County commissioners sign contract with new $67,709 manager

Dukes County manager Martina Thornton sits at her desk. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

The Dukes County Commissioners Wednesday night approved a contract that will pay new county manager Martina Thornton, the current executive assistant for the county, $67,709 plus benefits to manage county affairs.

The contract expires June 30, 2014. The benefits include 15 paid sick days and 15 vacation days, 12 paid holidays and three paid personal days.

The county commissioners voted July 11 to offer the job to Ms. Thornton one week after their first pick had rejected their job offer.

Ms. Thornton, who moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 2000, has a law degree from Charles University in the Czech Republic. She worked as a para-legal for several Island law firms before she joined the county administration in 2008.

Melinda Loberg of Tisbury, chairman, led the contract negotiations. The amount alloted in the current budget for county manager is $63,500. In its search for candidates, the commission advertised a salary range of $60,000 to $75,000.

Ms. Thornton was paid $54,656 from the county manager’s budget for administration, which totals $187,088.

“I will move forward,” Ms. Thornton told The Times the morning after the county commissioners voted to offer her the position. “We have projects that need to be finished, we have ongoing operations. I’ll make sure the county is operating effectively.” Ms. Thornton said she expects to hire an executive assistant.

She fills the spot left vacant by the May 1 resignation of Russell Smith.

Following Mr. Smith’s resignation, the county commissioners considered reducing the job to part-time and debated the scope of the future manager’s duties. But they voted on February 29 to search for a new full-time county manager at a salary budgeted at $63,250.

In advertising the position, the county said “a bachelor’s degree and familiarity with and residence on the island are preferable. The successful candidate should have five to seven years management experience, preferably within government, as well as strong financial management, personnel management, grant writing and strategic planning experience.”

The fifth person to hold the job, Mr. Smith’s announced departure was the latest chapter in the story of the commissioners’ largely failed efforts to provide paid, professional managerial oversight to a county government that remains largely irrelevant to county taxpayers.

Until 1993, three elected paid county commissioners presided over county government affairs and departments not under the control of elected officials.

In 1994, voters created a new form of county government that delegated general legislative powers to the seven-member board of unpaid commissioners, while giving the county manager full control over the county administration.

Although the county manager serves as the administrative manager for the seven county commissioners, the actual responsibilities of the job are limited. The Martha’s Vineyard Airport, which by statute is under the control of the appointed airport commission and its professional airport manager, accounts for more than half of the county budget.

The sheriff’s office is now under state control. The registry of deeds and the office of the county treasurer are county departments headed by elected county officials who do not answer to the county manager. Each has direct control over their employees.

In terms of day-to-day supervision and responsibilities, the county manager oversees three people in three departments — his office, veterans affairs, and integrated pest management.

The seven County Commissioners are: Melinda Loberg of Tisbury, Tom Hallahan of Oak Bluffs, Lenny Jason of Chilmark, Beth Toomey of West Tisbury, Carlene Gatting of Edgartown, Tristan Israel of Tisbury and John Alley of West Tisbury.