Authority trades barbs over possible takeover

Jul. 10, 2013 @ 08:49 AM

Rutherford County Airport Authority members got into a heated discussion over a possible takeover by the Rutherford County Commission during the Authority's regular July meeting Tuesday night.

Authority members Robert Ralph and Keith Hunter exchanged words after Ralph suggested the Authority vote in favor of a takeover.

"You (Ralph) have been trying to get rid of us for a long time and I am tired of hearing all the whining and the crap because of it," Hunter said.

The issue stems from House Bill 290, a local bill passed by the General Assembly during this session that allows the County Commission to serve as the Airport Authority at its discretion.

Conversation over a potential takeover gained steam after news regarding the purchase of land owned by Commission Chairman Julius Owens at nearly twice its appraised value by the Authority.

During their July meeting last week, commissioners asked Rutherford County Manager Carl Classen to gather information to determine what would happen if the county took over management of the airport.

Ralph asked for the item to be on Tuesday's agenda and gave his approval to the measure, if the county chose to dissolve the Authority.

"This is something I would like to see happen," Ralph said. "I would like to the county take it over."

That sparked an immediate rebuttal from Hunter.

"You don't want to go by the rules," Hunter said.

But Ralph countered that if the county were to take over the airport, "it would end talk about secondary agendas at work."

"You've had an agenda ever since you got here," Ralph said to Hunter.

"My agenda is to be honest," Hunter responded. "I can't be bought off."

Airport Authority Chairman Bob Howard said he received a letter from Classen asking for various information at the request of commissioners.

"If it happens, we are dust," Howard said. "If they take over, we are history. It is their prerogative and if they want to do it, they will do it.

"I have sent over the information and it will be up to the County Commission to do the job."

In other business, the Authority:

• examined a potential draft commercial lease agreement. Howard said the document will be turned over the Authority attorney Beth Miller for examination;

• reviewed the placement of two towers by private business. The Authority has to examine any new tower construction that may be in the path of the airport. The two towers discussed were on West Main Street in Forest City and Old U.S. 74 Highway southeast of Bostic;

• approved keeping Howard as chairman of the Authority and Hunter as vice-chair.