Airport commission seeks to hire interim airport manager

The resignation of acting manager Deborah Potter leaves the Martha’s Vineyard Airport without a certified manager.

Former assistant airport manager and current acting airport manager Deborah Potter will step down in March. – Photo by Cathryn McCann

The Martha’s Vineyard Airport will soon go from an acting airport manager to an interim airport manager, even as it conducts a search for a new airport head.

In August, the airport commission named assistant manager Deborah Potter acting manager following the ouster of former airport manager Sean Flynn. On Feb. 11, Ms. Potter submitted a letter of resignation, effective March 18.

At a meeting of the airport commission last Thursday, acting chairman Bob Rosenbaum said the airport will hire an interim manager to fill in from March to May, when he expects a new, permanent airport manager will be in place.

“We absolutely need a certified manager to take care of the airport; that was made very clear by the FAA [Federal Aviation Administration] as well as the Massachusetts Department of Transportation,” Mr. Rosenbaum said.

The airport is working with a search firm to fill the interim position by March 7 under the terms of a four-month contract with a salary no higher than $64,000 and no benefits. Mr. Rosenbaum will make the final hiring decision, “given the timeframe,” he said.

At the same time, the search firm has winnowed a pool of 40 applicants for the manager’s job down to 13 candidates considered strongly qualified.

A search committee has been put together to evaluate the candidates. Mr. Rosenbaum, commissioner Clarence “Trip” Barnes, and Island residents Robert Wasserman, a security analyst who was involved in untangling a previous airport knot, Joseph Carter, former Oak Bluffs police chief, and Jim Malkin of Chilmark sit on the committee.

“We were looking for people who had a broad range of knowledge of the Island and the airport, and also had been involved in doing searches and hiring high-level people,” Mr. Rosenbaum said.

The airport commission is looking to hire a manager by the middle of May.

Sudden resignation

In a press release issued Feb. 11, then-acting airport commission chairman Rich Michelson announced Ms. Potter’s resignation: “On behalf of the MVAC, we thank her for the dedicated service to the airport and the Island community. We wish her all the best in her future endeavors.”

The announcement of Ms. Potter’s departure is the latest chapter in a long and tangled airport story that has included a series of lawsuits between the Dukes County Commission and the airport commission over control of the airport. The county commissioners are responsible for appointing the members of the airport commission, which is statutorily responsible for the airport.

Ms. Potter, the former assistant airport manager, assumed the manager role in August after the newly reconstituted airport commission placed Mr. Flynn on administrative leave, citing a number of airport deficiencies. Mr. Flynn was then at the start of a new three-year contract.

A series of meetings, mediation sessions, and legal threats ended with a negotiated settlement and Mr. Flynn resigning from his post in December.

Ms. Potter’s letter of resignation was straightforward and provided little information. She said the resignation was due to “a variety of personal and professional reasons.”

“As appropriate, during the next 30 days, I will work to resolve any transitional issues and will try to prepare as much information as possible to assist current and future staff with the transition,” Ms. Potter said.

She has declined to elaborate on her decision to resign.

Investigation concluded

Just prior to Mr. Flynn’s imbroglio with the airport, the Island’s commercial airport came under fire following an annual FAA inspection. FAA representatives cited a number of airport deficiencies and handed airport officials strict deadlines to address the problems, including the delayed construction of an aircraft rescue and firefighting building, a deficient wildlife management plan, and the necessity for newly painted runway markings.

In August, the FAA threatened withholding future funding and retracting the airport’s Part 139 status as a commercial airport if it did not meet those deadlines.

At Thursday’s meeting, Ms. Potter said she had just received a letter that day from the FAA announcing the closure of the investigation on the airport. She said FAA representatives are pleased with the timeliness of the airport officials’ responses to the deficiencies, and will not pursue legal action pending ongoing compliance with regulations.

Mr. Rosenbaum thanked Ms. Potter for her efforts in “turning a very bad situation around.”

“I also received a message from the FAA … reiterating that they are very pleased with the progress that was made to address all the discrepancies,” he said. “The attitude that Deb brought to the effort really turned the situation around into one of cooperation and viewing the FAA as a partner to ensure that we have a safe airport.”