Embattled County Commission Appoints Five to Airport Board

By JAMES KINSELLA
Gazette Senior Writer

The Dukes County Commission Wednesday named five people to the Martha's Vineyard airport commission, even as a replaced airport commissioner has asked the Cape and Islands district attorney's office to investigate the matter.

The county commission named Fred Condon, John Coskie, James Craig, David Ogilvie and Constance R. Teixeira to the seven-member airport commission, pending clearance by the state ethics commission for potential conflicts of interest.

The appointees, selected from a field of 13 applicants, will join commission members John Alley (who also is chairman of the county commission) and Norman Perry.

But one of the replaced commissioners, Leslie Leland, has brought concerns about the appointment process to the district attorney's office. Mr. Leland said he also plans to present the issue to the Massachusetts Secretary of State.

Mr. Leland (who also is a county commissioner) and Jesse (Jack) Law 3rd contend that they were denied due process to remain on the airport commission when the county commissioners reappointed them, but failed to make their appointment letters available.

Because the two men did not receive their appointment letters, they could not be sworn in. That opened the way for the county commissioners several days later to rescind the two appointments.

In contrast, a signed letter was made available to Mr. Alley on Jan. 11, the same day the appointments were made.

At Wednesday's meeting, Mr. Leland told his fellow county commissioners that he had raised the issue with the district attorney's office, and that a letter would be coming from that office.

"I'm just putting it on the table so that everyone is fully aware of it," he said.

In response to Mr. Leland, assistant district attorney Thomas G. Shack 3rd sent a letter dated Wednesday to Mr. Alley, notifying him that the office had received a complaint about a possible violation of the state open meeting law by the county commissioners.

"Please provide this office with a copy of any notices or postings with regard to the meeting that occurred on Jan. 17, 2006," Mr. Shack wrote. "Also please explain where, when and how the meeting postings were made."

At the Jan. 17 meeting, the county commissioners rescinded the appointments of Mr. Leland and Mr. Law that they had made at the Jan. 11 meeting.

Mr. Shack yesterday declined further comment on the issue, saying that the matter is under investigation.

But Mr. Leland said the district attorney's office is exploring whether a chain of communication between county commissioners on the issue effectively created a quorum that led to a decision taken outside an open meeting: the decision to call the Jan. 17 meeting.

Mr. Alley said he called the meeting after hearing from two county commissioners, Nelson Smith and Paul Strauss, that they wanted to reconsider the Leland and Law appointments. Because the men initially voted for the appointments, Mr. Alley said, Robert's rules of order holds they could request reconsideration. County administrative assistant Deborah Potter posted the meeting notice on the morning of Jan. 13.

The sequence of events has raised the question of whether three or five seats were open for appointment on the airport commission.

Despite the controversy, the county commission voted 5-1 at a special meeting Wednesday at the county administration building to name five new airport commissioners. Mr. Leland voted no. Commissioner Paul Strauss was absent.

Mr. Condon, Mr. Craig and Mrs. Teixeira each received five votes. Mr. Coskie and Mr. Ogilvie each received four votes.

None of the other candidates received a majority of the commission's votes. Among the candidates was T.J. Hegarty, the county rodent control officer, who resigned last month from the airport commission in protest over commission practices.

Mr. Condon, an Edgartown resident, has served as a chief executive officer of a multi-national company, and also is a pilot. Mr. Craig, also of Edgartown, is chairman of the Katama airport commission, and a commercial and helicopter pilot. Mrs. Teixeira, a Vineyard Haven resident, is a former airline station manager.

Mr. Coskie, an Edgartown resident, has worked as a manager at technology companies around Boston. Mr. Ogilvie, a Vineyard Haven resident, has worked as chief executive officer of a national bankers association and is a longtime aircraft owner.

"The people who were appointed last night possess outstanding qualities and have a varied background in business and airports," Mr. Alley said yesterday. "I think they're excellent choices. I'm confident that they will do a good job for all the citizens of the Vineyard."

Mr. Leland, however, continues to argue that only three, not five, seats are available on the commission. In his Feb. 24 letter to Mr. Shack, he questions the series of events where he and Mr. Law were unable to obtain their appointment letters.

Among other things, he questions whether county manager E. Winn Davis knew of the probability that a special meeting would be called, and deliberately withheld the appointment letters.

Mr. Davis was on vacation this week. But he said at last week's commission meeting that a number of meetings on that Thursday delayed his signing of the Leland and Law appointment letters. By the time he could sign the letters, Mr. Davis said, he was aware of the motion to reconsider the appointments, so he held off.