Dukes County Commission promotes executive assistant to manager

Martina Thornton — Photo by Ralph Stewart

The Dukes County Commissioners voted last week to hire Martina Thornton, the current executive assistant for the county, to be the next county manager. The vote came less than one week after the commissioners learned their first pick had rejected their job offer.

Ms. Thornton, who moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 2000 has a law degree from Charles University in the Czech Republic. She worked as a para-legal for several Island law firms before she joined the county administration in 2008.

“I will move forward,” Ms. Thornton told The Times the morning after the county commissioners voted to offer her the position. “We have projects that need to be finished, we have ongoing operations. I’ll make sure the county is operating effectively.”

In a phone conversation Monday, Ms. Thornton was asked about her priorities as the new county manager.

“It’s not my priorities, it is the priorities of the county commissioners,” Ms. Thornton said. “I know they will be asking me about maintenance for the county courthouse, and if we can find funding for it. It’s going to be the same things. We might look at the job description and make some changes. I’m not really comfortable discussing this with the paper, before talking to the chairman.”

She said she will work to give Island residents a better idea of the way county government works.

“I will definitely focus on public relations, trying to give the public more opportunities to find out what the county does,” Ms. Thornton said. “I hope to come up with a monthly newsletter.”

Ms. Thornton and Ms. Loberg met Wednesday, July 18 and reached agreement on a contract. Ms. Loberg declined to reveal the terms of the contract to The Times until after the county commission meets on July 25.

The amount alloted in the current budget for county manager is $63,500. In its search for candidates, the commission advertised a salary range of $60,000 to $75,000.

Ms. Thornton is currently paid $54,656 from the county manager’s budget for administration, which totals $187,088.

Ms. Thornton said she expects to hire an executive assistant to help with administrative tasks that include answering phones, answering e-mail, preparing the payroll, and setting up personnel files. The executive assistant’s job description also includes attending and recording county meetings, preparing an annual report, and identifying new methods of operating the county efficiently.

Very familiar

At their July 11 meeting, county commissioners nominated Ms. Thornton and Jeffrey Madison, both among the five finalists selected by a search committee. The commissioners voted 6-1 in favor of Ms. Thornton. Lenny Jason of Chilmark was the dissenting vote. On a subsequent motion the vote was unanimous in favor of Ms. Thornton.

“We’re getting somebody who is quite familiar with all of the county manager’s job because she has worked very closely with Russell (Smith) for four years,” Ms. Loberg told The Times July 12. “She knows a great deal, and we won’t have to start from scratch.

Ms. Loberg said the commissioners are eager to proceed with some of the priorities that they put on hold following the May 1 resignation of Russell Smith.

“The first one is to take a very careful assessment of the county courthouse and make a plan to make sure it’s renovated and working properly,” Ms. Loberg said. “She’s going to have to find an assistant. It’s a priority for her so the county can continue running smoothly. We have had preliminary discussion about making it a part-time person, rather than a full-time person. Martina was so good at the job she did as executive assistant, some of those things might appropriately remain with her.”

Although the county manager serves as the administrative manager for the seven county commissioners, the actual responsibilities of the job are limited.

In terms of day-to-day supervision and responsibilities, the county manager oversees three people in three departments — the manager’s office, veterans affairs, and integrated pest management.

The county commissioners’ decision to look inward came less than one week after Katherine Rogers, a lawyer and resident of Concord, New Hampshire, decided not to accept the job of Dukes County manager, offered by county commissioners following a contentious debate and vote on June 27.

In an email dated July 5 to commission chairman Loberg, Ms. Rogers, who is running for a seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives, said that due to knee surgery she would not take the job.

The commissioners selected Ms. Rogers from a short list of five that included Christopher Knowles, health director for the Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah); Jessica Burgoyne, property manager for the Morgan Woods affordable housing development in Edgartown; Ms. Thornton; and Jeffrey Madison, a lawyer and former Aquinnah selectman.

According to the scoring system used by the commissioners to rate the candidates, Ms. Thornton ranked second of the five finalists. Ms. Burgoyne and Mr. Madison were tied for third.

In advertising the position, the county cited a preference for “…a bachelor’s degree and familiarity with and residence on the island… The successful candidate should have five to seven years management experience, preferably within government, as well as strong financial management, personnel management, grant writing and strategic planning experience.”

Until 1993, three elected, paid county commissioners presided over county government affairs and departments not under the control of elected officials.

In 1994, voters created a new form of county government that delegated general legislative powers to the seven-member board of unpaid commissioners, while giving the county manager full control over the county administration.