County Names Four to Board

Airport Commission Appointments Are Made After Several Months of Turnover and Uncertainty; Legal Questions Remain

Gazette Senior Writer

In an anticlimactic meeting, the Dukes County commissioners Wednesday appointed four new members to the Martha's Vineyard Airport commission, the entity that the commissioners have battled for years.

The county commissioners named Fred M. Condon and James S. Craig of Edgartown and Constance R. Teixeira of Vineyard Haven to three-year terms, and John W. Coskie of Edgartown to a two-year term on the airport commission, which has seven seats.

The commissioners, meeting at the county administration building in Edgartown, also named Francis E. Gildea of Edgartown to the remaining open seat on the commission, pending clearance from the state ethics commission. Mr. Gildea would fill a one-year term.

The appointments come after months of uncertainty and upheaval on the airport commission. A string of rescinded appointments and resignations left the board unable to secure a quorum; it has not met since Jan. 5.

At the root of the upheaval was the airport commission's negotiation and approval of a contract for the new airport manager Sean Flynn - which the county has refused to recognize. The attorney representing Mr. Flynn has since notified the airport commission that he is prepared to take legal action concerning the county's decision.

"I do not need to advise the airport commission at this late date that what the county has done is clearly and demonstrably wrong," attorney Harry C. Beach of Norwood wrote in a Jan. 25 letter. "The county's misconduct, as before, subjects the airport commission and the county to suit in superior court for damages."

Mr. Beach represented Mr. Flynn in that lawsuit, launched in 2002 by Mr. Flynn, then assistant airport manager, and William Weibrecht, then airport manager. The managers filed the lawsuit after the county refused to pay the managers salaries negotiated by the airport commission.

A superior court judge last year ruled for the managers.

On Wednesday, the county commissioners voted 4-1 to appoint the four new airport commissioners. Chairman John Alley and commissioners Leonard Jason Jr., Paul Strauss and Roger Wey voted in favor. Commissioner Leslie Leland voted against. Commissioners Robert Sawyer and Nelson Smith were absent.

On the Gildea vote, Mr. Alley, Mr. Jason, Mr. Strauss and Mr. Wey voted in favor. Mr. Leland abstained.

The county commissioners initially named Donald Ogilvie of Vineyard Haven to one of the five seats. But the state ethics commission ruled that Mr. Ogilvie had a conflict of interest and hence could not serve.

In a letter dated Tuesday, Diane M. Meibaum, general counsel at the ethics commission, wrote that Mr. Ogilvie holds a sublease for one of eight hangars in the James Rogers hangars at the airport. As such, she wrote, Mr. Ogilvie has an indirect financial interest in the lease between the ownership of the hangars and the airport.

But Mr. Ogilvie also would have official responsibility as a member of the airport commission, the contracting agency with the ownership of the hangars.

"Accordingly, prior to being appointed to the airport commission, Mr. Ogilvie will need to relinquish all financial interest in the sublease he holds," Ms. Meibaum wrote. "Otherwise, he may not be appointed to the airport commission."

Of the four new airport commissioners, Mr. Condon is a pilot who worked as a chief executive officer of a multi-national company. Mr. Craig, a commercial and helicopter pilot, is chairman of the Katama airport commission. Mrs. Teixeira has worked as a airline station manager. Mr. Coskie has worked as a manager at technology companies around Boston.

The airport commission now is scheduled to meet April 5 at the general aviation building at the airport.

Conflicts, however, linger between the county and the airport. While the county owns the airport, the airport commission supervises its operations. The county and airport commissions have engaged in a turf war for years over control of the airport.

A county commissioner, Mr. Leland, who also has served on the airport commission, continues to challenge actions taken by the county to rescind the appointments of him and Jesse (Jack) Law 3rd to the airport commission.

At Wednesday's county commission meeting, Mr. Leland asked his fellow commissioners to hold off on filling two of the three-year terms - those held by him and Mr. Law - until the Cape and Islands district attorney's office has concluded its investigation of a possible state Open Meetings Law violation.

Mr. Leland filed a complaint with the district attorney concerning the scheduling of a special county commission meeting for Jan. 17. At that meeting, the county commissioners rescinded the appointments of Mr. Leland and Mr. Law that they had made Jan. 11.

Mr. Leland also has complained about a decision by Mr. Davis not to make the appointment letters available to him and Mr. Law. Because the two men lacked the appointment letters, they could not be sworn in - which in turn allowed the county commissioners to rescind the appointments.

In a letter to county counsel Marcia Mulford Cini, Mr. Leland raised questions about Mr. Davis's actions and about the commission's rescission of the appointments. In a letter dated March 17, Ms. Cini responded that the actions of both Mr. Davis and the county commissioners were valid and proper.

Regarding Mr. Davis's actions, Ms. Cini stated that the county commissioners have adopted Roberts Rules of Order as guidelines for meeting protocol and voting.

Under those rules, Ms. Cini stated, "because the next regular meeting of the commission had not occurred, the appointment of Messrs. Law and Leland was still a proper matter for reconsideration and was not final."

As for the rescission decision, Ms. Cini agreed with a previous legal opinion rendered to the county by the Boston law firm of Ropes & Gray that stated the commissioners had acted properly.

Another festering issue facing the county concerns a contract negotiated between the airport commission and Mr. Flynn in early January.

In a Jan. 12 letter, Mr. Davis and county treasurer Noreen Mavro Flanders had notified Mr. Law, chairman of the airport commission, that the county cannot endorse or become a party to any agreement set out in the vote by the airport commission setting the terms of employment for the new airport manager.

Last June, the county commissioners and airport commissioners had agreed that the airport managers would not work under management contracts, but rather as regular county employees. The airport commission set that agreement aside in its decision to award Mr. Flynn a contract.

On Wednesday night, Mr. Davis said the county does not recognize the contract. While the county is paying Mr. Flynn according to its pay scale, at a salary slightly under the $89,000 voted by the airport commission, the county is not going along with other aspects of the contract, including mandated annual salary increases and a severance clause.

In a letter dated Jan. 25, Mr. Beach, the lawyer representing Mr. Flynn, took issue with the county's refusal to recognize the contract. He wrote that without resolution of the issue by Feb. 10 - a deadline that has come and gone - he was prepared to file suit in Dukes County Superior Court.

Yet the county commissioners on Wednesday voted 5-0 to approve a proposed budget for the coming fiscal year that reduced the legal expense line from $25,000 to $15,000.

When Mr. Leland questioned the lower budget for legal expenses, given the possibility for more airport-related legal tussles, Mr. Davis replied that the county commissioners and finance advisory board would meet as needed to discuss further airport legal spending.

The finance advisory board, which has the final local say on the county budget, will hold a public hearing on that budget at 7 p.m. April 12 at the county administration building on Airport Road in Edgartown.

Mr. Law, who probably has chaired his last airport commission meeting, said Wednesday evening he doubts he will pursue legal action against the county. But he said he still believes the county acted wrongly.

"I would have gotten sworn in if they hadn't held back my letter. It just goes from Marc Villa to me," Mr. Law said, referring to a previous airport commission chairman who also ran afoul of the county commissioners. "You do a pretty good job, you just get whacked. The onus is on them. They should be ashamed of themselves and embarrassed by their actions."