Mismanagement cited in airport takeover

Published 5:00 am Thursday, July 27, 2000

After discussing the matter behind closed doors at a Junemeeting, city officials are now shedding some light on reasonsbehind dissolution of the Municipal Airport Board.

In the August edition of the “City Record,” a publication thatappears from time to time at city hall, City Attorney Joe Fernaldcites mismanagement and violations of a 1961 airport board enablingresolution as reasons for city action to disband the airport boardand assume control.

Fernald mentions conflicts of interest by board members andfailure to hold meetings as specific violations.

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“Over the past few years no single issue has created so muchmisinformation and confusion when compared to the actual facts,”Fernald writes in response to recent controversy over thefacility.

A new airport operations ordinance, including creation of anadvisory board, is pending before city officials. Fernald said hehoped to have it ready for discussion at Tuesday’s boardmeeting.

In the newsletter, Fernald said it is difficult to say when theboard ceased to function as directed by the 1961 enablingresolution, but it was clear it was not doing so by 1999. Theattorney said airport board members advised city officials ofproblems that called into question the viability of theairport.

Regarding resolution violations, Fernald said at least onemember of the airport board lived outside the city limits, and theboard failed to hold regular meetings and keep board minutes.

However, “the most serious breach of the resolution, as well asthe Mississippi law,” occurred with board members’ conflicts ofinterest, Fernald said. Since the board has members with planesstored at the airport, they had a conflict of interest in settinghangar rental fees and fuel prices because of their directfinancial interest in them.

“They would receive a benefit if those prices were set at alower rate, even if those rates were set at a detriment to the Cityof Brookhaven,” Fernald writes, also mentioning furniture and otheritems stored in some of the hangars.

When reached for additional comment on the newsletter article,Fernald said the city is not pursuing ethics charges over theviolations. However, he said they were a “real concern” among cityboard members.

“It was a real question in our minds how it had gotten into thatposition,” Fernald said.

Fernald indicated the violations were more a matter of notrunning the airport in the manner prescribed by the resolution.

“There’s no graft or theft. It’s just not being done right,”Fernald said.

Jim Duncan, chairman of the now defunct board, defended airportboard practices.

“As far as I know, nothing was done that shouldn’t have been asfar as any wrongdoing,” Duncan said.

Regarding hangar rates, Duncan said he felt they were fair andcompetitive with surrounding communities given the services theBrookhaven airport offers. He said “all hangars are not createdequal,” and looking at different airports is like “comparing applesand oranges.”

The Brookhaven airport has communications, computer weatherforecast services and fuel upon request.

“Other airports offer a great deal more,” Duncan said.

On the topic of fuel prices, Duncan said they were competitiveand mentioned various structures airports use to determine fuelprices. He said some airports may not buy a lot of fuel, and therecould be big differences in prices because of that.

“It’s very difficult to analyze what’s going on when you don’thave all the particulars,” Duncan said.

Regarding board member requirements, Duncan indicated that was amatter of the city appointing the best people for the job.

“You’re looking for the most qualified people in the aviationcommunity, and they don’t always live in the city limits,” Duncansaid.

Duncan said planned meeting agendas were posted at the airport,but board members’ other commitments prevented quorums. Therefore,telephone calls were needed to conduct what business the airportboard had, Duncan said.

Since the city moved to assume airport operation, Fernald saidsome have taken the “low road” of attacking people.

In the newsletter, the attorney said the airport had become apolitical issue because, like others in past years, it has resultedin false accusations and finger pointing. He mentioned airportboard member Gerry Mosley’s 24-minute “attack” on the mayor andboard of aldermen at the June 20 meeting.

“The accusations and charges of this man go unchallenged bymany, but pale in the face of the facts,” Fernald writes.

As was set up, the Airport Board was “a benefit for a select fewwho wanted things to remain the same,” Fernald writes.

Mosley was unavailable for comment regarding the citynewsletter.

Fernald, who was unable to attend the June 20 meeting, said amemo containing much of the information written about in thenewsletter was given to city officials then. However, the memo wasnot read in response to Mosley’s comments.

At the June 4 meeting, after discussing the airport boardsituation in executive session, aldermen voted to disband theairport board. A resolution clarifying that vote was adopted at theJune 20 meeting.

Fernald said the June 4 executive session was needed becausecity officials had been told a member of the airport board hadretained a lawyer and threatened legal action, therefore making itprospective litigation. He said city officials needed to know theirliability regarding the airport and exposure should the airportboard be disbanded.

Fernald said he had unsuccessfully attempted to learn theidentity of the airport board member’s attorney so he could speakto the board.

“Why should we play our hand in open when they wouldn’tcooperate?” Fernald said Wednesday.

Later in the newsletter, Fernald said the airport issue ispolitical because misinformation generated has become “more of anattack on the City Fathers than an investigation of the AirportBoard mismanagement and their role in the alleged unfavorable imageof the Brookhaven Municipal Airport.”

“The Airport Board has been in control these past few years.They held the reins,” Fernald said. “Now they want to blame theCity Fathers for their failure to act when faced with clearmismanagement.”

Duncan believes much of the airport difficulty goes back toconstruction and runway extension efforts. He said that reducedflights in and out of the airport and thus impacted privateoperators ability to run a successful business.

The result now though is a much better airport, Duncan said. Hementioned benefits of the longer runway, including the ability toevacuate large groups of people during emergencies likehurricanes.

“An airlink in times like that is worth its weight in gold,”Duncan said.

Fernald and Duncan agree the time for “accusations and fingerpointing” is over.

“The best thing we could say now is nothing,” said Duncan, whohas been in favor of recent city actions. “Everything is in a niceposture.”

Fernald said the real question is what kind of airport citywants.

“The board needs to in some way clarify the vision of what theairport is going to be,” Fernald said, adding he hoped that couldbe done when new operations rules are adopted.