County tells airport commissioners to take off

County tells airport commissioners to take off

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In a letter, the county commission asked its appointees to self-reflect and consider another civic pursuit.

The Dukes County Commission building.

In a followup to a special meeting of the Dukes County Commission last week, chairman Leonard Jason Jr. has asked the seven appointed members of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission to consider a new line of civic involvement.

At a meeting on June 18, Mr. Jason called for the outright resignation of the seven airport commissioners. The longtime county commissioner modified his call in a letter dated June 19 addressed to the airport commission in which he suggested that commissioners find something else to do. Mr. Jason asked for a response by July 1.

“Our duties as public servants often cause us to wonder why we do the things we do,” wrote Mr. Jason, the building inspector in both Edgartown and Chilmark. “It is an awesome responsibility that requires us to reflect on our attitudes, motives and performance in the discharging of our duties. The county commissioners believe the time has come for the airport commissioners to re-examine their behavior, their actions, and their conduct in their meetings.

“A public body that is in charge of the greatest asset of the county has an obligation to conduct public business publically, politely, and respectfully not only to the public, but also to its members. Perhaps the time has come to channel your energies in pursuit of a different endeavor.”

Members of the county commission have been highly critical of the airport commission for its handling of several public disciplinary hearings involving an airport employee.

At a June 18 special county commission meeting called to discuss the airport commissionMr. Jason called outright for the resignation of the airport commissioners. Though many county commissioners voiced harsh criticism of the airport commissioners’ actions at recent public meetings, most wanted to soften the language in the letter.

The county commissioners acknowledged they have no authority to revoke their appointments, or force resignations.

The Martha’s Vineyard Airport commission is responsible by state statute for the care and custody of the county-owned airport. The county commission exercises authority over the airport through its appointing authority.

Response

Airport commission chairman Norman Perry called Mr. Jason’s letter ludicrous.

“Every so often, we get this situation from the county, trying to take over the airport,” Mr. Perry said in a phone interview late Wednesday. “It gets dicey, like this one is.”

Mr. Perry said the airport commission will discuss a response to the call for resignations at its next meeting, scheduled for Friday, June 27.

He said he has no intention of resigning from his post.

“I’ve got too much to do, good stuff to do,” he said.

The only written response the county received as of late Wednesday was from county commissioner and newly appointed airport commissioner Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs.

“I agree with your comments regarding the privilege of serving on a public body and I believe in my very brief tenure, just two months, that I have acted in such a manner,” Ms. Todd wrote in a letter dated June 19, the same day Mr. Jason sent his letter. “I fully intend to continue my pursuit of honesty, integrity, respect and transparency in this governing board of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport. I feel my efforts and actions have begun to at least reveal the true character of the Commission as it has existed. The process of improving matters, I believe, begins with identifying and exposing the existing problems. I feel progress is beginning to be made in that department and have hope that it is possible to construct a productive, professional and effective governing Commission.”

There was little response from the other members of the airport commission.

Rich Michelson of Oak Bluffs, a former airport employee who has been highly critical of airport management, was appointed to the airport commission at the same time as Ms. Todd. He refused comment and hung up on a Times reporter.

Airport commissioner Denys Wortman of Tisbury deferred any comment to Mr. Perry. Mr. Wortman, a private pilot and former Tisbury selectman, said he is not planning to resign.

Airport commissioners Constance Teixeira and James Coyne did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Airport commissioner Peter Bettencourt could not be reached.

Airport manager on leave

Mr. Perry told The Times that he granted airport manager Sean Flynn an eight-week leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, a federal law designed to give workers unpaid leave to deal with medical or family matters. Mr. Perry said the airport commission received medical certification that the leave was warranted. He also said the medical leave could be shortened if Mr. Flynn can return to his position as airport manager earlier.

Mr. Perry rejected criticism of his decision, saying under the federal law, he could not refuse the request for medical leave.

Several members of the airport commission were surprised to learn that Mr. Perry granted the medical leave before the June 18 airport commission meeting, which was held in executive session.

“I don’t think the circumstances warranted a unilateral decision like that,” said Ms. Todd in a phone interview Wednesday.

She said that the attorney advising the airport commission cited past practice and an absence of any defined procedure for granting leave in the airport commission’s bylaws as justification for Mr. Perry’s action.

Ms. Todd said she will ask for a review of the bylaws at the June 27 airport commission meeting,.

Legal bills mount

At a joint meeting of the Dukes County Advisory Board and the Dukes County Commission Wednesday, advisory board member Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter of West Tisbury questioned the legal cost of current litigation between the county and the airport.

The airport commission filed a lawsuit against the county earlier this year, in which it asked a judge to clarify county treasurer Noreen Mavro-Flanders responsibility to pay airport invoices, and whether county manager Martina Thornton can sit on the airport commission as an ex-officio member.

Following a sometimes heated discussion about the cost of the litigation, the county commissioners voted, and the advisory board approved, a transfer of an additional $17,000 for expected county legal expenses in May and June of this year. The county originally budgeted $3,000 for legal expenses.

Ms. Mavro-Flanders reacted angrily to Mr. Manter’s criticism of county legal expenses, and she cited a list of invoices distributed to the board documenting the airport commission’s legal expenses.

According to Ms. Mavro-Flanders, the airport commission budgeted $25,000 for legal costs, and has spent $154,425 so far during this year.

The airport commission is also facing a workplace discrimination lawsuit from an employee twice suspended, then fired, earlier this year.