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Sean Flynn

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The Dukes County Commission building. — Marthas Vineyard Times File Phot

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 commissioners have changed their leadership. — 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.