Updated March 11
Dukes County commissioners appointed three new members to the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission Wednesday evening. They are former AT&T executive John Ensor, landscape company owner and airport business park tenant Fred Fournier, and former Ricondo and Associates partner Geoff Wheeler.
Airport commission member Richard (“Peter”) Wharton lost his seat. Hard feelings didn’t seem evident, however, as he promptly shook Wheeler’s hand. Airport commission chairman Bob Rosenbaum later described Wharton as an “incredibly smart, dedicated, competent member of the airport commission” whose ouster he found “unbelievable.”
He also said the length of time it took for Wheeler to finally be appointed, given his credentials (four years), amounted to a “travesty.”
Diversity-wise, Rosenbaum described Wharton as “the only person of color on the commission,” and lamented that now the commission will be composed of “six white guys and one white gal.”
The commissioners also reappointed Richard Cohen as associate commissioner for the disabled, Rebekah El-Deiry as associate commissioner for youth, and Noreen Mavro Flanders and Robert Whritenour to the board of Cape Cod Municipal Health Group.
Rosenbaum was so perturbed at the county appointment process, which he described as “a display of the county’s dysfunction at best,” that he called for the elimination of “useless” county government — “time to be disbanded.” He described Wharton’s seat loss as a plot by chairman Tristian Israel. “Essentially this comes down to Israel’s grudge,” he said. Rosenbaum said Wharton is commissioner Gretchen Tucker Underwood’s nephew, and alleged that Israel had friction with her about Wharton’s appointment to the airport commission. “Israel has talked continually about how upset he was about that, so this was a payback,” Rosenbaum said. “Peter is a huge loss to the commission.”
Rosenbaum went on to allege that Israel was late or absent for meetings with auditors, and took issue with what he described as Israel’s voting stance of working toward improved cooperation between the airport commission and the Dukes County commission. He said over the past 2½ years, airport commissioners have consistently met with county commissioners and have regularly attended county meetings. He described Israel’s position as “disingenuous” and “ironic.”
Israel told The Times friction between himself and Underwood is news to him. “I am not aware of any friction between Gretchen and myself,” he said. “I have tremendous respect for Gretchen. Mr. Rosenbaum appears disappointed in our selections for airport commissioners. Mr. Rosenbaum has been very vociferous, and I believe he has been aggressively trying to control how county commissioners were going to vote for airport commissioners.” Regarding Rosenbaum’s accusation of being late or absent for certain meetings, Israel said, “That allegation by Mr. Rosenbaum to me shows how his leadership style is flawed and specious.” Israel described Rosenbaum’s suggestion county government be disbanded as a “sour grapes” response that is “not productive.”
When asked what he thought of Rosenbaum’s suggestion about county government, commissioner Keith Chatinover said, “I am very gung-ho to fight for county government, because I think it helps people. There have been many efforts to curtail or abolish county government on Martha’s Vineyard. They have failed.”
To Rosenbaum’s suggestion, Dukes County manager Martina Thornton said, “I believe that it’s up to the Dukes County voters to make that decision.”
Underwood did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment. She is presently on leave from the commission.
Rosenbaum also raised issues with the appointment of Fred Fournier, arguing an airport commission attorney outlined conflicts because Fournier is a tenant of the Airport Business Park, and also the president of the tenants association.
“I have all the respect in the world for Fred,” Rosenbaum said, “[but] he has a serious conflict of interest being a tenant in the business park.” Despite the conflict he sees, Rosenbaum stressed he has no problem with Fournier personally, and described him as a “thoughtful” person.
Rosenbaum said he tried to raise the conflict issue with certain commissioners, but “speaking to Brathwaite and Alley is like speaking to a brick wall.”
In a follow-up email, Rosenbaum wrote, “In conversations with [four] of the county commissioners, I told them that there appeared to be a rather obvious conflict with Fournier on matters related to the business park, of which he is a tenant. The responses I got from all of them were, ‘Well, we are hearing different opinions [from] various people.’ I urged them to contact their lawyer, which they never did.”
Fournier told The Times he went to the ethics commission and received an opinion that cleared him for service on the board. Fournier said there was one caveat. Since he was in lease negotiations with the airport, he was advised he should not be sworn in until the lease is finalized and signed. He said the ongoing litigation with Michael Rotondo’s former Mobil gas station has been a wake-up call to tenants.
“If it can happen to Mike Rotondo, it can happen to any one of us,” he said.
Fournier said business park tenants are facing a 227 percent rent increase while paying real estate taxes on the land they lease, and high water bills.
“We support about a third of their budget,” he said. Despite that, he said investment in the park’s infrastructure has been minimal.
Asked if he will recuse himself from gas station litigation executive sessions or business park agenda items, Fournier said he would not need to, based on the ethics commission’s opinion. So long as his own lease isn’t the subject, he said, he believed issuing a simple disclosure would suffice. When the commission meets on Thursday, March 12, he will sit in the audience as a member of the public because of the unfinished status of his lease.
Updated with additional information about newly appointed commissioner Fred Fournier.