County appoints two new airport commissioners

The county commissioners declined to reappoint longtime airport commissioner Norman Perry.

The next 20 years are mapped out for the Martha's Vineyard Airport. — File photo by Ralph Stewart

Dukes County commissioners voted last Wednesday to appoint Don Ogilvie and Kristin Zern, both of West Tisbury, to three-year seats on the seven-member airport commission. In doing so, the county commissioners declined to reappoint Norman Perry of West Tisbury, who has served on the airport commission for over a decade.

Five applicants had applied for two open seats on the airport commission following the expiration of Mr. Perry’s term and that of Beth Toomey, who did not seek reappointment.

Mr. Ogilvie has been a private pilot for 45 years. Among other career turns, he spent 20 years as the president and chief executive officer (CEO) of the American Bankers Association. Mr. Ogilvie was a founding associate dean for the Yale University School of Management, and also served as the associate director of the United States Office of Management and Budget (OMB) under the Ford administration in the 1970s. He holds degrees from Yale University and the Stanford School of Business. He is a board member and former treasurer for the Permanent Endowment for Martha’s Vineyard.

Ms. Zern has an extensive background in and around the travel and aviation industries. She worked as the executive director of Travel Marketing Executives, Inc., for 20 years, and also served on the Industry Executive Committee to Help Restore Aviation Industry after 9/11. She is currently a member of the MVY Airport Master Plan Committee.

Mr. Perry did not return calls for comment from The Times on the failure of his reappointment bid.

The appointments mark the last chapter in the latest long and bitter legal struggle between the county commission and its appointed airport commission over control of the county-owned Martha’s Vineyard Airport. Mr. Perry was the last member of the airport commission who successfully went to court to block the county from interfering in airport affairs.

County commission unhappiness with previous airport commissions has been rooted in county efforts over the years to exercise control, often through the county manager, of the state’s only county-owned airport. The issue came to a head when state and federal aviation authorities tied millions of dollars in airport grants to assurances that the county would not interfere in airport affairs.

Over the years, the county commissioners have self-appointed members of the county commission to the airport commission, or appointed county employees and individuals more in line with the county view.

Successive rounds of airport commissioners have rebuffed efforts by the county commissioners to interfere in airport affairs. Several court decisions have affirmed the county commission has authority to appoint airport commissioners, but is prohibited from interfering with the autonomy or independence of the airport commission.

Good choices

Temporary acting chairman Bob Rosenbaum applauded the appointments in a phone conversation with The Times Friday morning.

“They’re very good choices,” Mr. Rosenbaum said, adding that he doesn’t know either of them personally.

He said that Mr. Ogilvie’s financial background will be particularly helpful for the airport commission as it organizes and maintains its records.

“I think one of our challenges is to get the airport’s financial reporting into the 20th century, never mind a 21st century state,” he said. “When you don’t know what your status is financially until three months after the year is closed, it’s not the ideal situation. He’ll really be able to integrate all the various financial-related components.”

Mr. Rosenbaum said he is looking forward to Ms. Zern joining the board.

“I’ve heard very good things about her,” he said.

Mr. Rosenbaum took a moment to reflect on his departing colleagues, Mr. Perry and Ms. Toomey.

“There were certainly some trying times, shall we say, especially the last bunch of years,” Mr. Rosenbaum said of Mr. Perry. “I like Norm personally. I was just concerned about his feelings that he expressed in his interview with the county that somehow the county should be overseeing the airport so ‘we didn’t get into trouble.’”

Mr. Rosenbaum said that such oversight belongs to the airport commissioners.

“Beth Toomey provided some good expertise,” Mr. Rosenbaum said. “She was also there in that period with the new contract, which we had a difference of opinion on, but that was before my time of being a commissioner, because I was approved right before [I] was an official commissioner.”

Mr. Rosenbaum said such conflicts are now in the past, and that he is looking forward.

“I think over the past year we have really brought the airport to a state of really, a level of openness, and moving in a very positive direction,” he said.

Making the airport work

In a phone conversation with The Times, Ms. Zern said she is delighted to have been appointed.

“I’ve been watching what’s happened to the airport commission along the way, the problems and strife that it’s gone through,” she said. “I’m really happy that I can be part of trying to bring it back to normal.”

Ms. Zern’s career, which has spanned the travel sector, has largely focused on improving customer travel experience, something she would like to focus on in her tenure as an airport commissioner.

“I’ve spent my career in travel,” she said. “I have consulted for airports and other places in the industry, and have been on leading commissions and committees for the travel industry. It just seems like a natural thing.”

Highlighting what she described as the “diversity” of the standing airport commissioners, Ms. Zern praised their trajectory.

“I think they’re interested in making the airport work again,” she said.

Ms. Zern was born in Manhattan, and has been visiting the Vineyard since the 1950s. She moved to the Island full-time 10 years ago.

Mr. Ogilvie was similarly optimistic in a phone conversation with The Times on Tuesday morning.

He credited traveling through the airport with allowing him to balance working off-Island with living in West Tisbury. Until his retirement last year, Mr. Ogilvie frequently traveled out of the Martha’s Vineyard airport to Washington, D.C., and New York for work.

He said he plans to focus his attention on airport finances during his term.

“I think it’s a great opportunity and a strong board,” Mr. Ogilvie said.

Mr. Ogilvie was also born in New York City. He has been living on-Island for 46 years.