County Boards Collide Again

Two Resignations Are Tendered, Two Appointments Rescinded on Airport Commission; Confusion Now Reigns

Gazette Senior Writer

Resignations and rescinded appointments Tuesday shattered the fragile peace between the Dukes County Commission and the Martha's Vineyard Airport commission.

In a tense special meeting punctuated by outbursts in the room and sharp raps of the gavel, the county commissioners voted 5-0 to rescind the reappointments they had made just six days earlier of Jesse (Jack) Law 3rd and Leslie Leland to the airport commission.

Airport commissioners Francis Daly and William Mill then tendered their own resignations.

"The actions taken by the Dukes County Commission in removing dedicated members of the Martha's Vineyard Airport commission can only be viewed as a flagrant abuse of power," Mr. Mill wrote in his resignation letter. "I cannot in good conscience continue to serve while valued members are tossed aside."

County commissioners Nelson Smith and Paul Strauss, who last week voted to reappoint Mr. Law and Mr. Leland to the airport commission, called for the special meeting to reconsider those two appointments. Mr. Leland is also a member of the county commission.

The flurry of resignations and rescinded appointments, including the resignation last week of airport commissioner T.J. Hegarty, leaves the county commissioners with five slots to fill on the seven-member airport commission. The county will advertise for candidates to fill the slots. The response deadline is Feb. 10.

Mr. Law and Mr. Leland remain members of the airport commission until their seats are filled. Neither attended Wednesday's scheduled meeting of the airport commission, leaving the board without a quorum. The meeting was canceled.

Relations between the county and airport commissioners broke down on the issue that has bedeviled the two boards for years: employment terms for airport managers, and by extension the ultimate control of the airport.

On Jan. 5, the airport commission voted to provide a contract to the newly named airport manager, Sean Flynn, and to pay him a salary not tied to the county employee pay scale. Airport commissioners pointed to a Dukes County Superior Court ruling last year that gives the commissioners the right to hire and set the terms of employment for the airport managers.

But county commissioners including Leonard Jason Jr. and chairman John Alley cried foul, pointing to an agreement reached last summer by the county and airport commissioners. Under that agreement, the airport commission would decide which managers to hire, but would set their salaries according to the county pay scale and not enter into employment contracts with them.

Earlier this month, airport commissioners described last summer's governance agreement as temporary, pending resolution of the superior court case. That was news to people such as Mr. Alley, who saw the agreement as standing outside the court case.

Mr. Alley and Mr. Jason also looked askance at the airport commission decision to disregard the input of its search firm, Bennett Yarger Associates of Scituate, in the selection of a new airport manager. Although the search firm did not recommend Mr. Flynn, the commission in early December voted 4-3 to choose him. The commission spent around $18,000 in public funds on the search and related costs.

The special meeting was scheduled for Tuesday at the county administration building in Edgartown. Mr. Leland and county commissioner Roger Wey had prior commitments and did not attend.

Mr. Strauss and Mr. Smith faulted the recent decisions by the airport commission, and the support by Mr. Law and Mr. Leland of those decisions.

"Good people can make bad decisions and bad choices," Mr. Strauss said, adding that he was not adequately informed as to airport-county disagreements prior to the appointment votes.

County commissioner Robert Sawyer, who in his role as temporary chairman had abstained from the original appointment votes Jan. 11, also faulted the commission.

"I think the airport commission used bad judgment in that process in hiring this search firm and then ignoring its recommendations," Mr. Sawyer said. "My first choice all along would have been Sean Flynn. My criticism is of the process, not the result."

Mr. Smith, addressing his move to reconsider his vote, said: "I think a lot of this could have been avoided if, for me personally, I had been a little better informed, if I had better informed myself. I take full responsibility for not being up to speed, particularly over the holidays, over what was transpiring in terms of the contract at the airport."

Daniel Flynn, a former county and airport commissioner, and the father of Sean Flynn, sought to speak before the vote on reconsideration. Mr. Alley denied the request.

"Why?" Mr. Flynn asked. "Are you afraid I'm going to tell them something they're not going to want to hear?

Mr. Alley brought down his gavel.

"Vote, please," he said. The county commissioners then voted 5-0 to reconsider the Law and Leland appointments.

Mr. Alley invited Mr. Law to speak.

"I stand by my decision," Mr. Law said, referring to offering Sean Flynn a management contract. "I think it's a good decision. It's good for the airport."

Precedents exist around the Vineyard for management contracts in government, he said. "You need to be protected, just for stuff like this," he said, adding: "I know how you guys are going to vote. It's too bad. I've been a good airport commissioner. I'm going to be booted out, and that's the way it is."

Mr. Smith then moved and Mr. Strauss then seconded to rescind the appointments of Mr. Law and Mr. Leland. The commission voted 5-0 in favor.

County manager E. Winn Davis then said the county commissioners needed to determine timing for new airport commission appointments.

"Why don't you go to Bennett Yarger and get a nationwide search?" Daniel Flynn called out. "That's the only place you're going to be able to find people to serve on the airport commission," he said, speaking over the rapping of the gavel.

"You're out of order, Dan," Mr. Alley said.

"Of course I'm out of order," Mr. Flynn said. "You're out of order. You're all out of order. You've wasted all of your time. The people in the community are going to have their say."

Mr. Daly then submitted his resignation in writing to the commission. Mr. Mill also submitted a resignation letter.

Daniel Flynn, resuming his comments in a somewhat calmer fashion, said regulators such as the Massachusetts Aeronautical Commission called in the 1990s for guarantees that the airport commission - not the county - controlled the airport.

The county owns the airport. The county commissioners appoint the airport commissioners, who oversee the airport's operation.

Mr. Flynn said the county commissioners were up to their old practice of not reappointing any airport commissioners with whom they disagreed. As soon as airport commissioners disagree with the county commissioners, Mr. Flynn said, their names are dragged through the mud.

"You should all be ashamed of yourselves," Mr. Flynn said. "You have nothing to hang your hat on."

As the meeting went on, Mr. Jason questioned an assertion by Mr. Mill in his resignation letter that the county commissioners were seeking to control the airport.

Mr. Mill said the county commissioners again and again have declined to reappoint airport commissioners who have differed with them.

"Well, I appointed you, didn't I?" Mr. Jason asked.

The events of the last two weeks leave the county commissioners with five seats to fill on the airport commission. They include the three seats resigned by Mr. Daly, Mr. Hegarty and Mr. Mill, and the two seats that have been held by Mr. Law and Mr. Leland.

Mr. Davis said the last two men would continue to hold their seats until new people are named to succeed them. That would continue to give the airport commission a quorum of four with which to conduct business, so long as Mr. Law and Mr. Leland continue to attend airport commission meetings.