Martina Thornton was sworn in as the new county manager on Wednesday evening. Mrs. Thornton, who served as executive assistant to the county manager for four years, said she is pleased with the contract she negotiated with the seven-member elected commission last week in executive session.
The terms of Mrs. Thornton’s contract include an annual salary of $67,709.
In an interview yesterday Mrs. Thornton said as she takes on this new role at the helm of county government, she hopes to contribute to “effective county government that the Islanders will see as useful. From being here for four years and working with the county manager, I feel like I can contribute. I can step up and fill in the position and be an asset, and help the county move forward.”
Dukes County government has come under scrutiny in the last few years as county government has gradually been taken over by the state. But Mrs. Thornton defends the niche of county government.
“If you talk about county government, it does sound like it’s big and not personal,” she said. “The veterans agent, the health care access program, The youth task force, the Mass in Motion program . . . the treasurer’s office that generates many grants . . . these are things people don’t know about. If you want to talk about how the county is not useful, imagine what would happen without those services. When [people] talk about the county, they should be thinking about all these things county government structure is able to provide.”
Mrs. Thornton, 36, a Czech Republic native, has a law degree from the University of Prague. Before moving to the Island in 2000, she worked for the Department of Finance in Prague. On-Island she worked as a paralegal for two law offices in Edgartown, and ran her own business, bookkeeping and preparing taxes for small businesses for several years. She has worked as a treasurer and clerk for Island Fuel since 2007. After spending summers here for a few years, Mrs. Thornton moved to the Island in 2001 to marry her husband. They have two children, both boys.
She will hire an assistant to replace herself, but said she plans to modify the job description to make it more of a clerical position, with less responsibility in some areas. In her new post, she will work closely with county treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders and county commission chairman Melinda Loberg, as well as Sean Flynn, manager of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport, and the other county and airport commissioners. She described her working relationship with the seven-member county commission as “very good.”
As she moves to a larger office this week, Mrs. Thornton looks forward to having an assistant of her own, and “many more years of hearing that I’m doing a good job. I will be happy if I can hear that,” she said.
She begins her two-year term with a sense of optimism. “I got really good feedback from the community, and I really value that,” she said. “I feel good about it. It gives me assurance that I made the right choice.”
The county commissioners have begun their discussion of priorities for Mrs. Thornton’s term. Immediate priorities include reviewing and revising the 2013 budget, as well as working with the six Island towns to create memorandums of understandings for county programs including the Integrated Pest Management program and the Vineyard Health Care Access Program. She also plans to oversee a grant-writing initiative on behalf of the county and the towns, in accordance with the county commissioners’ stated expectations during the county manager search process.
In fiscal year 2014, pest management and health care access, regional programs managed by the county, will be financed exclusively by the towns. Mrs. Thornton is charged with meeting with town government leaders to figure out how they want the programs to be managed. “We need to know what they expect as far as management,” she said. The county is uniquely qualified to manage these Island-wide programs because it is a regional entity, she said. “We need to work with the towns to make sure programs they are asking the county to run with run according to their expectations,” Mrs. Thornton said.
Russell Smith, Mrs. Thornton’s predecessor, resigned from the position May 1. The search for the new county manager, which began in mid-April, was delayed when the initial pick for the position, New Hampshire attorney Katherine Rogers, declined the offer in early July, citing personal health reasons. Nineteen people applied for the position last spring.