Airport commission could challenge county appointments

Airport commission attorney urges county commission to consider appointees free from conflicts of interest.

The Martha's Vineyard Airport is experiencing some turbulence in its relationship with the county commission. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

An attorney for the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission has raised the possibility of more legal challenges, if the Dukes County Commission’s future appointees to the airport commission have conflicting interests that could interfere with airport operations.

Attorney David Mackey of the Cambridge law firm Anderson Kreiger wrote a five-page letter on behalf of the airport commission to attorney Robert Troy of the Sandwich law firm Troy Wall Associates, who represents the county commission.

County commissioners have authority to appoint members of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission (MVAC), according to state law. Several court decisions, and documents known as “grant assurances” that strictly limit the county’s role in airport operations, give the airport commission sole custody and control of the airport, and prohibit the county commission from reorganizing the airport commission or interfering with its autonomy.

County commissioners are set to name three new appointees to the airport commission, who will take office in March. Six people, including two sitting airport commissioners, have expressed interest in the three positions. There is no firm date for making the appointments, according to county manager Martina Thornton.

In the letter to Mr. Troy, Mr. Mackey asked the county commission to consider reappointing airport commissioners Constance Teixeira and James Coyne, who were among the airport commissioners who initiated a lawsuit against the county alleging unlawful interference with airport operations. The Dukes County Superior Court has issued preliminary injunctions in the case, ruling for the airport commission in five separate instances. The court said the county commission is unlikely to prevail in the legal dispute.

Mr. Mackey also asked that any appointees be free from conflicts of interest that could compromise the airport commission’s responsibilities.

“Further attempts at unlawful interference will inevitably lead to additional litigation, increased scrutiny from regulators and potentially significant financial exposure,” Mr. Mackey wrote in the letter, dated Feb. 5. “Appointing airport commissioners with divided loyalties creates legal risks for individual commissioners, imperils the MVAC’s ability to comply with the airport act, the grant assurances and other provisions of federal and state law, jeopardizes the MVAC’s important relationships with, and responsibility to, other airport stakeholders, and, in the worst case, contributes significantly to the rancor and discord which have characterized the MVAC over the past year.”

The two attorneys are due back in court Thursday, Feb. 12, to argue the airport commission’s motion asking a judge to dismiss the long and costly lawsuit which has kept the two boards embroiled in controversy for more than a year.

Mr. Mackey asked for a summary judgment, in effect asking the court to rule in favor of the airport before a trial. A summary judgement would end the case, unless there is an appeal.

The court gave Mr. Troy until Feb, 9 to answer the airport commission’s request for summary judgement.

Faced with a cutoff in funding for the lawsuit, the county commission voted on Nov. 12, 2014, not to further defend the lawsuit, but reversed course on Jan. 14, according to county commission chairman Leon Brathwaite, and will now actively defend itself in court.

The county advisory board urged county officials to quickly settle the lawsuit out of court, and said it will not authorize any more funds for the legal dispute. The advisory board is made up of one selectman from each of the six Island towns, and has responsibility for oversight of county spending.