Norman Perry relinquishes chairmanship of Martha’s Vineyard Airport commission

Under fire by the Dukes County commissioners, Mr. Perry stepped back from a lead role, but will remain on the airport commission.

Martha's Vineyard Airport management is experiencing turbulence on the ground between the airport and county commissions. — Photo by Steve Myrick

Norman Perry, chairman of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission since April, relinquished the chairman’s post at a meeting of the airport commission Friday morning. Mr. Perry notified his fellow commissioners of his decision to step down from the leadership post but remain on the commission in an email late Thursday night.

“I have assumed his position as chair,” vice chairman Constance Teixeira, said at the beginning of the airport commission’s regular monthly meeting.

Ms. Teixeira set a stern tone. “The meeting today will be governed by Roberts Rules of Order, which gives the chair custody of who is allowed to speak,” Ms. Teixeira said. “Anyone not acknowledged by the chair will not be able to speak at this meeting. There will be some changes in committees. At this time I’m not ready to make those changes.”

Newly appointed airport commissioner Christine Todd, who is also a county commissioner, questioned the process. The airport commission has no bylaws spelling out the process of succession.

“I was under the impression that we would elect a new chair,” Ms. Todd said. “I’m just wondering what the process is.”

“The process is, the vice-chair steps up, and we elect a new vice-chair,” Ms. Teixeira said.

The meeting was tense at times, but less confrontational than meetings held earlier this year, which drew widespread criticism of airport commissioners by members of the county commission.

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.

At a meeting on June 18, Dukes County Commission chairman Leonard Jason Jr. asked the seven appointed members of the airport commission to resign. The longtime county commissioner modified his call in a letter dated June 19 addressed to the airport commission in which he suggested that commissioners find something else to do. Mr. Jason asked for a response by July 1.

County manager Martina Thornton, county treasurer Noreen Mavro-Flanders, and Mr. Jason attended the Friday morning meeting.

After attending to routine airport business, commissioners approved a response to Mr. Jason’s June 19 letter in which he asked the  airport commissioners to consider another line of civic duty.  Commissioners did not discuss the text of the letter or read it aloud.

Ms. Teixeira, Mr. Perry, Peter Bettencourt, Denys Wortman, and James Coyne voted in favor of the response. Ms. Todd voted against sending the response, and newly appointed airport commissioner Richard Michelson abstained.

Ms. Todd said she has already sent her response. Mr. Michelson, a former airport employee, said he intended to send his own response.

Following the meeting, assistant airport manager Deborah Potter refused to respond to an oral request for the letter. She asked that all requests for public documents be submitted in writing. She did not responded to a written request from The Times by the end of the day Friday. The Times also requested a copy of the letter from the county manager. That request was also not met by the end of the day Friday.

The airport commission also distributed a draft of an airport employee policies and procedures handbook for discussion. Airport policies and procedures have been a sharp point of contention during recent disciplinary hearings and meetings. Beth Tessmer, a nine-year airport employee who was twice suspended and then fired earlier this year, has contended in a workplace discrimination lawsuit, that the airport commission did not follow disciplinary procedures established for Dukes County employees.

Airport commission attorney Susan Whalen, speaking by conference call, advised commissioners to keep the document confidential, not to distribute it electronically, and not to share copies with outside advisors. Though distributed at a public meeting in open session, she maintained it is not a public record, because it falls under an exception to the Massachusetts Public Records Act concerning formulation of public policy.

“I would recommend that the commissioners keep their copy privileged and confidential,” Ms. Whalen said. “You’re obligated to maintain the confidential record of the public body.”

“I don’t see anything that is so secret, secret, that no one else in the world can look at it,” said Mr. Michelson, who has spoken forcefully in recent meetings about the need for a policies and procedures manual.

The commissioners agreed to review the document, and send comments to Ms. Potter by email.

The meeting was not without its lighter moments.

The commissioners agreed, at the suggestion of Mr. Michelson, to send an electronic survey to all airport stakeholders, including tenants, employees, pilots, and others, to gauge what they think about airport operations. Ms. Potter suggested using the popular Internet based survey software known as Survey Monkey.

“I can see the headline,” said Mr. Coyne. “‘Commission creates monkey committee.’”