Airport officials elevate assistant to top job
In a meeting marked by an angry outburst, the Martha's Vineyard Airport Commission last week agreed to hire Sean Flynn of Oak Bluffs as the new airport manager. Mr. Flynn has been acting airport manager since May.
In selecting Mr. Flynn for the job, the county-appointed airport commissioners spurned the four candidates selected by a professional consulting firm hired at a cost of $13,500, plus expenses, to conduct a search for qualified candidates.
An airport commission subcommittee will meet next week with Mr. Flynn to work out the details of his new employment contract. The advertised pay for the manager's job is between $81,000 and $95,000 a year. At the conclusion of last Wednesday's airport commission meeting, Jack Law of Oak Bluffs, airport commission chairman, said that the he would like to have the contract finalized before the end of the year.
In the initial vote, the airport commissioners split 4-3 between Mr. Flynn and Timothy Bradshaw, the manager of Owensboro-Davies County Regional Airport in Owensboro, Kentucky.
John Alley of West Tisbury, Dukes County Commission chairman and self-appointed airport commissioner, who voted for Mr. Bradshaw on the first ballot, said that he was disappointed by the board's decision, but that it is time to move on. "I was a little disturbed by the reasons that some of the other airport commissioners stated for supporting Sean, and what they hung their hat on," said Mr. Alley, a long-time airport commission member, "but it's time to move on, negotiate a salary, and go from there."
The airport must now begin a search for a new assistant manager. At last week's airport commission meeting, the board members said that they would conduct the search themselves, instead of hiring an outside consultant.
"The Island factor"
Mr. Flynn, who lives in Oak Bluffs and is the son of Dan Flynn, a retired state trooper and former airport and county commissioner, began working at the Martha's Vineyard airport in 1993 as the security coordinator. In 2000 he was hired as the assistant airport manager, and in May of this year he was appointed the acting airport manager, after former manager, Bill Weibrecht, quit following a long-running dispute with Dukes County officials who refused to pay him the full amount stipulated in his employment contract.
Mr. Flynn, who by many accounts has done a good job as the acting airport manager, was the least experienced out of the five candidates vying for the airport manager job. However, what one airport commissioner called "the Island factor" gave Mr. Flynn a key advantage.
Home court advantage
At last week's meeting, airport commissioner Frank Daly of Tisbury said, "Mating an airport manager to Martha's Vineyard came into play as something that I call the Island factor. The Island factor was getting someone here who could live on Martha's Vineyard, face the political climate, the locational climate, the boat, and everything that you and I as Islanders face every day. I think that is a very big challenge that some of the other candidates had not considered and might have problems facing in the long run." It was an opinion shared by three of Mr. Daly's fellow airport commissioners.
Bill Mill, another airport commissioner, commended Mr. Flynn's work as acting airport manager. "I think Sean has demonstrated his ability to be a manager, and he is the one I would vote for," he said.
Les Leland, airport commissioner and county commissioner, agreed. "Sean knows the airport master plan," he said. "He oversees that plan on a daily basis… I have seen him grow with this position, and I think he will continue to do a good job."
Mr. Law also supported Mr. Flynn. "I have said it from the beginning, and have not wavered, I think that when you can you should promote from within," he said.
Not everyone agreed on the importance of the Island factor.
"One candidate stood out as head and shoulders above the rest," said Mr. Alley. "I was really impressed by Mr. Timothy Bradshaw."
Norman Perry, agreed, "I concluded that Tim was the right guy."
T.J. Hegarty, airport commissioner and county rodent control officer, also voted for Mr. Bradshaw. He said that he was also impressed by Christopher Willenborg, Westfield-Barnes Airport manager, in Westfield. Mr. Hegarty recommended that the board invite both men back for another interview, but the suggestion went unsupported.
Mr. Hegarty angrily criticized the commissioners who supported Mr. Flynn. He argued that Mr. Flynn does not have the educational credentials or professional work experience to qualify for the job.
"That fact that we are even talking about Sean is really an insult to the other candidates," said Mr. Hegarty. "The four of you changed the job description by your vote. What a farce. Shameful."
After casting their votes for their number one choice for the job, the board voted unanimously to have the chairman cast a single vote naming Mr. Flynn the new airport manager. Before the vote, Mr. Hegarty stormed angrily out of the room. "I will not be on that vote as a unanimous vote," he declared. "I will not be part of this deception and this fraud."
$13,500 advice ignored
In June, the airport commission voted to hire Bennett Yarger Associates to conduct the search for candidates for the airport manager's job. In doing so, the commission turned aside a much lower bid from a highly respected consultant who is intimately familiar with the workings of the airport commission.
Strategic Policy Partnership, a consulting firm chaired by Robert Wasserman of West Tisbury, offered to conduct the search for $4,000 - more than three times less than Bennett Yarger's price of $13,500, plus expenses. Airport officials this week could not provide the amount that Bennett Yarger has charged for expenses.
Mr. Wasserman is a management and security consultant, former Massport executive, and past member and chairman of the Martha's Vineyard airport commission. In 1999, he headed the search committee that selected Bill Weibrecht, former airport manager, from a wide field of candidates as part of an overall effort to professionalize airport operations.
Despite the fact that Bennett Yarger was more expensive and had less experience on the Island, the majority of the airport commissioners agreed that the company should conduct the search for a new manager.
Six months after they were hired, the company came back to the airport commission with four candidates with extensive professional aviation and management backgrounds for the airport commission to consider. Mr. Flynn was not one of them.
Asked why he had not recommended Mr. Flynn for the job, this week, Richard Bennett, Bennett Yarger president, said, "The best thing I can say, is if you look at the candidates, I think you will see some candidates with a great deal of experience as airport managers, in much larger and more successful settings. Those are people that I recommended and guaranteed."
He added, "The client always has the right to appoint who they choose to. We ran a very competitive process; we had four very strong candidates. The commission is responsible for their choices as any appointing authority is. They made their choice."
Mr. Bennett said the airport commission did not say that there was a strong in-house candidate when they advertised for the position, but he said that is normal practice.
"You never do that, because it can have a chilling effect on people having an interest in the position," he said. "We were charged by the airport commission with finding the best people for the position, and we think we did that."
Asked what obligation he has to the candidates that he selects as finalists to recommend to the airport commission, Mr. Bennett said, "We have a primary obligation to treat them fairly and professionally, and to give them the opportunity to compete for the position. My feeling is that people have to win the position. It has to be up to the appointing authority. That is not my role."