Pressed by commissioners, county manager to leave post
Under pressure from several Dukes County commissioners, Winn Davis, Dukes County manager, will leave his post. According to county sources with knowledge of the decision, Mr. Davis will leave in mid-September or earlier, depending on the negotiated terms of his departure. The sources who described the move to end Mr. Davis's tenure asked not to be quoted because the matter has not yet been made public.
Mr. Davis is paid $79,194 annually under the terms of a three-year contract, signed on Sept. 3, 2003 by the seven county commissioners. However, the county charter stipulates that the county manager is appointed for an indefinite term.
The county commissioners were scheduled to meet last night, and it was expected that the subject of Mr. Davis's contract and the terms under which he would depart would be discussed.
A lack of leadership and the Island community's overall lack of confidence in county government and Mr. Davis spurred county commissioners to push their county manager towards the door, sources close to county government explain.
County manager Winn Davis helps measure the Norton Point breach. Photo by Nelson Sigelman
The effort to oust Mr. Davis gained momentum in the wake of the Norton Point Beach breach. In an application filed with the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency on April 20, Mr. Davis proposed using the town dredge to pump sand into the breach to repair a beach that he said provides an emergency exit for 375 homeowners on Chappaquiddick.
The county manager was criticized because he did not consult Edgartown selectmen. He was labeled ridiculous for suggesting a bridge and culvert.
Mr. Davis's tenure has been marked by a series of bobbles. Although he inherited a long-running battle between the county commissioners and their appointed Martha's Vineyard airport commission, he made little effort to end an intra-mural fight that ultimately cost taxpayers $357,000 in legal fees alone and ended in a stinging court defeat for the county.
The airport battle set the stage for a re-examination of county government under an elected charter commission as voters and town leaders questioned the usefulness of a form of regional government that seemed to provide no benefits.
Less significant but no less embarrassing, last September Dukes County engineer Stephen Berlucchi was sworn in as a deputy sheriff and promptly ticketed drivers who visited State Beach on a warm, sunny Monday for the rarely enforced violation of parking with their cars headed in the wrong direction. Those tickets were later rescinded.
Although there are less than five weeks left in the current fiscal year, Mr. Davis has not provided the county commissioners with a budget for fiscal year 2008, which begins on July 1. Mr. Davis attributed the delay to demands on his time from the charter commission study now underway. He said the budget has been late before and would not even be considered by the state for months.
Mr. Davis said there is currently a deficit that he has managed to pare down. He declined to provide an amount.
Mr. Davis's employment contract stipulates that his salary is subject to cost of living or merit increases after performance reviews by the county commissioners on an annual basis.
County commissioners began their annual review last September. It was only recently completed in executive session. Those minutes are expected to be voted on and released within the next two weeks, said Mr. Davis.
Mr. Davis's contract also provided three weeks vacation in his first two years of employment and four weeks after that. The contract also grants him three personal days a year, 12.5 holidays and unlimited sick days.
Like all county employees, the county also pays 90 percent of Mr. Davis's health insurance costs.
While the county commissioners wrestle with the issue of Mr. Davis, a charter commission elected last fall and headed by William F. O'Brien 3rd of Oak Bluffs, a retired lawyer and New York State Supreme Court justice, continues to study county government in its present form with the goal of making recommendations as it sees fit.
The county charter adopted in 1994 provides for the county manager form of government. The charter delegates to the seven-member board of unpaid commissioners general legislative powers while giving the county manager full control over the county administration.
In July 1995 the newly elected county commissioners hired Walter M. Johnson of Lake Oswego, Oregon, to be the first county manager, at an annual salary of approximately $52,000 to oversee a county government with a budget of approximately $2,100,000. After a rocky tenure, in Feb. 1997 Mr. Johnson resigned with a severance package of approximately $33,000.
In October 1997 the commissioners hired Carol Borer of West Tisbury at an annual salary of $52,000 to be county manager. In December 2002 Ms. Borer, who was then paid an annual salary of $79,206, retired with a check from the county treasurer for $16,755 for unused vacation days, and another in the amount of $4,402 for unused sick days.
After a three-month search and seven and a half months without a full-time county manager, in May 2003 the commissioners voted to hire Laurie Perry of Edgartown to be the new county manager. Almost four months, 10 executive sessions, eight hours and 45 minutes of discussion later, in August the commissioners voted to rescind the job offer because they were unable to confirm Ms. Perry's claim that she received a bachelor of science degree in business administration from Northeastern University in 1977.
On September 3, 2003 all seven Dukes County commissioners signed a three-year, $71,750 contract with Mr. Davis, then executive secretary of the town of Hanson.
Although the county charter states that the county manager must be a resident of Dukes County, the commissioners voted to waive the Island residency requirement for Mr. Davis.
In many ways the county manager's title exceeds his actual authority over the departments and functions that fall within the county framework.
The Registry of Deeds, Sheriff's office and office of the county treasurer, headed by elected officials, and the Martha's Vineyard Airport, under the control of the airport commission, are not under the direct control of the county manager. State and federal regulations do not allow money from the airport to be diverted to non-airport county uses. Those four departments account for approximately 78 percent of the county's 2007 fiscal year budget of $4,667,692.
The county manager exercises direct supervisory control over his administrative assistant, the county rodent control officer, county beaches, health access, the county engineer, the veterans agent, and a budget of less than $1 million.
The cost of the county budget is shared by Island taxpayers through the county's annual assessment, paid by the seven towns that compose Dukes County - which includes the Elizabeth Islands (Gosnold), whose seat of government is at Cuttyhunk. In the current fiscal year, the seven towns that make up the county will be charged the following annual assessments: Aquinnah, $28,039; Chilmark $147,764; Edgartown, $252,801; Oak Bluffs, $117,499; Tisbury, $106,372; West Tisbury, $108,152; and Gosnold, $8,901.
County commissioners also appoint a voting member representing the Vineyard to the Steamship Authority; and the members of the airport commission, which is responsible for the Martha's Vineyard Airport, the state's only county-owned airport, and its business park.
The seven county commissioners are chairman Paul Strauss of Oak Bluffs, vice chairman Leslie Leland of West Tisbury, John Alley of West Tisbury, Roger Wey of Oak Bluffs, Lenny Jason Jr. of Chilmark, Tristan Israel of Tisbury, and Carlene Gatting of Edgartown.