Reacting this week to a letter from a leading state aviation official questioning their recent choice of appointments to the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission, Dukes County commissioners agreed to stand behind the appointments.

In the strongly worded letter sent last week, Christopher Willenborg, administrator for the Aeronautics Division of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation, challenged the county commission’s appointment of three new members to the airport commission.

Mr. Willenborg demanded an immediate explanation of the county commission’s rationale for appointing Myron Garfinkle, Robert Rosenbaum and Clarence A. (Trip) Barnes 3rd to the airport commission, replacing Constance Teixeira and James Coyne, two incumbent members of the airport commission. A third incumbent, Denys Wortman, did not seek reappointment. Mr. Willenborg said any votes taken by the airport commission could be invalid, and that the action by the county commission could possibly constitute a reorganization of the board, which is not allowed under a set of grant assurances first signed some 20 years ago by both commissions when the new airport was built.

County commissioners reacted with strong words of their own.

“I’d like to have him explain to the governor why he sent this damn letter,” said county commissioner Leonard Jason Jr., referring to Mr. Willenborg. “The guy sends a letter saying what the hell do you think you guys are doing and our response is, we’re doing our job and we’re following the law, in case you haven’t noticed. That would have been my letter,” he added.

“This is a letter from an unelected bureaucrat from Boston, who has overstepped his bounds,” said county commissioner David Holway. “There is no reorganization at the airport, it’s just the normal process that this board has gone through.”

Commissioners voted to send a response by letter with a copy to the governor and legislative leaders, as well as representatives in Congress. The letter is signed by county commission chairman Leon Brathwaite.

“I cannot agree with your assertion that the county commissioners have taken action to reorganize the membership of the Martha’s Vineyard Airport Commission (MVAC),” wrote Mr. Brathwaite. “Rather, the county commissioners have merely exercised their statutory authority to make appointments of their choosing. I am not aware of any law or decision compelling an appointing authority to reappoint any particular person or that a particular commissioner’s reasons for voting for a specific candidate are narrowly confined.”

Voting to send the letter were county commissioners Christine Todd, Gretchen Tucker Underwood, Mr. Brathwaite and Mr. Jason. Voting against were commissioners John Alley and Mr. Holway. Mr. Holway said while he agreed with the response, he would rather not respond at all.

The two commissions are embroiled in a long and expensive legal battle over whether the county commission, which appoints the airport commission, is trying to interfere with airport autonomy.

Both sides are awaiting a decision from the Dukes County superior court on the airport commission’s motion for summary judgment in their ongoing lawsuit. The airport has asked a judge to declare its legal positions valid and dismiss the lawsuit. On March 27, airport commission attorney David Mackey filed an affidavit in support of his motion, using Mr. Willenborg’s letter. On Wednesday, the county commission voted to instruct attorney Robert Troy to file a response to the affidavit with the court.

County commissioners also discussed the decision of airport manager Sean Flynn last week to cancel an airport commission meeting scheduled for March 27, the first meeting in which the newly appointed airport commissioners would be seated. Mr. Flynn said he was concerned after the Aeronautics Division administrator had questioned whether any action of the new airport commission would be invalid.

“I don’t see where he has that authority,” said Ms. Todd, who also sits on the airport commission, at the meeting Wednesday night. She continued: “It’s not beyond the capacity of any one commissioner to call for a meeting and I believe that will happen. As long as we have a quorum, we’ll be able to meet. Hopefully that will happen soon and the first order of business would be to elect a chair, vice chair, get organized and there will be other items on the agenda.”

Reached by phone Thursday, Mr. Flynn said as executive officer of the airport commission, his authority to call or cancel an airport commission meeting is well established in Massachusetts general law and relevant court decisions. He said the chairman of the airport commission has the same authority, but individual members do not. “The open meeting law is very specific, that the chair of the commission can call a meeting,” Mr. Flynn said. “We don't have a chair.”

Ms. Teixeira was the airport commission chairman, but she was not reappointed. The next posted meeting of the airport commission is April 24. “My hope is everything is wrapped up as far as what the state is going to do with those three [new] members,” Mr. Flynn said.

On Wednesday Mr. Holway also questioned the airport manager’s authority to cancel airport commission meetings. “We’ve got a serious lawsuit here that continues to spend money,” he said. “The sooner the airport gets themselves reorganized and look at their agenda, maybe some of these matters go away.” County manager Martina Thornton quickly corrected Mr. Holway’s use of the word reorganized.

Before the discussion of the letter and the response to the most recent filing of the airport commission attorney, Mr. Brathwaite asked the commissioners to go into executive session to discuss strategy related to the lawsuit behind closed doors. Mr. Alley objected.

“That letter was sent to us, plus it was published in both of the newspapers, thereby making it a public record,” Mr. Alley said. “Our response must be in open session, otherwise we run the risk of violating the open meeting law,” he said. Mr. Alley won the support of Mr. Holway, Ms. Todd and Ms. Tucker Underwood, and the discussion continued in open session.