Commissioners still mulling over Airport Authority future

Jul. 26, 2013 @ 08:28 AM

If they voted today, Rutherford County Commissioners would not be able to reach a decision on whether or not to take over the county’s Airport Authority.

For its Aug. 5 meeting, commissioners will continue discussion over House Bill 290 which gives the commission power to take over as Authority members.

Commissioners pushed for the local bill — introduced by Rep. Mike Hager, R-Rutherford — which was passed by the General Assembly earlier in the session. It wasn’t until news surfaced in July that the Authority paid County Commission Chairman Julius Owens nearly double the appraised value for his 10-acre tract of land near Marchman Field that discussion over taking over the Authority started heating up.

As of today one commissioner said he was in favor of a takeover, while one was opposed and two others were still on the fence. Owens said he intends to ask other commissioners to excuse him from any vote that may take place.

"I want to avoid any improprieties. I will ask to be excused from any and all things involving the airport," Owens said.

But one commissioner said, as things stand now, he would be in favor of a takeover.

“As of right now, I am in favor of the commission taking it over,” said Commissioner Bill Eckler. “I just think circumstances as they are out there right now, it may be the right time.”

Commissioner Bo Richard — who earlier touted the Commission taking over the airport as commissioners not the Authority — said he would not vote to enact HB 290.

“I tried every way to get some accountability and I voted against this going to the legislature and I can’t very well support it now,” Richard said.

Richard said he believed there would be a conflict of interest if commissioners also served as the Authority and there would be a lack of accountability.

“It needs to be held in the bounds of someone that is accountable either by vote or a higher authority,” Richard said. “I say you are putting yourself in conflict if you try to wear two hats at the same time.”

One commissioner on the fence is Greg Lovelace. He cited the same concern as Richard over a potential conflict of interest.

“I want to make sure whatever is being done is being done in the correct and ethical way,” Lovelace said. “I’m not opposed to us taking some action I just want to make sure I don’t rush into any decision without all of the information.”

Commissioner Eddie Holland said he hasn’t decided what to do and is still waiting on more information.

“I always try to look ahead and if we take it over we have to know what our goals are,” Holland said. “Things like how we are going to management and who is going to manage it also need to be discussed.”

He said there were still concerns surrounding the actions of the current Authority to spend $300,000 for Owens’ land when it was independently appraised at $168,000.

“The land deal is probably part of it,” Holland said. “It think they should have focused on the tree but I am mainly concerned with the business part of it and how it is run.

“If I can see that the business of it would be better and less politics if we took it over, I would lean that way.”

Owens said, even though he is not planning to take any vote, he felt the current Airport Authority had performed its duties well.

"I think the current board has done a good job running the airport based on what's been brought before the commissioners and that's what I would base a decision on," Owens said. "They are all pretty hard-working people."

In the event commissioners do vote to enact HB 290, they would serve as the Authority immediately. While the bill does not specify, the Commission could opt to remain as the Authority, appoint a new Authority or appoint an advisory committee.

Rutherford County Manager Carl Classen was tasked with presenting a full report on the Authority to commissioners for their Aug. 5 meeting.

“It’s not a matter of me being against anything I just want to make sure we are doing it right,” Lovelace said.