Commission Establishes Airport Manager Salary, Discounts Prior Compact

Gazette Senior Writer

Disregarding a prior agreement on airport governance, the Martha's Vineyard Airport commission last night agreed to pay its new airport manager outside the Dukes County employee pay scale.

The commission voted 5-1, with commissioner John Alley dissenting and commissioner T.J. Hegarty absent, to approve a contract for Sean C. Flynn carrying an annual salary of $89,000, which would make him the highest paid county employee. Sheriff Michael McCormack, whose annual salary is $84,582, has been the highest paid county employee. The commission then voted 6-0 to authorize chairman Jesse (Jack) Law 3rd to sign the contract.

Mr. Flynn, who has been the acting airport manager, did not sign the contract at last night's meeting. He said he likely would sign the contract by this morning.

Mr. Flynn attended both a subcommittee meeting, convened to decide what annual salary to recommend, and the airport commission meeting that discussed the terms of his employment. At each meeting, he brought forward a prior management contract used by the airport commission in proposing the terms under which he would work.

Mr. Law said it was 100 per cent appropriate for Mr. Flynn to attend the meetings of the subcommittee and the airport commission to discuss the potential terms of his employment.

Last June the airport commission and the Dukes County Commission, locked in a court battle over manager salaries at the airport, agreed that the airport commission had the power to hire airport managers, but would pay them based on the county employee pay scale. Both commissions also agreed that no separate management contracts would be signed with the airport managers. The commissions approved the plan in formal votes taken a week apart.

The county commissioners appoint the airport commission, a seven-member board that oversees the airport operation. The airport is owned by the county.

The court case was launched in 2002 by then-airport manager, William Weibrecht, and Mr. Flynn, then the assistant airport manager. The judge subsequently found for the managers, and by extension for the airport commission, giving that board the right to set the salaries.

Last night, Mr. Law said the airport commission had voted 4-2 in executive session on Wednesday evening to enter into a contract with Mr. Flynn and to offer him a salary not tied to the county pay scale.

Mr. Law said the airport commission did so in light of the court decision in favor of the managers and the commission. He also said it was appropriate to offer a contract to Mr. Flynn for what is an executive position, just as county manager E. Winn Davis holds a contract for his executive position.

Airport commissioner William Mill last night said the prior agreement with the county commissioners was an interim arrangement made pending a decision in the court case.

Mr. Mill said the agreement was made to provide a potential new airport manager with background on how his hiring would be handled absent a court decision. Mr. Weibrecht had resigned effective last May, leaving a vacancy not permanently filled until last month.

Last June, however, neither the airport nor the county commission described the agreement as interim.

At the time, Mr. Alley, who is chairman of the county commission as well as an airport commissioner, said: "This is the way business is done in the county for the people who work for the county."

Mr. Davis planned to send a copy of both June votes to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), one of the regulators of the airport. At the time Leslie Leland, who is both a county and airport commissioner, said that sending a copy of the votes to the FAA would make it clear that both the airport and the county were on the same page.

Under the contract signed last night by Mr. Law, Mr. Flynn's contract would run for four years and six months. The contract would start as of this past Sunday. The contract would automatically be extended for successive one-year periods.

For each year of the contract following the initial six months, Mr. Flynn would receive a pay increase of five per cent.

Mr. Flynn will be eligible to receive medical benefits for himself and his family through the county. Should the county fail to provide medical coverage, the airport commission agrees to provide such coverage on its own. He also is eligible to participate in the county retirement system.

"I am a county employee who is employed by the airport commission," Mr. Flynn said at last night's meeting. "I have been and would continue to be."

Under the contract, the airport commission can vote to terminate Mr. Flynn without cause, but would be required to pay him an amount equal to his then-annual salary. The commission also can vote to terminate Mr. Flynn with cause, but only following a procedure involving a hearing officer.

At Wednesday's executive session, Mr. Flynn sought a five-and-one-half-year contract and annual pay increases of 6.5 per cent. The airport commission subsequently decided on a shorter contract and smaller pay increases.

In voting a salary of $89,000, the airport commission overruled a subcommittee that was asked to make a salary recommendation. The commission planned to pay the new airport manager between $81,000 and $95,000.

The subcommittee, composed of Mr. Law, Mr. Alley and Norman Perry, voted 2-1 to recommend that Mr. Flynn be paid $85,242, which was tied to a grade and step on the county pay scale. Mr. Law was the dissenter.

In his first full year as assistant airport manager in 2001, Mr. Flynn was paid $58,923. As acting airport manager, Mr. Flynn has been getting paid at an annual rate of $77,206. That figure is the first step on the pay grade of the permanent airport manager. The top step on that pay grade is $92,268.

Salaries paid to the airport managers have been a flashpoint in the relationship of the airport commission and the county commission. The airport commission has held that state law gives it the power to set those salaries independently of the county commission or the county finance advisory board, which has the final local say on county expenditures.

In February 2000, the airport commission hired Mr. Weibrecht as manager at $65,000. In June 2000, the commission hired Mr. Flynn as assistant manager at a salary between $51,000 and $53,000. The commission subsequently voted to increase those salaries. By December 2002, the commission had approved a salary of $95,000 for Mr. Weibrecht and $74,000 for Mr. Flynn.

The county commission, backed by the finance advisory board, said the salaries exceeded its wage classification sale, and paid the managers at lower levels.

In 2002, the two managers sued the airport commission in superior court for breach of contract. The commission in turn sued the county commissioners.

Last July, the Hon. Robert H. Bohn Jr., associate justice of the Dukes County Superior Court, ruled for the managers. Judge Bohn, who since has died, also ruled that the county was liable for treble damages for breach of contract. Attorneys for the county commissioners have appealed the treble damages.

If the treble damages stand, costs and damages may exceed $830,000.