Commissioners vote to take over Authority

Aug. 06, 2013 @ 09:04 AM

After a month of investigation, the saga over who runs the Rutherford County Airport Authority has come to an end.

During their August meeting, the Rutherford County Commission voted 3-2 — with Julius Owens and Bo Richard casting dissenting votes — to essentially remove the current Airport Authority and serve as the Authority for a period of six to 18 months.

The vote came after a scathing report from County Manager Carl Classen which criticized the politics of the current and previous authorities.

"As the County Manager, I stay out of the politics," Classen said. "The politics are toxic. They have been and continue to be and it hurts us."

The report said the bad blood among the members of the Authority, aircraft owners and other members of the community became "acute" after the revelation of a payment of $300,000 to County Commission Chairman Julius Owens for his 10 acres of land — which included a home and various other buildings — when the fee appraisal was for $165,500.

Classen said after consulting with legal counsel, the deal between the Authority and Owens was legal but added to an issue of public trust with the Authority.

"The politics are reflecting on how we have trouble in doing what everyone agrees needs to be done," Classen said.

The report indicated the Authority has doubled the revenue generated from fuel sales in just over a year but other issues such as a lawsuit implicating members of the Authority in an invasion of privacy case and a rumor being spread by an Authority member as overshadowing the positives of the airport.

"It is an asset to all of Rutherford County and I almost stopped there because that is the bottom line," Classen said. "It's a good facility and all the yelling and screaming should not overshadow the fact that people have worked hard for 40 years to make it that way."

Now, commissioners will serve as the Airport Authority for a period to allow for what Classen called the re-establishment of public trust and clarification of the roles of the Airport Authority.

Owens and Richard asked to have the decision postponed until the information from Classen's report could be deciphered and until the next meeting of the Airport Authority, scheduled for Aug. 12, could be conducted.

Additionally, commissioners approved making one of the part-time positions at the airport a full-time position because a part-time position has exhausted the line item funding.

"If we don't do something by Thursday, we will lose this person by Friday," Classen said.

The additional funding for the position will be covered under the current budget pending a mid-year review by Classen.

In other business, commissioners:

• approved a 90-day moratorium on commercial solar farms in the county;

• heard a presentation on the centennial of the Rutherford County Extension and Community Association;

• tabled appointments to the Economic Development Commission to September;

• accepted a report on enhanced recycling requests for proposal;

• approved a resolution allowing for the exploration of moving the Farmers Market to the 1922 building at the Florence Mills location in Forest City;

• approved a policy for declaring surplus property;

• approved proposed budget amendments.