Saturday, May 31, 2014

Airport Commission Bickers Over Its Own Rules, Policies: Martha's Vineyard Airport (KMVY), Vineyard Haven, Massachusetts

In a tense meeting Friday, members of the Martha’s Vineyard airport commission sparred with each other and airport staff over procedures and policies governing the Island’s only commercial airport.

It was the second regular meeting since the recent reorganization of the commission, which saw the appointment of a new chairman, Norman Perry, and two new commissioners, Richard Michelson and Christine Todd.

At the time of their appointment by the county commission last month, Mr. Michelson and Ms. Todd pledged to work to bring change to the embattled airport commission, which is currently engaged in two separate lawsuits in superior court, and was named in a workplace discrimination complaint in December.

But at the meeting Friday morning, the two raised concerns that their voices were not being heard.

Among several heated exchanges that took place, Mr. Michelson pressed Mr. Perry to reveal current policies regarding non-union employee use of drugs and alcohol.

“My concern is public safety here, it’s a big, huge issue here, and I think we need to have something in place immediately, and if we don’t have something in place, I would like to know that,” Mr. Michelson said.

The commission has been working on developing an employee handbook for non-union personnel, but the process has taken longer than anticipated.

A draft policy, produced by airport counsel, was sent to airport manager Sean Flynn more than a month ago, but commissioners have not yet received a copy.

“You said, Norm, that there were pieces of personnel policies and procedures concerning the manger and non-management employees, and again, one of the my biggest concerns is that substance abuse, alcohol drug policy because again, that is an issue of safety for the public, for the employees who work here at this airport, for people walking down the street, for people who work here everyday,” Mr. Michelson said. “So I would like to know, when can I have what you have now?”

Mr. Perry responded that he wasn’t sure if the existing policies had been “cleansed yet.”

“These are policies you have had in place for how long? And they are not cleansed or vetted?” Mr. Michelson said.

Mr. Flynn the airport manager said the topic was related to litigation and was not appropriate for the table at the moment.

“Sean, I am talking to my fellow commissioners here, if I need to ask you something, I will ask you something specifically,” Mr. Michelson said.

“I don’t need to be berated,” Mr. Flynn said.

Airport counsel Susan Whalen, one of two attorneys present for the meeting via conference call, advised that the airport receives federal funding and is therefore covered under the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988.

Mr. Michelson asked again whether there were current policies in place for non-union personnel.

“Don’t answer the question,” Mr. Flynn coached the chairman.

Finally, Mr. Perry said there were lots of things in place, but that the airport commissioners would receive the new policies when they were ready.

When Ms. Todd asked Mr. Perry whether the personnel board had received the new policy, Mr. Flynn interjected again.

“Say you don’t know if you don’t know,” Mr. Flynn told Mr. Perry.

Ms. Todd redirected her question to personnel subcommittee chairman Constance Teixeira.

“I don’t know,” Ms. Teixeira said.

“You don’t know? You are the head of the personnel committee, and you don’t know?” Ms. Todd inquired.

In a separate discussion of procedure, Ms. Todd asked for the protocol for getting an item on the meeting agendas.

Mr. Perry said that topic was not on the agenda.

“We will discuss it at a later time,” Mr. Perry said. “Period.”

Mr. Michelson said he didn’t like Mr. Perry’s attitude.

“You are being autocratic,” he said.

Later, though, Mr. Perry elaborated on the agenda procedure, saying commissioners could call or email him with proposed agenda items. He said he would take notes and review it with management staff, and get back with an answer.

Ms. Todd said she had emailed an agenda item request, but had been told doing so was an ethics violation.

“I think it might benefit all of us if we had a visit from the state ethics commission to sort of review open meeting law and processes pertaining to email communication and that sort of thing,” she said.

She indicated that she had other business to discuss, but Mr. Perry stopped her.

“They are not on the agenda, so they are over,” he said. “Give it to me in an email, talk to me in the hall, but there are no other discussions going on here other than what is on the agenda. And now, it’s my turn, if you don’t mind.”

Mr. Michelson questioned the proceedings.

“When I first got here, I talked about open and transparent government, and I don’t think that is happening right here.”

He said he would try to get on the agenda for a subsequent meeting.

“Hopefully, that is not a problem, because I have things to say that need to be brought out into the public, and I feel like I am being stymied right now.”

Though part of the agenda read, “time reserved for any topic not reasonably anticipated by chair,” Mr. Perry said that was for last-minute items brought to the table by management, a group he defined as himself and the airport manager.

Ms. Whalen the attorney confirmed that the chairman has total authority over the agenda items.

“No one has a right to speak until they are recognized by the chair,” she said.

Fallout from a complaint brought by the airport against the county occupied another part of the meeting.

Early in the meeting, county manager Martina Thornton offered information about an ongoing compensation study for various county and airport employees. The consultant agreed to conduct the study with five non-union airport positions at no cost to the airport.

Ms. Thornton said she would like the minutes to reflect that she was appearing as an ex-officio, non-voting member of the body, a position granted to the county manager in the county’s administrative code and Massachusetts General Law.

But a few sentences into her explanation, the chairman cut her off.

“The airport does not have an ex-officio according to Chapter 90, so you if you are there as an interested citizen, fine, but if you are there in that capacity . . .” Mr. Perry said.

Two weeks ago, the airport sued the county, claiming among other things that the county manager is not entitled to sit as ex-officio member of the airport commission. The lawsuit claims that that Chapter 90, the state legislation that governs airports, makes no provision for an ex-officio member.

Litigation counsel David Mackey, also participating via conference call, confirmed the position of the airport commission on the matter.

“We anticipate that the court will rule soon on that issue, but in the meantime, my advice is that the commission not recognize any ex-officio, non-voting members,” he said.

Mr. Perry asked Ms. Thornton if she wanted to sit in the meeting as the county manager, but not as the ex-officio.

“Personally, I would like to hear what she has to say about this,” said commission member Denys Wortman.

Discussion followed, with the commission ultimately voting to include up to five more positions in the compensation study.

During a break, a member of the public shared his concerns about the way the meeting had been conducted.

“This is my first airport committee meeting in six or eight years, maybe 10 years,” Myron Garfinkle began, before being interrupted by Mr. Wortman, who questioned the timing of his remarks.

“He has to be recognized by the chair,” Mr. Flynn said.

“This is a break, we are on a break, okay? This is America,” Mr. Garfinkle said. “I would just like to say that I have never seen anything run without regard to Robert’s Rules of order so blatantly in my experience ever, and that your commissioners ought to be familiar with the rules of running a meeting, for your own protection.”

Commission member Peter Bettencourt said he was familiar with the rules of running a meeting. Mr. Flynn said that was why the attorneys were on the phone.

“I just wanted to say, I have never seen anything quite like this,” Mr. Garfinkle said.

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