Airport commission chairman pushes, but manager refuses to jump

Embattled Martha’s Vineyard Airport manager Sean Flynn said Friday he has not stepped down.

File photo by Nelson Sigelman

Martha’s Vineyard Airport commission chairman Myron Garfinkle of West Tisbury said Sean Flynn, airport manager, will soon be leaving as airport manager. Mr. Flynn has another take on the imminence of his departure.

PIcking his words carefully in a telephone conversation Friday morning, and invoking the careful guidance he said he had received from lawyers, Mr. Garfinkle said, “We are in the process of negotiating an amicable separation.” Mr. Garfinkle said assistant airport manager Deborah Potter is now managing the airport.

Mr. Garfinkle said the best professional search firm will be hired to guide the airport commission in its search for a new airport manager.

In an email to The Times Friday, Mr. Flynn said it would be inaccurate to say, as was reported in the Vineyard Gazette, that he has decided “to step down.” Mr. Flynn said he has not decided to step down and remains committed to fulfilling the terms of his current three-year contract. “I will consider all my options as they present themselves, but at this time nothing has been presented,” he said.

Mr. Flynn is in the second month of a new three-year contract worth $138,882 annually. Under the terms of the contract, if the airport commission dismisses Mr. Flynn, the commission must pay him through the end of the three-year contract. He may be dismissed for cause under certain specified conditions.

Mr. Garfinkle, a pilot and businessman appointed in March makes no secret of his unhappiness with Mr. Flynn’s stewardship of the airport as it relates to a recent report by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that highlighted four areas of concern that included two points of non-compliance.

Asked why he had decided it was in the best interests of the airport to separate from Mr. Flynn, Mr. Garfinkle said he was not allowed to discuss personnel issues.

Asked when the discussion of a separation began, Mr Garfinkle cited a recent annual FAA inspection in May that highlighted a long overdue aircraft rescue and firefighting (ARFF) building construction project, the lack of a wildlife management plan, poor employee performance, and inadequate runway markings that prompted what he said was a FAA letter of investigation.

“The main thread that began to unravel revolved around the FAA’s letter of investigation,” he said.  

Mr. Garfinkle said the airport commission determined that the airport was not going in the right direction.

Mr. Garfinkle and vice-chairman Robert Rosenbaum described the outstanding issues at an MVAC meeting on Thursday, August 13, after meeting a Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) representative at the airport on August 11.

“The FAA made it clear that we have not made an effort to correct these non-compliance issues over a significant period of time, and in some cases in well over a year,” Mr. Garfinkle said reading from a prepared statement. The airport is under an October 15 deadline to address markings on the runway and create an adequate wildlife management program.

Conditions to meet

Airport manager Sean Flynn was not present at the meeting on August 13. In an earlier telephone conversation with The Times, Mr. Garfinkle said that Mr. Flynn was on vacation.

On Friday, Mr. Flynn said he remains available to Ms. Potter “and the airport 24/7 as I always have been.”

Mr. Flynn’s contract took effect July 1 and is worth more than $416,000.

The contract automatically renews for one year, unless the airport commission gives Mr. Flynn notice that it does not intend to renew the contract one year before the end of the three-year contract term.

Under the terms of the contract, if the airport commission dismisses Mr. Flynn, the commission must pay him through the end of the three-year contract. The commission, by majority vote, could terminate the contract for cause by meeting a number of conditions. The commission must give the airport manager 30 days notice of the vote, as well as time to correct any deficiencies identified. The commission must also conduct an impartial hearing at least 10 days before the scheduled vote.

New faces

The airport commission that voted to approve Mr. Flynn’s contract is not the airport commission that will preside over his departure.

Airport commission chairman Constance Teixeira and commissioners James Coyne, Denys Wortman, Norm Perry, and Beth Toomey approved the contract. Commissioner Christine Todd, who is also a county commissioner, and Rich Michelson, a former airport employee, voted against the contract.

Ms. Teixeira, Mr. Coyne and Mr. Wortman are gone. Ms. Teixeira and Mr. Coyne unsuccessfully sought reappointment to the airport commission by the Dukes County commission amid a long running battle between the county commission and the airport commission for control of the county-owned airport.

In March, the county commissioners voted to appoint Mr. Garfinkle, Mr. Rosenbaum, and Trip Barnes to three-year terms on the airport commission, bypassing the two incumbents.

The county vote continued a purge of the airport commission that began with the ouster in April 2014 of Ben Hall Jr. of Edgartown and John Alley of West Tisbury.

In their stead the county appointed Ms. Todd, and Mr. Mickelson, a sharp critic of Mr. Flynn. The county later appointed Beth Toomey, a former interim county county commissioner, to a vacated seat.

Norman Perry of West Tisbury is the only remaining member of the airport commission that initiated the lawsuit that was ultimately decided in favor of the airport commission.

Local preference

The airport commission voted in December 2005 to hire Mr. Flynn. In selecting Mr. Flynn for the job, the airport commissioners spurned the four candidates selected by a professional consulting firm hired at a cost of $13,500 to conduct a search for qualified candidates.

In the initial vote, the airport commissioners split 4-3 between Mr. Flynn and Timothy Bradshaw, the manager of Owensboro-Davies County Regional Airport manager in Owensboro, Kentucky.

Mr. Flynn began working at the Martha’s Vineyard airport in 1993 as the security coordinator. In 2000 he was hired as the assistant airport manager, and in May of that year he was appointed the acting airport manager, after former manager, Bill Weibrecht, quit following a long-running dispute with Dukes County officials who refused to pay him the full amount stipulated in his employment contract.

Mr. Flynn, who by many accounts has done a good job as the acting airport manager, was the least experienced out of the five candidates vying for the airport manager job. However, what one airport commissioner called “the Island factor” gave Mr. Flynn a key advantage.

Not everyone agreed on the importance of the Island factor.

Norman Perry, then an airport commissioner, voted in favor of Mr. Bradshaw.