Updated May 1
Dukes County commissioners learned Wednesday that recently appointed airport commissioner Fred Fournier stepped down abruptly. He had yet to be sworn in. On the coattails of that news, commissioners learned that Dukes County emergency manager Chuck Cotnoir resigned from his position.
In an April 28 letter to Tristan Israel, chair of the county commissioners, Fournier wrote that it was his desire to focus his energy on his landscaping business during the pandemic.
“Thank you very much to you and your colleagues at the Dukes County Commission for appointing me to a position on the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission,” Fournier wrote. “After considering this opportunity carefully, I have made a difficult decision not to accept your offer. I believe that at this point it is better that I concentrate my efforts on getting my business of 40 years through this very difficult and challenging time. Also I do feel it is more valuable for me to actively focus my time and efforts on behalf of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Business Park Tenants Association where I hold the position as president. It was a pleasure meeting you, your members and staff. I appreciate the time and the consideration you extended to me. Hopefully the opportunity will arise again in the foreseeable.”
The commissioners did not discuss Fournier’s departure much except for the need to give notice the position is open again. Fornier’s company, Landscope, is a tenant in the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Business Park.
Fournier later told The Times he reopened his business on Tuesday and had to shepherd 14 or 15 two-person crews and that he has a responsibility to make sure those people keep getting their paychecks. He also said he’s formed a group called the Martha’s Vineyard Landscape and Irrigation Group to help lobby for more working latitude for certain types of landscaping during pandemic restrictions.
Bob Rosenbaum, chair of the airport commission, later told The Times Fournier faced ongoing conflict of interest issues if he remained on the board. Fournier was appointed in early March along with John Ensor and Geoff Wheeler. Had he stayed on, he would have had to recuse himself from many board proceedings, Rosenbaum said. An ethics commission decision precluded Fournier’s participation on the board until lease negotiations between Landscope and the airport concluded. However, since Fournier’s appointment, Rosenbaum noted that the issue was resolved as the airport commission extended “virtually every” tenant’s lease at the business part until July, 2021. Nevertheless, he said he believed Fournier’s conflicts would have persisted and hobbled his role as a commissioner. He recalled Fournier only participated in two meetings, both of which he observed as an audience member.
Fournier said he did not find Rosenbaum welcoming.
“He just does not want to have any representation from the business park on his board,” he said. “I just got some pushback from Bob that just was really uncomfortable.”
Fournier said he believes he’s “more valuable working on behalf of the tenants association.”
He said the tenant’s association has hired an attorney to help them negotiate with the airport. Rosenbaum described the retention of the attorney as a prelude to litigation. Fournier said there’s no lawsuit brewing.
Fournier’s departure leaves the seven-member commission with an even number of six participants, however Rosenbaum expressed confidence three to three deadlock votes were unlikely to occur before a replacement joined the commission. Fournier could not be immediately reached for comment.
For reasons not made clear at the meeting, Cotnoir departed his emergency management post. Israel informed the board that he and Dukes County manager Martina Thornton learned Tuesday night Cotnoir was calling it quits. Israel said details would be disclosed at next week’s commission meeting. He also said Thornton has assumed the role of county emergency manager. Cotnoir could not be immediately reached for comment.
Updated to include comments from Fournier. -ed.