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Airport

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The county may well use its appointing authority to clip the airport commission’s wings.

County Clerk Joseph Sollitto, foreground, administered the oath of office to county commissioners: from left, John Alley, Christine Todd, Leon Brathwaite, David Holway, and Gretchen Tucker Underwood on Jan. 14. Commissioners Leonard Jason Jr. and Tristan Israel are hidden from view. – Photo by Steve Myrick

The Dukes County commissioners last week began the formal process of filling three seats on the seven-member airport commission that it has been battling in court for more than one year for control of the county-owned airport. Of the six candidates, two currently sit on the airport commission and are seeking reappointment.

At their Feb. 25 meeting, the county commissioners interviewed James Coyne, who has served two terms on the airport commission and seeks reappointment to a third three-year term. The rigorous questioning directed at Mr. Coyne, a pilot, included references to the lawsuit against the county commission.

By state statute, the airport commission is responsible for the airport. In the past, the county has repeatedly used its appointing authority to rid itself of airport commissioners with whom it disagreed.

The county commission has scheduled interviews with five other candidates, including incumbent commissioner Constance Teixeira. The commission was scheduled to hold its final interviews Wednesday night and vote on appointments but put off any action when three candidates were unable to attend.

The appointment process has raised the possibility of a legal challenge, outlined in a sharply worded letter from the airport commission’s attorney, if the new appointees are unqualified, or have conflicts of interest.

In the current lawsuit, Superior Court Associate Justice Richard J. Chin has issued preliminary injunctions in favor of the airport commission on all five points alleging the county commission is unlawfully interfering with the airport commission, writing in his opinion that the county is unlikely to prevail in the legal dispute. The two sides argued their positions at a court hearing Feb. 12. A court decision is now pending on whether to grant a motion for summary judgement requested by the airport commission, declaring its position valid and dismissing the case.

Questioning the questions

The county commissioners spent the first 20 minutes of their Feb. 25 meeting wrangling over the interview procedure. They agreed on a series of six general questions to be asked of all airport commission candidates, beginning with, “Why do you want to be an airport commissioner?” and ending with, “Why should we appoint you to the airport commission?”

County commissioner David Holway, participating by conference call, said he had a set of questions he wanted to ask, revolving around the airport commission’s decisions to sue the county commission.

“I think it’s important to get the mindset of the incumbent commissioners,” Mr. Holway said. “The incumbents have, as far as I’m concerned, created quite a mess at that airport. They’re not holding people accountable for how they’ve spent money. They’ve spent money willy-nilly.”

Mr. Holway later said his questions were designed to inform the public of what he considered decisions contrary to good public policy.

“I actually think the general public has been ill informed as to what has transpired here, and how the decision-making process at the airport has gone on,” Mr. Holway said. “I think we have an opportunity, by asking these types of probing questions, to let the general public know exactly how they’re making these determinations, given the way the airport’s been run.”

Process problems

The question of whether to ask each candidate the same question divided the commissioners.

“You ask everybody the same thing. You’re creating an unfair bias to the two incumbents who are reapplying for their jobs and not the others. You’re setting yourself up for trouble,” John Alley of West Tisbury, ousted last year by his fellow county commissioners from the airport commission, said.

Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs, self-appointed to the airport commission last year when a vacancy appeared, agreed. “I think it’s very important that we present the same questions to everyone,” Ms. Todd said. “Given my position being on the airport commission and the county commission, I feel that my involvement in this process should be at a minimum. I don’t think I want to be posing questions. I think I need to keep a fairly low profile in this process.”

“The questions we were considering asking were very general,” said county commissioner Tristan Israel of Tisbury, who is also a selectman in that town. “Mr. Holway was bringing up very specific issues. There’s a part of me, I guess I’m with him on that. Having said all of that, it’s probably just easier to ask everybody the same simplified questions as we go through this process.”

Gretchen Tucker Underwood asked why the interview process was being changed. “It was my understanding that we would ask one set of questions to all the candidates,” Ms. Tucker Underwood said. “We’re now looking at two-tiered; am I missing something here?”

Leonard Jason Jr. of Chilmark, also participating by conference telephone call, advocated for Mr. Holway’s questions.

“I think it’s important that people understand why we vote the way we do,” Mr. Jason said. “We’ve been chastised to pick the right people. The only way you get the right people is if you ask the right questions. I think Dave had some good questions that the public should hear the answer to.”

Terse interview

Following an extensive discussion, the county commissioners agreed by consensus that all candidates would be asked the same set of six general questions agreed upon earlier, but if individual commissioners wanted to follow up, they could ask any questions they thought appropriate.

Mr. Coyne participated by Skype, a video-teleconferencing service, from his Virginia home. Mr. Coyne outlined his experience as a pilot, and as former president of the National Air Transportation Association, a lobbying organization that represents aviation service businesses. He said he and his family spend more and more time at his seasonal West Tisbury home, purchased eight years ago.

“I’ve probably visited more airports than almost anyone you’ll meet in your life,” Mr. Coyne said. “I think I’ve made a difference. I like to think I bring to the airport commission meetings a business perspective. It has gone through a remarkably unusual year or two, the personal disputes, the travails of the airport manager. I think the most important thing is to get this back on an even keel. It has been a frustrating year.”

Mr. Holway, a seasonal resident of Edgartown, and president of the National Association of Government Employees, a union that represents more than 110,000 workers, and an Obama appointee to the National Council on Federal Labor-Management Relations, bore in with questions about the airport commission’s litigation subcommittee, which makes decisions about legal action independent of the full airport commission.

“Did you vote to file the lawsuit against the county?” he asked Mr. Coyne.

“I think I did, I’m not exactly sure which vote that was,” Mr. Coyne said. “There were many votes involved with the litigation with the county. I don’t know exactly which lawsuit you’re referring to. My guess is whatever one you’re referring to, I probably did vote for it.”

“Do you know how much it has cost the airport to pay for that litigation?”

“I do not know. I haven’t see the bills for that.”

“Do you have any idea how much it has cost the county for that lawsuit?”

“I don’t know that either.”

Other commissioners followed suit. Mr. Israel expressed exasperation with the airport commission’s formation of a litigation subcommittee.

“While the litigation subcommittee met for most of last year, is there a reason [that] for at least six months, the airport commission did not meet?” Mr. Israel asked.

“I don’t think that’s accurate,” Mr. Coyne replied.

“They didn’t meet for five or six months this summer, unless I’m wrong, while the litigation subcommittee, certainly I assume, met, because they filed many suits,” Mr. Israel said.

“I’m not sure that’s true. I remember having airport commission meetings over the last six months,” Mr. Coyne said.

Useful tool

Although the county commissioners have expressed dissatisfaction with the airport commission’s decision to form a litigation subcommittee, airport lawyer David Mackey said it is a useful tool.

“The airport commission was compelled to take this action because one or more airport commissioners with apparent conflicts of interest declined to recuse themselves from the pending lawsuit,” Mr. Mackey said in an email to The Times this week. “The formation of a litigation subcommittee is a tool often used by commissions or boards to ensure that decision-making on pending claims or lawsuits is not infected by divided loyalties.”

Mr. Mackey was referring to Ms. Todd, who sits on both the county commission and the airport commission, which makes her both a defendant and a plaintiff in the same lawsuit.

Since its inception, the airport commission’s litigation subcommittee has met 12 times, including 5 times during a three-month gap when the full commission did not meet due to pending litigation over an effort by the county commission to expand the airport commission from seven to nine members, later rebuffed by Judge Chin.

Listen carefully, everyone, and remember the following: This summer, when the temperature and humidity rise higher and higher, and we are all feeling like oversoaked sponges, exhausted as the heat saps us of all energy, no one, absolutely no one, is allowed to say, “Oh, I can hardly wait for winter and colder weather.”

Meanwhile, half of what used to be our free time has been eaten up by shoveling our way out of our houses and to our cars to enable us to be mobile again. But just be grateful if your job does not involve having to be able to access the streets and side roads across the Island, perhaps to deliver heating fuel, packages, mail, or even medical assistance. If I had to write an essay on “How I spent my winter,” it would read: “Look out window, sigh, shovel, work on jigsaw puzzle, read four books, cancel appointments, build wood-stove fire as subfreezing temps cause my heat to fail every few days, keep letting dog out, keep calling and looking for dog who is enamored of all the snow and apparently feeling she has to check on every tree in the woods in back of the house, and of course, open refrigerator door every hour on the hour.”

The work on the new Oak Bluffs Fire Station is creeping along, and how they are able to work in this weather is beyond me, but working they are.

Carol Carr Dell and a few friends decided to head to the Plane View Restaurant at the airport last week. Suddenly, one of the group said, “This is the first time in a month I have been out of Oak Bluffs.” I am sure this has happened to many people these past months. They were treated to a few humorous signs when they arrived at their destination. The first was a sign on a snow-covered bench outside the entry to the Plane View looking toward the runway that read, “No sitting on bench until summer.” Then someone told them that the previous sign read, “Snow View Restaurant.” At least some still have a sense of humor in this mess.

School has reopened after winter break, and students have returned to school and town. On Tuesday, March 10, there will be a professional development day; all students will be dismissed at noon.

Our Oak Bluffs library offers some interesting programs. At 1 pm on Tuesday, March 10, you can enjoy Movie Afternoon, featuring the family comedy, The Boxtrolls, which is rated PG.

Also on Tuesday, the Graphic Novel Book Club will meet at 7 pm. This month’s selection is Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer.

And you can enjoy more movies at the Martha’s Vineyard Playhouse on March 9 at 7:30 pm, with the film Desk Set, a delightful 1957 comedy about a TV research department being replaced by computers. A battle of wits ensues between the department head and the computer firm’s engineer.

There’s a couple of great events coming up for the animal lovers out there, courtesy of the Oak Bluffs Council on Aging. On Monday, March 9, the OBCOA hosts a “Service Dogs Demystified” program at 1 pm. Service dogs are a valuable tool for helping those with disabilities, but do you really know what defines a dog as a service dog? This is a one-hour presentation on what makes an animal a service animal under the current regulations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), as well as on some of the tasks service animals can be trained to perform. Then on Monday, March 23, at 1 pm, the OBCOA will host a program about ”Building Simple Mental Enrichment Toys for your Companion Animal,” which will show you don’t have to spend a lot of money to create toys for the animal friend in your home. Both programs will be led by animal handler Karen Ogden.

Pat and Kerry Alley, accompanied by their niece Kati Alley, traveled to Glastonbury, Conn., last week to visit their daughter and son-in law, Sarah and Jack Lavolette, and their children. They too have been inundated with snowstorms this winter. After a few days in Connecticut, the group went to South Hadley, where they were the guests of daughter Rachel Alley, Greer, and their children, Jonas and Drew. Former Oak Bluffs residents Charlie and Gaynell Downs joined them for dinner one night, and everyone had a fun evening catching up on the latest news.

We send birthday smiles to Bill Rankin on the 9th, Vicky White on the 10th, and Cindy Krauss on the 11th. Willie deBettencourt, Pauline Gregory, Janice Rose, and Molly deBettencourt share the 12th. Enjoy your week. Peace.

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The Dukes County Commission can appoint three new commissioners.

The Martha's Vineyard Airport terminal. – File photo by Nelson Sigelman

Six people, including two current Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission members, have requested appointment to the airport commission, against the backdrop of a protracted, expensive court battle, and politically charged atmosphere. The Dukes County Commission, which has authority to appoint airport commissioners, can appoint three commissioners to fill spots which will become available in March when current terms expire.

Dissatisfied with the airport commission’s handling of a dispute involving a longtime employee who was suspended, and later fired, the county commission has already appointed three new airport commissioners in the past year. With three new appointments, county commissioners could effect a near complete turnover of the seven-member commission, giving the new appointees a firm majority.

Airport Commission Chairman Constance Teixeira, a former airline and airport executive who has served on the airport commission since 2006, has asked for reappointment.

Also asking to serve a second three-year term is James Coyne, a pilot, and president of the National Air Transportation Association, an industry lobbying group based in Washington. D.C. There appears little sentiment among county commissioners to renew the terms of the sitting airport commissioners, according to numerous comments at previous public meetings.

Four others have expressed interest in serving on the airport commission.

Myron Garfinkle is a retired West Tisbury business executive and pilot. Bob Rosenbaum is a seasonal resident of Chilmark, a pilot, and founder of three technology companies. Clarence “Trip” Barnes is a Tisbury businessman who sits on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. John Cahill of Oak Bluffs owns a rental-car franchise based at the airport, and is active on local nonprofit boards.

Dukes County Commissioners appointed Mr. Garfinkle and Mr. Rosenbaum to the airport commission on Sept. 24, after voting to expand the airport commission from seven to nine members. The Dukes County Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction preventing the expansion, and preventing the two new members from being seated.

Current airport commissioner Denys Wortman is not seeking reappointment.

Sitting commissioners Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs — who is also a sitting county commissioner; Rich Michelson, a former employee and union leader at the airport; and Beth Toomey, retired West Tisbury police chief, were all appointed by the county commission over the past year.

According to county manager Martina Thornton, the county commission may discuss the airport appointments at its scheduled meeting on Feb. 11, but no firm date has been set to make the appointments.

The airport commission filed a lawsuit against the Dukes County Commission on April 25, 2014, charging that the county commissioners, county treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders, and county manager Martina Thornton were trying to “unlawfully interfere with, and obstruct the functioning” of the airport. The lawsuit was amended twice to add additional allegations. On five separate points alleged in the lawsuit, the Dukes County Superior court issued preliminary injunctions against the county, and said the county is “unlikely to prevail” in the lawsuit. The two sides are due back in court on Feb. 12.

Legal disputes between the county commission and the airport commission date back to 2002, with more than $800,000 expended on legal fees by both sides.

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Judge Richard Chin listened to arguments at the hearing on July 27. — File photo by Steve Myrick

Attorneys for the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission and the Dukes County Commission presented oral arguments in Dukes County Superior Court Tuesday in connection with the latest lawsuit sparked by a long-running dispute over control of the county-owned Martha’s Vineyard Airport and its operations.

In a 13-page civil complaint filed May 5, airport commission lawyers from the Cambridge law firm of Anderson & Kreiger asked the court to prohibit county officials from seeking to “unlawfully interfere with, and obstruct the functioning,” of the Airport Commission. The seven members of the airport commission are appointed by the elected members of the seven-member county commission.

The complaint is based on two ongoing disputes that are only the latest eruptions in the lengthy history of county efforts to exercise control over the county-owned airport. Over the objections of airport officials, county treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders has refused to pay airport invoices approved by the airport commission and she has publicly released invoice details the airport considers confidential. And on April 23, the county commissioners recognized county manager Martina Thornton as an ex-officio member of the Airport Commission.

Airport lawyers asked the judge to issue injunctions to prohibit the county commission from naming the county manager an ex-officio member; prohibit the manager from sitting on the airport commission; prohibit the county treasurer from refusing to pay airport invoices; and prohibit the treasurer from releasing confidential information she had obtained between the airport commission and its attorneys.

Airport commission attorney David Mackey (standing) shares a document with county commission attorney Robert Troy in Dukes County Superior Court.
Airport commission attorney David Mackey (standing) shares a document with county commission attorney Robert Troy in Dukes County Superior Court.

In its answer to the lawsuit, filed May 30, the county commission made a series of counterclaims, including a request for the court to declare that the airport is under the jurisdiction of Dukes County, as a subdivision and department of the county, according to Massachusetts law. The county commission also asked the court to issue a temporary restraining order prohibiting the airport commission from submitting invoices without proper documentation. The county commission asked the court to dismiss the airport commission’s complaint, and award the county commission costs to defend itself, with interest.

In a hearing before Associate Justice Richard Chin in Dukes County Superior Court on July 29, attorney David Mackey of Anderson & Kreiger was first to make his case for the injunctions and declaratory judgement.

“This is much more urgent than it was when we brought this case,” Mr. Mackey told the court. “The county’s position has become more extreme. The county commission is attempting to take control of the airport.”

Mr. Mackey said Chapter 90 of the Massachusetts General Laws give the airport commission sole authority for custody, care, and management of the county-owned airport. He said the grant assurances signed by the county commission and the county manager with each round of state and federal funding make it clear that the county commission is prohibited from depriving or diminishing the powers of the airport commission. He also argued that a 2006 court ruling known as the Weibrecht decision reaffirmed the airport commission’s role as a body independent of county government with sole responsibility for the airport’s financial affairs.

“There is some considerable urgency about clearing up this issue about who is running the show,” Mr. Mackey said. He cited language from the law, the grant assurances, and the Weibrecht decision in support of the airport commission’s claim that each overrules the state law and county charter, when there is a conflict.

Judge Chin questioned the airport commission attorney about his requests for immediate injunctions.

“What is the urgency,” Judge Chin asked. “After reading his (the county commission attorney’s) submissions, are you going to turn the keys of the airport over to him?”

Mr. Mackey also argued that an immediate injunction was necessary to prevent the county treasurer from releasing invoices and other documents which could compromise the airport commission’s right to keep communications with its attorneys confidential.

Judge Chin also questioned whether an injunction was warranted on that issue.

“Part of the problem is the lawyers,” Judge Chin said. “Why are they just handing over privileged communication? The attorneys bear some responsibility. It doesn’t sound like you need a court order to prevent these communications. I don’t want this court used as a tool by which information is kept from people. I’m not going to interject myself in this controversy. that’s not the role of this court.”

Attorney Robert Troy of the Sandwich law firm Troy Wall Associates represented the county commission at the hearing. He characterized the disagreement between the two commissions as a political dispute. He said no injunction is warranted to prevent the county manager from sitting as an ex-officio member of the airport commission, because the provision is included in state law. He said “one person sitting at the table who has no vote, for an airport that is owned by Dukes County,” is not an attempt to diminish the airport commission’s authority.

“The real issues, that are petty issues, are due to improper practices of the airport commission,” Mr. Troy told the court. “This is about a very petty and illegal practice. The airport commission has been approving invoices that have no detail.”

As an example, he offered an invoice from a law firm in Colorado that he said the airport commission had retained.

“It says 3.4 hours at $525 per hour,” he said. “What was the work done? T-R-D, that’s all it says. The airport commission should have been communicating with the treasurer and not coming to court.”

Judge Chin noted that all the invoices were eventually paid.

“It seems to me there is no controversy before me about the bills,” Judge Chin said. “There are procedures in place to pay the bills. It sounds like the matter has been resolved. What would I rule on?”

All the parties in the lawsuit were present in the courtroom Tuesday, listening intently to the hearing. Also present was Tracy Klay, chief counsel for the Massachusetts Department of Transportation’s Aeronautical Division. He said the issues in the case are important to state regulators, no matter what the decision.

Judge Chin told the attorneys he will take the matters under advisement and issue a written ruling.

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Fuel assistance is available from the County. — Marthas Vineyard Times File Photo

In a special meeting of the Dukes County Commission on Wednesday, June 18, that followed an earlier meeting of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission, county commission chairman Lenny Jason Jr. called on the airport commissioners to resign.

Following further discussion and expressions of dissatisfaction, a majority of  commissioners prevailed on Mr. Jason to modify the outright call for resignation.

The Martha’s Vineyard Airport commission is responsible by state statute for the care and custody of the county-owned airport. The county commission exercises authority over the airport through its appointing authority.

Mr. Jason is dissatisfied with the airport commission’s stewardship of the airport. In an unusual noon meeting on Wednesday, the airport commission granted airport manager Sean Flynn a leave of absence to address personal issues. Members of the county commission have been highly critical of the airport commission for its handling of several public disciplinary hearings involving an airport employee.

“It’s sad when you see your appointees not performing as you hoped,” Mr. Jason said. “It seems to be a circus atmosphere. It’s not in the best interest of the people of the county. I think we have no alternative but to ask the airport commission to resign. It’s almost like the inmates are running the asylum. The last meeting was disgraceful. That’s not the kind of meeting Thomas Jefferson envisioned.”

Mr. Jason’s fellow county commissioners also voiced withering criticism of the airport commission. They included Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs, who was appointed to also serve on the airport commission earlier this year.

“The experience so far has been frustrating for me,” Ms. Todd said. “It’s been quite difficult to get some basic information, like executive session minutes and procedural questions. I’ve found it to be very frustrating. I’m concerned.”

County commissioner Leon Brathwaite of West Tisbury said he was concerned, after watching MVTV recordings of the airport commission meetings. “I’ve watched the videos,” he said.

“I’m shocked and appalled.”

However, a majority of the commissioners argued to soften Mr. Jason’s outright call for resignation and were leary of using the word “resign.” The county commissioners acknowledged that they have no authority to revoke their appointments, or demand a resignation outright. They will instead send a letter.

While the letter has yet to be drafted, after the meeting Mr. Jason summarized what the full commission agreed the letter should state.

“The letter will ask you to reexamine how you are conducting business, if you feel it’s in the best interest of the people of this county or not,” Mr. Jason said. “If upon reflection you feel you haven’t been doing a good job, perhaps you should consider an alternative.”

Three airport commissioners attended part or all of the county commission meeting. Following the meeting, airport commission chairman Norman Perry said he would not resign. Airport commissioner Constance Teixeira declined any comment.

The discussion of the airport commission was the only item on the agenda for the special meeting.

The decision by the airport commission to grant a leave of absence to airport manager Sean Flynn also came in for criticism at the county commission meeting.

A short statement issued by the Airport Commission made no mention that Mr. Flynn asked for the leave prior to the meeting, and Mr. Perry unilaterally granted the leave, according to Ms. Todd.

Mr. Perry said he had no alternative, under the federal family leave regulations.

“Once a person asks for that, you have to give it to them,” Mr. Perry told county commissioners. “This is something the government says you have to give the person the time.”

Richard Michelson, also appointed to the airport commission by county commissioners earlier this year, was unhappy with the process by which Mr. Flynn was granted leave.

“As an airport commissioner, this and other issues are pretty frustrating,” Mr. Michelson said. “When decisions are made by one person and not the entire commission, members of the commission aren’t included, given any input, communication, or notification.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly reported that county commissioner Leon Brathwait is from Oak Bluffs. He is from West Tisbury.

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The Martha's Vineyard Airport will be the scene of an emergency drill on Sunday. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

The Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission granted airport manager Sean Flynn a leave of absence to address personal issues, following more than two hours of discussion behind closed doors on Wednesday, June 18. Mr. Flynn made the request, according to a commission statement.

Airport commission chairman Norman Perry declined to talk about the terms or the time frame. Mr. Flynn will be paid his regular salary during the leave, by using accumulated vacation and personal time, according to Mr. Perry

The commission met at noon Wednesday in executive session, and they issued a short statement following the meeting.

“The Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission met in executive session at length this afternoon to discuss certain personal information regarding the airport manager, Sean Flynn. Mr. Flynn has requested a leave to address these personal matters which was approved.”

The commission designated assistant airport manager Deborah Potter to run airport operations during Mr. Flynn’s leave.

“The Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission has tremendous confidence in Ms. Potter and the entire airport staff in their ability to run the airport,” the statement said.

Mr. Perry called the unusual noon meeting following the arrest by Edgartown police on Friday, June 6, of Mr. Flynn’s wife, Rebecca Donnelly, on a charge of domestic assault at their Edgartown home. The police report detailed an argument over Mr. Flynn’s use of prescription drugs, and allegations by Ms. Donnelly that Mr. Flynn is abusing pain medications.

Mr. Flynn was not arrested. Mr. Flynn denied to police that he has a prescription drug problem.

Occasionally, raised voices could be heard outside the meeting room, but the mood was cordial when the executive session broke up. Mr. Flynn smiled, bantered with a reporter, and shook hands with some of the airport commissioners. He declined to comment.

Present for the meeting were airport commissioners Norman Perry, Christine Todd, Richard Michelson, Denys Wortman, Constance Teixiera, and James Coyne (by conference call). Commissioner Peter Bettencourt was absent.

Mr. Flynn was represented by Edgartown attorney Rosemary Haigazian. Kim Elias, assistant to the airport management, and Ms. Potter also attended the meeting.

Airport commission lawyers Susan Whalen and David Mackey of the Boston law firm Anderson & Kreiger flew from Boston Wednesday morning to attend the meeting.

In the vote to go into executive session, airport commission members cited an exception to the open meeting law which includes discussion of, “The reputation, character, physical condition or mental health” of an employee as the reason for conducting business behind closed doors in executive session.

Chairman Perry confirmed to The Times in a telephone conversation Tuesday evening that the police report detailing the domestic disturbance was included in the information he sent to commission members prior to the closed door session.

“I felt everybody should have a copy of it,” Mr. Perry said. “It was important, all the details that were in it, like it or not. The police report is available: it’s now public.”

Following the airport commission meeting, the Dukes County commissioners, the airport commission’s appointing authority, also met. In an unprecedented action, county commissioner Lenny Jason called on the entire airport commission to resign. That call was later modified (See related story, “Dukes County Commission thrashes airport commissioners”) to a request that the airport commission reexamine how it conducts business.

Abuse denied

On Friday, June 6, Mr. Flynn called Edgartown police and reported that he had just had a domestic situation with his wife, Rebecca Donnelly, according to the police report. He told police that during an argument sparked by his use of prescription medications, she threw a can of fruit punch which struck him in the face.

A few minutes after Mr. Flynn’s call, Ms. Donnelly arrived at the Edgartown police station, where she turned over numerous pill bottles to police.

“Rebecca explained that Sean has been abusing his prescription medications for a long time now and she has had enough,” Det. Sgt. Chris Dolby wrote in his police report. “She said he is taking all kinds of pain medications and is clearly addicted to them. She said that he can no longer function normally and can’t even drive a car today, which is why he didn’t go to work this morning.”

According to the report, she told police she dumped the soft drink on him in the heat of an argument but did not throw the can at him.

Edgartown police officer William Bishop later interviewed Mr. Flynn at his Edgartown home. In his police report, he said he observed minor swelling and redness on Mr. Flynn’s face.

“I noticed that Flynn had slurred speech, was not balanced, and his motor skills seemed to be less than favorable,” Officer Bishop wrote. “I discussed with Flynn the possibility of evaluating his prescription intake, and consider that he may in fact have a problem. Flynn then began a long explanation of how he has been evaluated by his doctor, therapist, and the pain clinic.  Flynn truly believes he does not have a problem.”

Based on the interview with Mr. Flynn and evidence observed at his home, police arrested Ms. Donnelly and charged her with domestic assault. When she was released after booking at the Dukes County Jail, she returned to the police station, and asked to apply for an emergency restraining order. A short time later, Mr. Flynn arrived at the station. He was directed to a separate area, where he also applied for an emergency restraining order.

A judge granted both emergency restraining orders Friday evening, instructing both not to abuse each other, not to contact each other, and to stay 100 yards away from each other. The judge also ordered Mr. Flynn to leave his home, and to surrender any firearms and ammunition in his possession.

Both Mr. Flynn and Ms. Donnelly later appeared in Edgartown District Court on Monday to extend the emergency restraining orders, and the court approved both, according to police.

Det. Sgt. Dolby told Ms. Donnelly that he had no authority to hold Mr. Flynn’s prescription medications, and that he would return them to him, according to the police report.

Police also spoke to Mr. Flynn’s physician, Dr. Gerald Yukevich, to make him aware of the situation and let him know that police would be returning all the pills to Mr. Flynn.

Airport turbulence

Wednesday’s meeting was the latest turbulence for the members of the airport commission, which is statutorily charged with the care and custody of the airport.

Beth Tessmer, a nine-year employee who was promoted, suspended, and then fired in less than one year, filed a civil complaint on May 6 against the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission, asking a judge to order the Airport Commission to give her job back to her. Members of the county commission and Ms. Tessmer’s supporters were highly critical of the airport commission for its handling of several public disciplinary hearings. Prior to her termination, Ms. Tessmer filed a complaint with the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination against Mr. Flynn.

In April, citing the handling of the disciplinary hearings, county commissioners voted not to re-appoint two members of the airport commission. In a sharply divided vote and disputed procedure, the county commission rejected the applications of Benjamin Hall Jr. and John Alley to three-year terms on the seven-member airport commission. Mr. Alley, a Dukes County commissioner, has served on both the county commission and the airport commission for more than three decades. Mr. Hall, an Edgartown businessman, was finishing his first term.

Instead, the county commissioners appointed Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs, a county commissioner, to the airport commission. They also appointed Richard Michelson, a former airport employee now on disability retirement, who helped organize airport employees to form a union and served as shop steward. He has been a frequent and vocal critic of airport management.

The county commissioners also instructed county manager Martina Thornton to sit in on airport commission meetings as an ex-officio member. However, grant assurances signed by the airport and county commission at the insistence of the Mass Aeronautics Commission, which provided funding for the construction of a new airport, specifically bar the county commissioners from interfering in airport affairs.

In May, the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission filed a lawsuit in Dukes County Superior Court, asking a judge to prohibit the Dukes County Commission, the county treasurer, and the county manager from interfering with the airport commission’s statutory authority to manage and run the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.

The 13-page civil complaint dated May 1 was filed in Dukes County Superior court by lawyers from the Cambridge law firm of Anderson & Kreiger, against the county commission, county manager Martina Thornton, and county treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders. It asks the court to prohibit the county officials from seeking to “unlawfully interfere with, and obstruct the functioning,” of the Airport Commission.

The complaint is the latest chapter in the lengthy history of county efforts to exercise control over the county-owned airport.

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The county commissioners cited a provision in the county charter that is at odds with grant assurances state officials put in place to keep the county manager at arm’s length in airport affairs.

The Martha's Vineyard Airport . — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Provisions in the Dukes County charter and the Martha’s Vineyard Airport grant assurances once again appear to be on a collision course. Dukes County Commissioners, pointing to provisions in the state law that govern the current form of county government, want their paid county manager, Martina Thornton, to participate in Airport Commission meetings as a non-voting ex-officio member.

At their regular meeting on April 23, county commissioners crafted a motion, first incorporating the word “add” and then the word “recognize,” that they approved by a vote of 6-0, to “recognize that Martina is an ex-officio member to the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission under the terms of the charter and the administrative code.”

The vote followed a debate that highlighted the continuing dispute over the lines of authority in the management and operation of the only county-owned airport in Massachusetts. Ms. Thornton often attends airport commission meetings.

The county charter specifically provides a non-voting role for the county manager on all boards and committees that are appointed by the county. The county appoints the airport commission.

However, grant assurances signed by the airport and county commission at the insistence of the Mass Aeronautics Commission, which provided funding for the construction of a new airport, specifically barred the county commissioners from interfering in airport affairs.

At last Wednesday’s meeting, county commission chairman Lenny Jason of Chilmark said the airport commission recently refused to admit Ms. Thornton to a closed-door executive session of the Airport Commission. He said that recognizing that Ms. Thornton as an ex-officio member according to state law is not an attempt to interfere with airport operations.

“The charter requires it,” Mr. Jason said. “She shouldn’t be banned from attending a meeting. She should be sitting at the table like it always was.”

Commissioner Tristan Israel of Vineyard Haven called the timing of the county commission vote curious. “Obviously we’ve had some issues in the past couple of weeks,” Mr. Israel said. “I have no interest in us becoming involved in how that commission conducts airport business. Martina goes to many of their meetings already. I think that stirs up things that are not necessary at this point.”

Mr. Israel, who is also a Tisbury selectman, was referring to the county commission’s rejection at their April 9 meeting of two incumbent airport commissioners and their appointment of two new members to the airport commission. The county commission, in a split vote and a disputed procedure, declined to reappoint county commissioner John Alley to the airport commission. He has held seats on both commissions for more than three decades.

Some county commissioners were unhappy with Mr. Alley, who, as chairman of the airport commission, presided over disciplinary hearings for an airport employee who was twice suspended, then fired, by airport management. The county commission also declined to reappoint Benjamin Hall Jr. to the airport commission.

Instead, the county commissioners appointed one of their own commission members, Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs, and Richard Michelson, a former airport employee and frequent and vocal critic of airport management.

Conflicting cases

Norman Perry, the new chairman of the Airport Commission, challenges the idea of the county manager as an ex officio member. He said it is not appropriate for the county manager to sit in executive session.

“If you’re discussing issues which would pertain to what she does in the county, then she couldn’t be in it,” Mr. Perry said in a phone interview Wednesday. “There is a process that is going to straighten that out, hopefully not court action, but attorney to attorney.”

According to Massachusetts General Law, Chapter 34A, among the duties of the county manager is to, “Serve, as ex-officio, non-voting member of all appointive bodies in county government.”

Recent court rulings and legal opinions restrict the ability of the Dukes County Commission to interfere with airport operations.

In 1997, involvement by the county manager and county commissioners in airport affairs led state and federal aviation officials to present the county commission with a set of grant assurances they signed in order to secure funds used to rebuild and expand Martha’s Vineyard Airport. Those assurances state that, “Notwithstanding any powers, authority or responsibility that may be granted to the County Commissioners by Chapter 34A of the General laws (the ‘charter’), the county commissioners agree not to interfere in any way with the powers, authority and responsibilities granted to the Airport Commission by Chapter 90, Section 51E of the general laws.”

A 2005 court ruling, known as the Weibrecht decision, further clarified the separation of authority between the county and the airport.

“It came to the attention of the airport commission,” Kevin Batt, of the Cambridge law firm of Anderson & Kreiger who represents the Airport Commission, told The Times. “They’re taking a closer look, and they will have a response. The grant assurances and the Weibrecht decision are very relevant.”

Mr. Batt was among those invited to an executive session at the Airport Commission last Friday that only airport officials were invited to attend. Mr. Perry cited an exception to the open meeting law for going into secret session. “I declare this executive session is necessary to protect the litigation position of the airport commission,” Mr. Perry said.

The decision

In a decision entered on July 18, 2005, Judge Robert H. Bohn ruled that the airport commission had the authority to set the salaries of their professional airport manager at the time, Bill Weibrecht, and assistant manager Sean Flynn, who is now manager.

In his 30-page ruling, Judge Bohn reviewed the history and law surrounding the issue, including the creation of the airport, the enactment of a state statute in 1946, vesting the “custody, control and management” of local airports in an airport commission and the adoption of a county charter by county voters in 1992.

The judge also reviewed the county’s poor and uneven stewardship of its chief asset. The airport and county commissioners signed the required assurances, in which they agreed not to interfere with the “powers, authority and responsibilities” of the airport commission, as provided for by state law.

Judge Bohn wrote, “The county officials entered into these assurances with free knowledge of what they were forfeiting with respect to management of airport activities.”