Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission (MVAC) chairman Constance Teixeira said that Dukes County treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders has refused to process invoices the airport authorized for payment despite a preliminary injunction Dukes County Superior Court Associate Justice Richard J. Chin issued August 7 ordering her to pay duly authorized airport bills
The 17 invoices, totaling approximately $42,000, are for routine airport expenses, and are either approaching overdue status or already overdue.
“We received communication from the county treasurer that once again, and despite a direct court order, she was refusing to process airport invoices for payment,” Ms. Teixeira said in a statement read at an airport commission meeting Friday, November 21.
Under strict state and federal funding rules, airport revenue may only be used for airport-related aviation projects. Though there is no legal requirement to do so, the county-owned airport hires the county treasurer to process airport bills, an arrangement that funnels airport revenue into county coffers.
Airport manager Sean Flynn told The Times in a telephone conversation Tuesday that the airport is evaluating additional legal action, which could include filing a complaint asking the court to hold Ms. Mavro Flanders in contempt of the preliminary injunction, or negotiate an out-of-court resolution to the latest dispute.
A woman who answered the phone in the treasurer’s office Tuesday morning told The Times that Ms. Mavro Flanders was unavailable for comment. Asked if the treasurer was in the office or could be contacted later, the woman repeated that the treasurer was unavailable for comment.
The county treasurer takes a unique approach in order to calculate how much of her office’s time is devoted to airport affairs. Rather than an hourly rate, the office calculates how much to charge the airport based on invoice inches, according to Mr. Flynn.
He said the county treasurer allocates the airport’s share of the county’s total cost for accounting services, by measuring the length of submitted airport invoices, including invoice pages that have nothing to do with billing amounts, against non-airport invoices.
Mr. Flynn is authorized by the airport commission to approve bills for payment. He said he is frustrated that Mr. Mavro Flanders duplicates the effort of his staff to verify and approve invoices every month.
Mr. Flynn said that in an attempt to make the process more efficient and less costly, invoices now include only the necessary information for Ms. Mavro Flanders to process the bills. “She has been provided with cover sheets which show previous balance, previous amount paid, current charges, current due, and total due,” he said.
Mr. Flynn said he reviews each invoice to make sure the charges were incurred by the airport, and that the charges are accurate, in accordance with his legal and fiduciary obligations. “This is in no way an attempt to be secretive, as to what we’re paying various vendors; this is just to streamline the process to meet all requirements, so that we are providing enough information, but not duplicating effort, not doubling the amount of effort,” he said. “We’re trying to use current technology, current ways of thinking, and not staying with a process that is antiquated, just for the sake of staying with an older process. There are accusations we’re attempting to be secretive. That is absolutely not the case.”
Deja vu all over again
In a series of emails to Mr. Flynn, Ms. Mavro Flanders said she was not refusing to make the payments, but reminded the airport manager that there was insufficient detail in the invoices, a point Mr. Flynn disputes.
She said she would file a formal public records request for the bills, if necessary. As of Wednesday, November 19, the disputed bills had not been paid, according to Mr. Flynn.
The county treasurer’s insistence that the airport provide invoice details and her refusal to process law firm invoices approved by the airport was one of the subjects of a lawsuit filed by the airport commission on July 9.
In his August 7 decision, Judge Chin wrote, “In sum, the County Treasurer believes that she has the legal authority to refuse to pay invoices which have already been duly approved by the MVAC, to obtain privileged and confidential communications between the MVAC and its attorneys without notice to and without the consent of the MVAC, and to release those privileged and confidential communications to the public at large.”
Judge Chin rejected the county treasurer’s claim that invoices approved by the airport commission for payment were lacking detail required by state law.
“Where the MVAC is not using any of the county’s funds to pay its invoices for legal services, it may expend its funds without the county’s oversight,” Judge Chin wrote. The invoices “are not so deficient in detail that they fail on their face to comply with the statute.”
Judge Chin issued a preliminary injunction in favor of the airport commission, and against Ms. Mavro Flanders. “The county treasurer is enjoined from refusing to pay invoices duly approved for payment by the MVAC,” he wrote in his decision.
Judge Chin based his ruling on previous court decisions, state law, and legal documents known as grant assurances which the county approved in exchange for millions of dollars in state and federal funds.
In fiscal year 2012, the airport paid the county $103,396 for accounting services, according to Ms. Mavro Flanders. In fiscal year 2014, the airport paid the county $102,994. In May, just before the end of fiscal year 2014, she said she expected to pay a similar amount for that year.
The seven members of the airport commission are appointed by the elected members of the seven-member county commission. By statute, the airport commission is solely responsible for the airport.