focus attention on what has rightfully become a dominating issue of water quality on Shelter Island.

The solutions to the problems that threaten water quality here won’t come easily or cheaply. But they wouldn’t come at all had the focus not shifted in this important direction.

Among the special qualities on the Island are its mix of people of varied economic backgrounds and its low-keyed approach to life without paparazzi chasing the rich and famous and trampling the rest of us.

Those with deep pockets who choose to live here, rather than the Hamptons, do so because they enjoy a place where no one is focused on what you’re wearing or who you’re entertaining for the weekend.

It’s that ambiance and concern for the Island’s resources that has the Town Board currently struggling with proportionately-sized housing.

Finding a balance between property rights and protection of resources will be no easy task and maybe the solution will lie not in new legislation but tightening codes to protect what exists.

Whatever solution this Town Board and its successor reach will likely be aimed at serving the best interests of everyone.

What’s really significant is that there tends to be vigilance about how legislation achieves or fails to achieve its intended goals.

The new irrigation law has already been tweaked and will remain a work in progress. Such attention to all laws needs to be met with that same approach.

And we should always remember that laws often have unintended consequences.

A number of years ago my home state of Rhode Island enacted a hefty sales tax on the purchase of large boats. The theory was that those of us without large bank accounts might well embrace — tax those who can afford it. But the way in which it played out was anything but what was intended.

What happened? Boat buyers aren’t stupid. They simply stopped upgrading and stuck with the boats they had, knowing full well that there would be a tax rollback.

The result was that the boat builders, generally those whose pockets weren’t as well-lined with excess cash, saw sales and, in some cases, their jobs, disappear.

Rolling back the sales tax resulted in a resumption of purchasing and steady incomes for the boat builders.

Anyone in a position to legislate or influence legislation needs to be aware of that law of unintended consequences and sometimes put personal philosophy aside if it fails to achieve its intended goal.

I haven’t always agreed with decisions the Town Board or other committees and boards have reached here. But I have generally observed a pattern of thoughtful and careful approaches to issues that both elected and appointed officials have brought to their work.