Rosenbaum resigns from airport commission

Ownership of hangar is considered a conflict of interest.

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Bob Rosenbaum, shown here during a 2018 field trip to the airport, has resigned from the airport commission citing a conflict of interest. -Gabrielle Mannino

Bob Rosenbaum, chair of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission, has resigned effective immediately.

At the commission’s meeting Thursday afternoon, Rosenbaum cited an ethics commission ruling after he purchased a hangar at the airport. He purchased the hangar after one he had been renting for years was being sold.

“I couldn’t find another hangar to rent, so I decided to buy the hangar I was in,” Rosenbaum said. “I contacted the state ethics group to find out what disclosures I needed to file, and they, after a lot of back and forth, head-scratching, so forth, basically came back and said there is no disclosure to file. There is a conflict. Oddly enough, if the airport were owned by a municipality, as Norwood and Nantucket and Beverly and Fitchburg all are, this situation would not be a conflict.”

He explained the municipal conflict rules were updated, but the county regulations never were. He added that commissioner Don Ogilvie, who also owns a hangar, is not affected because his contract predates his appointment to the commission.

In a conversation after the meeting, Rosenbaum said the airport’s hangars are set up like a condo association. The leases are all 20 years, with an option to renew for 20 years, with fixed lease payments. The hangar he purchased has four years left on its lease. He said he would understand it being a conflict if he were a contractor seeking a contract to supply asphalt for a runway, but the hangar is just a place to house his personal aircraft.

Rosenbaum told his fellow commissioners he was told after he resigned, the county commission could reappoint him and there would be no issue.

“Don’t ask, this is government at its best,” Rosenbaum deadpanned during Thursday’s meeting. “As of now this will be my final meeting and we’ll sort of see what the county winds up doing. If it is my last meeting, it certainly has been a great six years — very productive — and I’ve really enjoyed working with all of you. I really enjoyed getting to know you all. So thank you for all your support through the years.”

The idea of him being reappointed is something his colleagues immediately pounced on. Commissioner Bob Zeltzer suggested a strongly worded letter to the county commission urging Rosenbaum’s reappointment, which commissioner Richard Knabel agreed to draft.

“Bob Rosenbaum provides a lot of historic context, especially for me, in continuity which we will sorely miss if he was not here,” commissioner Jack Ensor said. He helps provide a unified voice for the airport commission, Ensor added.

“We should make our feelings known and see what happens,” commissioner Geoff Wheeler said. Wheeler pointed out that the county commission may want to open up to more applicants.

There was a suggestion that airport staff sign the letter supporting Rosenbaum, but it was decided that would be inappropriate.

A noticeably emotional Rosenbaum said he appreciated the commissioners’ outpouring of support for his reappointment. “I thank you all immensely for your vote of confidence,” he said. “We’ll see what happens. It’s up to the county.”

During that separate conversation with The Times, Rosenbaum said he has served as chair for four and a half years. “I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s been a big time investment. I think it’s been very productive,” he said. “I haven’t done it myself, by any means. We have a really good group of commissioners. Everyone is dedicated and focused on what’s best for the airport and not feathering their own nest.”

The county commission meets on Wednesday. Christine Todd, chair of the county commissioners, said she would consider reappointing him if she can clarify what he’s said about being reappointed. 

“I’m trying to get clarification on that,” she said. She noted that the ethics commission likely won’t tell her about another individual. She has asked Rosenbaum for a copy of the decision.

She said the vacancy will be on the commission’s agenda Wednesday.

In the interim, Ogilvie will take over as chairman of the airport commission.

In other business, the commission moved its November meeting, which would have been on Nov. 11 — Veterans Day. The commission will meet instead on Wednesday, Nov. 10.

Knabel said the airport’s finances look solid, which he attributed to fuel sales. “Really quite elevated and substantially increased our cash position,” he said. The airport was about to pay off a federal anticipation note (FAN) for a runway project. “As of [Friday], with the FAN paid off, we will be debt-free temporarily. We are really looking quite solid as far as finances are concerned,” Knabel said.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Whomever the County decides to appoint, if that is the process as described, there must be an open invitation to all islanders, rather than a rubber-stamp. Islanders want an airport commission that doesn’t turn MVY into BOS.

  2. This must be a joke? The guy gets an ethics ruling in his favor and he is still fired? Now tell me how does leasing a hangar cause any conflict? Maybe he could not vote on a hangar issue, but that’s it. He probably only has a sub lease anyway and did not lease the hangar directly with the airport. If we use this logic anyone that flies on Cape Air can not be a commissioner as they are using airport facilities,

  3. Rosenbaum did not get a favorable ethics ruling. MV Airport is owned by the County, and Airport Commissioners, under state statute, are considered county employees even though they receive no compensation. Purchasing a hanger while an Airport Commissioner, under the Ethics Statute, is considered an unresolvable conflict. However, if Bob had owned the hanger before he was appointed, or if the Airport was municipally owned (as opposed to the county) there would be no conflict. Go figure.
    It gets better: If the County Commissioners reappoint him, and they should, the conflict goes away because he will have owned the hanger before he was appointed. Such technicalities are why we have lawyers.

    Bob Rosenbaum’s leadership as chair of the Airport Commission is responsible for the operational and financial stability the Airport has achieved during his tenure. He has the unanimous and enthusiastic support of the other six Commissioners (of which I am one). Not reappointing him would be a travesty, a disservice to the Island, and to him.

    • I suspect Rosenbaum only has a lease with the primary owner or Manager of the Hanger. Therefore he had not leased anything from the airport, the owner or Manager of the hanger has.

  4. The airport hangers function as a condo. The condo association, of which the hanger owners are all a part, holds the lease with the Airport. A hanger renter has a lease with the owner of the hanger, which is a private arrangement. More legal technicalities, which the Ethics Commission interprets, rightly or otherwise. However, the recent legislation changing the ethics rules for municipally owned airports did not include county owned airports, of which there is only one in the commonwealth: Dukes County. It was just sloppy work. An unnecessary and now contradictory distinction.

    • I see your point but I’m not sure its correct. The hangar condo owner signs their lease with the condo manager. The condo manager signs the general lease with the airport, not each condo owner. Therefore Rosenbaum and no lease or contract with the airport.

      • Would you have any problem with the CEO of the of the airline with the most flights to the Island being on the Commission?
        The CEOs of any the major carriers that serve the Island?
        Read the article, he owns the hangar.
        Read the article, he quit.
        No doubt there more issues than just the hangar, other frictions, this is an Island.

      • I own a hangar. A condo member has no lease with the airport. Each building has a general.manager who signs the county lease, not each owner condo member.

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