The Dukes County commission reappointed Bob Rosenbaum to the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission in a 4-3 vote Wednesday afternoon, following a letter from the state Ethics Commission saying Rosenbaum’s purchase of an airport hangar did not qualify as a conflict of interest for reappointment.
Rosenbaum resigned from the airport commission last week after he purchased a hangar at the airport. After purchasing the hangar, he contacted the state Ethics Commission, which said there was a conflict because despite municipal rules changing, county rules never did. Fellow airport commissioner Don Ogilvie, who also owns a hangar, is not affected because his hangar contract was before his appointment to the commission.
Rosenbaum said the Ethics Commission found there was a conflict because Rosenbaum was a county appointee with a lease contract from a board that he sits on.
“If that contract had existed prior to my appointment, there would not be a conflict, but since it came about post my appointment, there was a conflict,” Rosenbaum said. “They also pointed out if I was a municipal employee … there would not be a conflict either.”
In a letter to Rosenbaum, Norah K. Mallam, a staff attorney for the Ethics Commission, said the conflict of interest law does not prohibit Rosenbaum from serving on the airport commission due to owning a hangar.
“The conflict of interest law will not prohibit you from serving as an uncompensated member of the MVAC when you already have a financial interest in a lease contract with the MVAC, provided you obtain an exemption to G.L. c. 268A, § 14,” Mallam wrote.
Rosenbaum forward the letter to county commission chair Christine Todd, adding he would file the disclosure form with the Ethics Commission.
Airport commissioners Richard Knabel, Geoff Wheeler, Kristen Zern, Bob Zeltzer, Don Ogilvie, and Jack Ensor sent an Oct. 15 letter to the county commission saying they were “greatly dismayed” that inconsistencies in the state ethics statute led to Rosenbaum’s resignation.
“Bob’s strong leadership is responsible for the operational and financial stability the airport has achieved in recent years,” the letter reads. “His absence is a blow to those achievements, and to the morale of the commission and airport staff.”
While county commissioners did not argue Rosenbaum’s ability on the airport commission, they were nearly split on how to deal with the appointment process.
The vote to reappoint Rosenbaum was approved, with Don Leopold, John Cahill, Peter Wharton, and Todd voting yes, and Keith Chatinover, Tristan Israel, and Leon Brathwaite voting no. Before the reappointment vote, a motion to table Rosenbaum’s appointment was shot down 4-3.
Some county commissioners felt that following previous discussion about county appointments, a process should be followed.
Brathwaite said there are two types of policy and procedures: written policy and past practices. He said the county commission’s past practice was to hold an open process to fill vacancies. “I feel strongly that we should follow our rules to have a process. If we don’t we’re leaving ourselves open to undermining public trust and confidence by not following what we’ve already established to be the process for how we act.”
Chatinover said the county commission never formally codified its appointment process, but also suggested the commission advertise the position for two weeks and interview candidates before making an appointment.
Israel said he was concerned about the situation. “I do have some concerns about this rush by the board, the accusations of sketchy work by the state Ethics Commission,” Israel said. “I think it would give more trust to the public and our process to wait, and I just think it’s the right thing to do. There was an ethics violation. In my opinion it wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. I don’t think Mr. Rosenbaum did anything deliberately to be nefarious, but there was an ethics violation under the state rules we have now.”
Peter Wharton praised Rosenbaum for reaching out to the Ethics Commission and “doing the right thing.”
Cahill said the county commission only came up with guidelines on appointments, not policy or rules. He called Rosenbaum’s situation a “special circumstance.”
“I don’t see why there’s any reason we can’t reappoint him,” Cahill said.
Leopold said reappointing Rosenbaum was not controversial, and since there was no set-in-stone policy, he was OK with making the reappointment.
After his reappointment, Rosenbaum said he would work on filing paperwork. “I’ve spoken to the Ethics Commission, I have the appropriate disclosure already drafted, and because this is a county situation, that disclosure is filed with the state Ethics Commission, and I intend to do that first thing [Thursday],” Rosenbaum said.