County Commission expands airport commission, appoints two new members

The Martha's Vineyard Airport commission is responsible for the care and custody of the airport. — File photo by Nelson Sigelman

The Dukes County Commission met Wednesday and voted to expand the size of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission from seven to nine members. The commissioners then  immediately appointed two new members, both frequent critics of airport management.

By a ballot vote, the commissioners appointed Myron Garfinkle of West Tisbury, a former businessman and a local representative for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, and Robert Rosenbaum, a seasonal resident of Chilmark, former businessman and pilot.

The county commissioners, who have been embroiled in a battle with their appointed airport commission, said the move was warranted because a large number of qualified candidates had expressed interest in filling the seat left vacant by the recent departure of Peter Bettencourt.

“I had a tough choice between three candidates for one slot,” chairman Leonard Jason, Jr., of Chilmark said. “If we can get good candidates on there sooner rather than later, it’s a benefit to the entire community.”

“I think an injection of new people with fresh ideas, for me that’s important,” said commissioner Tristan Israel of Tisbury. “It seems to be within our rights as an appointing authority.”

Former airport commissioner and county commissioner John Alley of West Tisbury was the only dissenting vote. Mr. Alley questioned whether the expansion would violate grant assurances, documents signed by the commissioners in exchange for state and federal funding that prohibit the county commissioners from interfering with airport operations or diminishing the authority of the airport commission.

County manager Martina Thornton cited two other publicly owned airports governed by similar grant assurances, which recently expanded airport commissions. She said she consulted with the authorities at the Massachusetts Department of Transportation Aeronautics Division, and was assured that the expansion did not violate the grant assurances.

The county commission and the airport commission have been embroiled in controversy for much of 2014. The two sides recently went to court over control of the county-owned Martha’s Vineyard Airport and its operations.

On August 7, Dukes County Superior Court Associate Justice Richard J. Chin handed the airport commission a significant victory in its legal battle.In an 11-page decision, Judge Chin ruled in favor of the airport commission on every point in its request for a preliminary injunction against the County Commission, county treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders, and county manager Martina Thornton. That lawsuit is still pending.

The next regularly scheduled meeting of the airport commission is Friday, Sept. 26.