PROVINCETOWN — Recent events have made clear the deep well of discontent in our society, and what appears to be a yawning, unbridgeable division among us. The new president has signaled his sense that we must find the collective determination to confront these challenges, understanding that this will be a Herculean task. We begin in our own communities.
Barnstable County government plays a large but mostly unrecognized role in our daily lives. We were granted a home rule charter in 1988 by the legislature, giving us a two-branch “regional government of Cape Cod,” as we are officially recognized. Three elected county commissioners are the executive body, overseeing the operations of many regional agencies. They serve four-year terms and run with political party affiliation.
The legislative body is the Assembly of Delegates, with one delegate elected from each of the Cape’s 15 towns. Each delegate’s vote is proportional to his or her town’s population. The assembly appropriates funds and approves all proposed ordinances.
At the executive level, the Election Day defeat of former County Commissioner Ron Beaty, self-described as “Cape Cod’s Donald Trump,” brings an experienced and more progressive leadership to the executive branch. Vice chair Sheila Lyons of Wellfleet and Mark Forest of Yarmouth have joined Ron Bergstrom of Chatham, in his second term as chair.
County Administrator Jack Yunits, hired by the commissioners, has had the helm for five years.
Probably the best-known regional agency is the Cape Cod Commission, now taking the lead role in climate change mitigation and adaptation for this at-risk, water-girdled peninsula. Other departments are doing water quality monitoring for beaches and wells, alternative septic system testing, Lyme disease surveillance and research, public health support for towns, police and victim support in cases of child abuse, and other forms of human services assistance.
On Jan. 6, while events in Washington were exploding, the 17th session of the Assembly of Delegates opened, with Pat Princi, the long-serving delegate from Barnstable, elected speaker. Mary Chaffee of Brewster became deputy speaker. Both votes were unanimous.
Orleans, Yarmouth, and Bourne each elected a new delegate in November. Although delegates don’t run on party affiliation, all are political animals. That’s why we’re here. Before her retirement, Delegate Linda Zuern of Bourne injected regular doses of right-wing talk-radio opinion on climate change, food assistance, Covid-19, and human rights into our discussions, and could be counted on for her regular sole dissenting “no” vote.
Our January meetings focused on the county’s response to Covid-19. Case counts, hospitalizations, and deaths were all increasing in the wake of the holidays, although the Outer Cape continued to register among the lower-risk areas of the state. Testing is slowly becoming available at more sites, and vaccinations are also increasing, though the federally controlled supply is less than projected.
Categories of eligible recipients are set by the commonwealth. All vaccinations are by appointment, with online registration required. But the process is challenging, and will be impossibly complicated for some of our most vulnerable neighbors. An information line has been established by the county to help residents navigate testing and immunization access, at 774-330-3001 weekdays. Please let me know whether it is working as it should.
With our economy largely shuttered, hunger and access to fresh, healthful, affordable food have worsened. Even before the pandemic, food pantries and soup kitchens were serving growing numbers of clients. In a newly funded county position, Food Access Coordinator Angela Marczely is working to facilitate local efforts meet these needs. Opportunities for locally sourced produce, fish, and shellfish will be encouraged. She anticipates working with all community food providers.
The Assembly of Delegates meets on the first and third Wednesdays of each month at 4 p.m. The public is welcome to join these (currently) remote sessions, and public comment has a regular agenda slot. Details, including agendas, are available at barnstablecounty.org.
Brian O’Malley, M.D., is Provincetown’s elected delegate to the Barnstable County Assembly. Write him at [email protected]