Six want appointment to airport commission

The Dukes County Commission can appoint three new commissioners.

The Martha's Vineyard Airport terminal. — File photo by Nelson Sigelman

Six people, including two current Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission members, have requested appointment to the airport commission, against the backdrop of a protracted, expensive court battle, and politically charged atmosphere. The Dukes County Commission, which has authority to appoint airport commissioners, can appoint three commissioners to fill spots which will become available in March when current terms expire.

Dissatisfied with the airport commission’s handling of a dispute involving a longtime employee who was suspended, and later fired, the county commission has already appointed three new airport commissioners in the past year. With three new appointments, county commissioners could effect a near complete turnover of the seven-member commission, giving the new appointees a firm majority.

Airport Commission Chairman Constance Teixeira, a former airline and airport executive who has served on the airport commission since 2006, has asked for reappointment.

Also asking to serve a second three-year term is James Coyne, a pilot, and president of the National Air Transportation Association, an industry lobbying group based in Washington. D.C. There appears little sentiment among county commissioners to renew the terms of the sitting airport commissioners, according to numerous comments at previous public meetings.

Four others have expressed interest in serving on the airport commission.

Myron Garfinkle is a retired West Tisbury business executive and pilot. Bob Rosenbaum is a seasonal resident of Chilmark, a pilot, and founder of three technology companies. Clarence “Trip” Barnes is a Tisbury businessman who sits on the Martha’s Vineyard Commission. John Cahill of Oak Bluffs owns a rental-car franchise based at the airport, and is active on local nonprofit boards.

Dukes County Commissioners appointed Mr. Garfinkle and Mr. Rosenbaum to the airport commission on Sept. 24, after voting to expand the airport commission from seven to nine members. The Dukes County Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction preventing the expansion, and preventing the two new members from being seated.

Current airport commissioner Denys Wortman is not seeking reappointment.

Sitting commissioners Christine Todd of Oak Bluffs — who is also a sitting county commissioner; Rich Michelson, a former employee and union leader at the airport; and Beth Toomey, retired West Tisbury police chief, were all appointed by the county commission over the past year.

According to county manager Martina Thornton, the county commission may discuss the airport appointments at its scheduled meeting on Feb. 11, but no firm date has been set to make the appointments.

The airport commission filed a lawsuit against the Dukes County Commission on April 25, 2014, charging that the county commissioners, county treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders, and county manager Martina Thornton were trying to “unlawfully interfere with, and obstruct the functioning” of the airport. The lawsuit was amended twice to add additional allegations. On five separate points alleged in the lawsuit, the Dukes County Superior court issued preliminary injunctions against the county, and said the county is “unlikely to prevail” in the lawsuit. The two sides are due back in court on Feb. 12.

Legal disputes between the county commission and the airport commission date back to 2002, with more than $800,000 expended on legal fees by both sides.