Dukes County commissioners begin making annual round of appointments
The seven Dukes County commissioners could use their annual round of appointments to change the makeup of the Martha's Vineyard airport commission this year, but past practice suggests that it is unlikely that they will.
Recently, the county began advertising for volunteers for positions that are up for reappointment. Among them are four seats on the seven-member airport commission. Of the four, three are currently held by individuals with strong county ties, including two self-appointed county commissioners and a county employee.
The relationship between the county and their appointed airport commission came under close scrutiny earlier this year. After a long and costly legal battle in July, a Superior Court judge upheld the independence of the airport commission, and ruled that the county had no authority to interfere with airport operations.
An airport commission without strong county ties first filed the lawsuit back in 2002. Using their powers of appointment, the county commissioners moved to eliminate their adversaries on the airport commission. In December 2002, the county commissioners refused to reappoint Marc Villa airport commission chairman, and Tim Carroll, the incumbent vice chairman. Instead, the county appointed two fellow county commissioners, John Alley and Nelson Smith, and a county employee, T.J. Hegarty, county rodent control officer. Mr. Smith later stepped down from the position, and the county commissioners again appointed one of their own, Les Leland, to fill the vacancy.
All three of the county-aligned airport commissioners are up for reappointment this year. All three have also already applied for reappointment. The fourth available seat currently belongs to Jack Law, airport commission chairman. Mr. Law has also applied for reappointment.
E. Winn Davis, Dukes County manager, said that as of yesterday afternoon, only one other person has sought appointment to the board - David Willey, a Cape Air pilot.
Last week, The Times asked Mr. Alley, who is both the chairman of the county commission and the vice chairman of the airport commission, whether he thought the county's past practice of appointing county commssioners as airport commissioners would discourage qualified candidates from applying for the job.
Mr. Alley said, "The county commissioners will pick, for all positions, the people that they feel will operate in the best interests of the county. I have no idea if they [the previous appointments] will discourage people from applying… We always seem to have a number of people who apply."
George Balco, former airport commission chairman, disagreed. "I don't think there is any question that the county's past appointment practices have kept willing and qualified citizens from applying," he said.
Mr. Balco, who ran for the county commission last year, said that he does not think county commissioners should appoint themselves to any board. "I don't think they should appoint themselves to anything," he said. "If they claim that there is some liaison purpose, they should look to their county manager. That is why they pay Winn Davis the big bucks."
While the county advertised four open positions on the airport commission, the county's own records show that there should only be three openings on the board this year.
State law also requires that one-third of the terms must expire every year. The four vacancies represent more than half of the seven-member board.
According to the minutes of a county meeting on Jan. 8, 2003, the county commissioners appointed Mr. Law, Mr. Hegarty, and Mr. Smith to three-year terms on the airport commission. Mr. Alley was appointed to a one-year term that expired on Jan. 1, 2004. None of the county's meeting minutes from the following year indicate that Mr. Alley was ever reappointed to the airport commission after his one-year term expired.
Last week, Mr. Davis said that he based the number of appointments this year on the county's annual reports, not the minutes from the meetings in which the appointments were made. "I'm looking at annual reports, and that is my only resource at this point," said Mr. Davis.
Mr. Davis said that he had planned on recommending that the county make three three-year appointments and one two-year appointment this year. However, he had not questioned how the county had ended up with four terms expiring at the same time.
When a Times reporter brought the information from the meeting minutes to his attention, Mr. Davis said, "Our documents and these records somehow don't coincide. Maybe we can get this resolved this time."
In addition to the airport commission appointments, the county commissioners have a number of other appointments to make this year, including the associate commissioner for affairs concerning handicapped persons, associate commissioner for affairs concerning the elderly, representative to the Martha's Vineyard Commission, Emergency management director, a number of emergency management deputies, the 15 members of the Dukes County Health Council, delegate to the Cape Cod Municipal Health Group, and delegate to the Pilgrim RC&D Area Council Inc.
A recent county press release said the county commissioners were launching "an aggressive search for talented, dedicated residents."
The press release does not mention the vacancies on the airport commission. Mr. Davis said that the list of positions in the press release was not intended to be all-inclusive.
While it did not mention the airport commission, the press release did encourage competition for the various county-appointed positions.
"Many of our incumbent volunteers are doing a tremendous job for the citizens of the county, and we hope they will apply for reappointments, but the success of our form of government lies in citizen participation, and we want to encourage many people to vie for these important positions," wrote Mr. Davis.
The county set a deadline of yesterday for all applications, but in the past, that has not stopped the county from accepting late applications.
At their meeting on Jan. 8, 2003 the county commissioners agreed to accept applications from two county commissioners, Mr. Alley, and Mr. Smith, despite the fact that the county manager had not received a letter from either man prior to the application deadline.
Rejecting a suggestion that the county seek a legal opinion on the matter, the commissioners voted to include Mr. Smith and Mr. Alley as candidates for the airport commission. They then proceeded to appoint both men to the airport commission.