After a surprise shakeup in leadership last week, the Martha’s Vineyard Airport has a new director. Deputy director Geoffrey Freeman will succeed Cindi Martin, who is leaving for personal reasons. The decision had the unanimous backing of the airport commission.

But the process stood in stark contrast to 15 months ago when the commission went through an exhaustive public search for a new director to replace Ann Richart, who had decided not to renew her three-year contract.

In interviews this week, airport commission chairman Bob Rosenbaum and Mr. Freeman shed more light on the personnel changes, detailing a rapid process that took place largely out of the public eye and occurred over the past two weeks, beginning with Ms. Martin’s surprise decision to retire and ending with the unanimous decision to appoint Mr. Freeman as the new airport director.

They also further explained the decision to pass over Mr. Freeman last year for the job, and the apparent rapid change of mind that gave the commission the confidence this year to promote him.

Mr. Rosenbaum, who has served as chairman of the airport commission since 2018, said the changes began about two weeks ago, when Ms. Martin informed him of her intention to retire for personal reasons.

“We spoke, I said I totally understood and respected her decision, and was certainly sorry to see her go,” Mr. Rosenbaum said. “Then we discussed what, from her recommendations, if I had my own thoughts . . . that Geoff would be the natural choice to succeed. And she wholeheartedly agreed.”

Over the course of the following week, Mr. Rosenbaum said he called each of the airport commissioners individually to inform them of Ms. Martin’s decision. Every commissioner independently voiced support for Mr. Freeman as her replacement, Mr. Rosenbaum said.

The chairman said he firmly believed that the communication between board members did not constitute a violation of state open meeting laws because he did not share individual commissioners’ opinions with one another outside of a public session.

The Massachusetts Open Meeting Law is generally construed to prohibit any deliberations toward a decision by public officials outside of a public meeting. The law allows for communications between individual members of a public body, unless there are multiple communications among the members that together “constitute communication among a quorum” of that body.

The seven-member airport commission is a public body, appointed by the county commission and subject to the provisions of the open meeting law.

“I can talk individually with each commissioner, so long as I don’t share anything among the various commissioners, which I did not,” Mr. Rosenbaum said. “So it was basically just telling each one. And they all came back, without any prompting, saying that their individual choice was Geoff . . . I was the only one who knew what all the commissioners said. It was fairly unanimous. It was a pretty simple decision.”

The decision was not so simple 15 months ago, when commissioners were deciding on a replacement for Ms. Richart and passed over Mr. Freeman following an extensive public search.

Mr. Rosenbaum said Ms. Martin emerged as a clear front-runner, especially given her expertise in airport finances. “If Cindy had not come along as a candidate, I suspect Geoff would have been promoted,” he said. “But seeing a comparison of the two candidates, what really convinced everybody I would say was Cindy’s financial savvy, and her statement that she sort of summarized as, ‘I want to see where every penny is coming from, and I want to see where every penny is going,’ was the one thing that we lacked with Ann Richart. Finance was not her strength. And the airport was really having difficulties getting a good financial picture of where we were . . . Geoff wasn’t immersed in the finance . . . and he’d never been in the top slot.”

An outside consulting firm hired in 2018 had flagged numerous issues with financial reporting and accounting at the airport. During Ms. Martin’s brief tenure, airport finances have improved tremendously, according to members of the finance committee at public meetings.

Speaking to the Gazette this week, Mr. Freeman said he thought hiring Ms. Martin was the right move for the airport at the time.

“I felt their decision to choose Cindy was absolutely the right decision to make,” Mr. Freeman said. “I always knew that the opportunity would come up again at some point.”

Mr. Freeman, who has spent most of his long career at the airport in operations, said he learned a great deal about the ins and outs of airport finance during his year working under Ms. Martin. Mr. Rosenbaum said Ms. Martin recommended Mr. Freeman for the job “without hesitation.” And when Mr. Rosenbaum called the other commissioners last week, he said they all felt similarly confident in Mr. Freeman’s readiness.

At the meeting last Thursday, commissioners voted unanimously to promote Mr. Freeman with little deliberation.

Mr. Rosenbaum said he felt there was no need for a public interview process for two main reasons: first, commissioners knew they had a strong in-house candidate, and second, the coronavirus would complicate a more extensive search.

He added that the public had an opportunity to observe the interview process 15 months ago, and suggested that the airport commissioners likely had a firmer grasp on the requirements of the director position than the general public.

“The ‘quote’ public just does not have any understanding for what the qualifications for a candidate are,” Mr. Rosenbaum said. “This is something that the commissioners have been appointed to do and have responsibility for, and to have the delegated authority to go and do. And I would say, given the time and effort we have all put in, and our understanding of the airport, we have done a pretty good job.”

He added:

“Geoff, a combination of his intelligence and his understanding of the airport’s operations, and being born on the Island, certainly brings to the position all of the sensitivities that the public has expressed.”

As for salary, Mr. Rosenbaum said the decision to pay Mr. Freeman less than Ms. Martin came down to a difference in experience. Ms. Martin was paid an annual salary of $165,000, plus a $2,000 monthly housing stipend. Mr. Freeman made between $107,000 and $110,000 as deputy director, according to him; in his new position his salary will increase to $135,000.

The number was negotiated between Mr. Rosenbaum and Mr. Freeman, and settled on after Mr. Rosenbaum spoke individually with other commissioners, outside of the public meeting process.

“Each commissioner gave me their thoughts. I did not share those numbers with any other commissioner. But they were all within a couple thousand dollars of each other,” Mr. Rosenbaum said. “[Mr. Freeman] doesn’t have Cindy’s experience. If he had 20 years of experience as an airport director, that would have been a different story.”

Mr. Freeman said it was his recommendation that the airport not immediately hire a deputy director. He said commercial airport traffic had declined by approximately by 70 per cent since the pandemic began, and that if there was a rise in traffic a deputy director would become necessary.

He said he looked forward to his new role, and was confident that the commission, despite making a different choice this go-round, had once again made the right one.

“It’s big shoes to fill with the incredible job that [Cindy] has done,” Mr. Freeman said. “But I feel confident in the foundation that she’s built, and the staff, knowledge and procedures that are in place. It’s not just one person . . . to make the airport successful. It’s a team effort in my mind. I feel good about it.”