County, airport share responsibility for this mess


The seven elected Dukes County commissioners are upset with the performance of the members of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission, who they accuse of behaving badly in the conduct of several meetings, principally focused on airport employee and management personnel issues.

In a letter dated June 19, signed by county commission chairman Leonard Jason, Jr. of Chilmark, the commissioners called on the county appointees to reflect on their past behavior and think about a new line of civic service. Presumably, the call to clear out only extends to five of the seven airport commissioners.

In April, the county exercised its appointing authority to show its displeasure with the airport commission — not for the first time — and rejected the applications of Benjamin Hall Jr. of Edgartown, and John Alley of West Tisbury to three-year terms on the airport commission. Mr. Alley, who is also a longtime county commissioner, had served on the airport commission for more than three decades. Mr. Hall, an Edgartown businessman, was finishing his first term.

Instead, the county commissioners self-appointed Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs, a county commissioner who had not sought the job but was available to jump on board, to the airport commission. They also appointed Richard Michelson of Oak Bluffs, a former airport employee turned EMT and frequent and vocal critic of airport management, in particular airport manager Sean Flynn. Not surprisingly, sparks flew immediately.

There is reason to be unhappy with the airport commission which has the statutory responsibility for the care and custody of the county airport. Chairman Norman Perry of West Tisbury is responsible for controlling the meetings in a fair and impartial manner and maintaining order and decorum among the members. By all accounts, Mr. Perry, appointed in January 2004, has failed to meet those responsibilities.

Despite the benefit of experienced legal counsel, recent disciplinary hearings that resulted in a vote to fire one employee were clumsy, mismanaged affairs. Last week, a meeting in executive session ended with an announcement that airport manager Sean Flynn would take a medical leave of absence.

Prior to the meeting, Mr. Perry sent each member of the airport commission a copy of an Edgartown police report detailing the arrest of Mr. Flynn’s wife on a charge of domestic assault. Although the report contained accusations that Mr. Flynn had abused painkillers, police did not charge Mr. Flynn in the incident. It was fair to ask Mr. Flynn about those accusations. Whether Mr. Perry’s decision to send out the police report prior to the commission discussing it in executive session will have repercussions in future contract negotiations remains to be seen.

Unhappy with recent events, the county commissioners rode into the good government breach.

“Our duties as public servants often causes us to wonder why we do the things we do,”  Mr. Jason wrote in a letter headed: Airport Commission’s performance.  “It is an awesome responsibility that requires us to reflect on our attitudes, motives and performance in the discharging of our duties. The county commissioners believe the time has come for the airport commissioners to reexamine their behavior, their actions, and their conduct in their meetings.”

Mr. Jason, who last week called for the airport commissioners to resign but tempered his language at the request of his fellow commissioners, wrote, “Perhaps the time has come to channel your energies in pursuit of a different endeavor.”

The county commissioners asked for a response by July 1.

In a letter dated June 19, airport and county commissioner Todd, in the tone of a supplicant and not an independent appointee, responded to her fellow county commissioners. “I would respectfully like to continue in my efforts as Airport Commissioner to best serve the Airport, its personnel and the public of Dukes County,” she said. “I fully intend to continue my pursuit of honesty, integrity, respect and transparency in this governing board of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport.”

This page has often wondered what causes the county commissioners to do the things they do. Mr. Jason’s letter is the latest addition to a long list of curious actions. It is patronizing, and if the performance standard is set by the county’s past actions, the bar is low.

The county commissioners, whose history of bobbles is long, are in a poor position to lecture another, independent government body that includes, in this instance, men and women with long careers of public and private service: former Tisbury selectman and pilot Denys Wortman of Tisbury; retired Edgartown town manager Peter Bettencourt; James Coyne of West Tisbury, former president of a general aviation lobbying group; and Constance Teixeira of Tisbury, an advocate for the homeless.

More importantly, the county letter fails to acknowledge the county’s own part in this mess.

The county commissioners are responsible for appointing the members of the airport commission. Most of the current members have served several terms.

There is enough evidence to suggest that the airport commissioners ought to consider a leadership change. That is their decision to make. But the airport commission, as court decisions have made clear, is an independent body beholden only to the county commission’s appointing authority.

It remains to be seen if any of the airport commissioners will take the county commission up and fly away. And if they do, whether the commissioners will appoint themselves to the airport commission, as they have done in the past.

Over the years the county commissioners have repeatedly bypassed candidates for the airport commission who had extensive business and aviation experience in favor of individuals thought to be more favorable to the county viewpoint, including their fellow county commissioners. We live on an Island with a depth of aviation and business talent. Looking forward, the county commissioners ought to attempt to appoint the best people available, not the only people available.