County commission oversteps bounds

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To the Editor:

Given all the craziness with a dysfunctional federal government, one would hope that here, on Martha’s Vineyard, sanity would prevail. Wrong.

The recent practices of the Dukes County Commission provide glaring evidence of what damage is wrought when a local governmental body — consisting of individuals interested in their own personal power — fails to preserve and protect the Island institutions on which we all depend.

I have spent the past three years, along with my fellow airport commissioners, turning the Airport Commission and airport operations from a dysfunctional, deteriorating mess into a thriving place for Islanders and visitors. The current moves by the Dukes County Commission — if allowed to happen — promise to return the Airport Commission to the incompetent, patronage-laden body that it used to be.

Most recently, as the Dukes County Commission undertook the process of the appointment of three commissioners to the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission, Leon Braithwaite (with the cooperation of John Alley) manipulated the process in an attempt to appoint Braithwaite’s handpicked candidate and ignore a highly qualified, independent individual.

The applications for airport commissioners were solicited in a single 1¼-inch tiny print advertisement in the Jan. 11 issue of the Martha’s Vineyard Times, buried on the page devoted to legal notices. There was no notice in the Vineyard Gazette. Any possibility of recruiting qualified and motivated candidates was relegated to the small probability that someone saw this single notice.

In the case of the three openings for the Airport Commission, the incumbents received a reminder from the county manager of the deadline to apply, and two, myself included, submitted applications for a another three-year term. A third candidate was recruited by Braithwaite.

Unfortunately, a fourth potential candidate, with excellent airport operations knowledge and who has been attending Airport Commission meetings for the past several years, had been watching for the notice to apply, but was looking only in the Gazette. As a result, his application arrived a day late.

County commission chairman John Alley, learning of the inadequate notification process, instructed the county manager to invite this fourth person to attend the February Dukes County Commission meeting, when the candidates would be interviewed.

At the beginning of that County Commission meeting, the county manager informed the commissioners that legal counsel gave the commission permission to extend the deadline for applications. Braithwaite immediately made a motion to retain the deadline in order to insure that there would only be three applicants, and that his handpicked person would be appointed by default.

That motion passed by a vote of 4 to 2 when Alley voted in favor of keeping the deadline and then — after the meeting — said that he was “confused” and had voted incorrectly. Braithwaite claimed that the commission had already voted in January to appoint the three applicants. This was a totally false statement.

The absurdity continued with the interviewing of the candidates, excluding the late applicant who had been asked to come to the meeting. At this particular time, there were only two of the three candidates present at the meeting (Braithwaite’s person and myself).

While I was being interviewed, Braithwaite realized that if the third candidate did not come, the commission would have to extend the deadline. He was on his phone calling the third candidate, demanding that he drop whatever he was doing and get to the meeting immediately, yet another manipulative move that was rude and disrespectful of the commission and the interview process.

During the interview of Braithwaite’s chosen candidate, he admitted to little or no knowledge of the airport’s challenges and issues.

In another underhanded move, Braithwaite and Alley conspired to leave the Feb. 22 meeting early, denying the commission a quorum, knowing that there was the intention to reconsider extending the application deadline. Alley left at 4:15, saying he had to go to a funeral that was to begin at 5 that was a five-minute drive from the county offices. Braithwaite left at the same time, being very clear that he was doing so to insure there would no longer be a quorum.

There are some honest, well-intentioned county commissioners; however, their efforts are being thwarted by the actions of Braithwaite and Alley.

The Dukes County Commission must be responsible to us, the people they represent, and not be there for their own self-serving purposes. The Dukes County Commission will be voting for the airport commissioners at its March 7 meeting. Will they go with the most qualified people to oversee the airport’s operations, or will they go the patronage route?

Now it is up to us, the voters, to clean house on the Dukes County Commission when we go to the polls on November. The time has come to make the county commission a governmental agency that advocates for the entire Island, and get rid of those who are there for their own interests.

All of this underhanded manipulation can be viewed by searching for the Feb. 7 and 22 County Commission meeting at mvtv.org/video-on-demand-castus.

Bob Rosenbaum
Chilmark