Airport commission legal bills soar


Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission assistant manager Deborah Potter submitted a supplemental budget for fiscal year 2014, which ended June 30, that included $271,192 for legal services, at a combined meeting of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission, the Dukes County Commission, and the County Advisory Board on Thursday, July 3. The airport commission proposed transferring the money from unused funds in other accounts, and from its reserve funds. The airport commission originally budgeted $25,000 for legal costs.

The airport commission is involved in a protracted legal dispute with Beth Tessmer, an employee who was fired, and later filed a workplace discrimination lawsuit. Other legal costs stem from a lawsuit against the county commission. The airport commission has asked a judge to decide several disputes that include the extent to which the county treasurer may exert control over airport accounts and whether the county has the authority to appoint the county manager to sit as a non-voting member of the airport commission.

Ms. Potter said approximately 60 percent of the legal bills were related to the lawsuits. Most of the rest of the legal costs were due to a comprehensive overhaul of standard leases for airport tenants and airlines.

Following a brief meeting, the airport commission approved the transfer of funds. The county commission met in a briefer session, and approved the supplemental budget.

The county advisory board, made up of one selectman from each Island town and charged with oversight of the county budget, then opened its meeting.

“I truly feel the (lawsuit) where the county manager sits at the table or sits in the audience, is truly not the best use of taxpayer or county funds,” said county advisory board member Jeffrey “Skipper” Manter of West Tisbury. “I really think that should be terminated and just work something out. That’s not wisely used money.”

“It’s one thing when this money is spent on airport operations, but we’re being asked to bless something that is an expenditure of money that is not for airport operations,” said Art Smadbeck, the advisory board member from Edgartown. “Banging out lawsuits is spending taxpayer money when taxpayer money could be better spent on the airport.”

The advisory board eventually approved the supplemental budget. Advisory board members  William Rossi of Chilmark, Melinda Loberg of Tisbury, Walter Vail of Oak Bluffs, and Mr. Smadbeck, all voted in favor of the budget transfers. Mr. Manter voted against the measure.

The airport commission has budgeted $75,000 for legal costs in fiscal year 2015.