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1/3/2013 County commissioners dissolve Airport Authority

In a split vote, the county commissioners dissolved the Custer County Airport Authority Board during their regular meeting on Friday, Dec. 28.

Giving the nod to the dissolution were commissioners Allen Butler and Lynn Attebery. Commissioner Jim Austin did not agree with the motion and voted no on the matter. Austin also did not sign the accompanying resolution.

The disbanding of the airport authority board took effect immediately and commissioner Butler will handle day- to-day operations until an airport advisory is appointed.

Those appointments will likely be made on Jan. 8.

The airport authority board was initially on the commissioners’ Dec. 28 meeting agenda because three board positions were up for appointment. Airport Authority Board chairman Dale Mullen submitted three names for consideration—Shane Dean, Jill Rowland and Dan Green. Dean was a re-appointment and the other two were new candidates to replace Monty Lee and Patrick Lynch who declined re-appointment. Rounding out the five–member airport authority board was Bob Jolley, whose appointment expired Dec. 2015; Mullen’s appointment expired Dec. 2013.

The three names submitted, said Mullen, were all qualified persons with some type of general aviation experience—Dean, an aircraft mechanic and maintenance director; Rowland, a pilot, flight instructor, ground instructor and airport manager; and Green, a commercial pilot and U.S. Air Force pilot.

Mullen noted two other candidates—Wes Taylor and Bob Giacomelli—had also sent letters of interest. Taylor, said Mullen, later pulled his letter of interest due to medical issues and family obligations. Giacomelli, said Mullen, did not qualify to serve on the board because he lives in Fremont County.

Taylor and Giacomelli have served as airport volunteers for a number of years.

Commissioner Austin made a motion to appoint the three as recommended, however, that motion died due to a lack of a second.

Prior to making his motion, Austin commented he thought the three recommended appointees, along with the remaining two board members, would make for a strong board. He also said it was important to keep the airport authority board complete until the commissioners decided what to do in regards to replacing an airport authority board with an advisory board, which has been under consideration since October 2012.

Austin also asked if he could conduct the swearing-in of the three.

After the motion died, commissioner Attebery commented appointments would be made on Jan. 8 along with other annual local and regional appointments.

Attebery also said he had received a letter of interest from a person who wished to serve on the airport board. That letter of interest was from Dallas Anderson, whose aviation experience includes 20 years in the U.S. Air Force as an aircraft mechanic; maintenance manager, repairable asset control manager; and airfield management, maintenance and repair.

Next, commissioner Butler read a prepared statement. Here is that statement in its entirety:

“I served on the airport authority board for over 25 years and was chairman for some six of those years.

During that time the airport board members worked hand- in-hand with the county commissioners. There were years that the BOCC were difficult and many times the airport board was turned down. The airport board continued to complete the five year AIP (Airport Improvement Plan—submitted yearly) required by the State Division of Aeronautics. The AIP was shared and discussed with the BOCC.

The two groups talked to each other regarding goals and objectives, and work to be done, including the funding of projects deemed necessary to continue operations and enhance safety.

For example, the two groups, the commissioners and airport authority board members, discussed the need for the current operations/maintenance building years before it was ever built. This beautiful and extremely functional building required three years to complete. Grants are typically allowed five years to complete when match dollars are required. During that time, dollars were secured for the cash match.

Also, the security gates that were recently installed was a project in the works when I was the airport authority board chairman. Again, the project was planned in advance so there was time to secure any needed matching dollars.

Over the last two years since I have been commissioner, I have seen that close relationship between the two boards go away.

For example, the commissioners asked the authority board to not build the segmented circle in 2012 due to funding concerns. They did it anyway. The airport board was also asked to not eradicate the prairie dogs at a cost of $5,000; again funding concerns were addressed and ignored.

The security gates had been deemed the most important project for 2012 and the airport authority board was asked to defer the other projects for another year or two to give the county time to secure any necessary cash matches.

Also, in 2011 the commissioners asked the airport board to defer the taxiway/runway overlay. The airport board put it in the 2012 budget anyway.

The commissioners told the airport board that 2014 would be a better year for the county to be able to supply the county match for this large project.

The airport board was also told to ask the Colorado Department of Aviation to allow deferment of the grant proceeds until then, just like what was done with the operations/maintenance building grant.

All of this dialogue seemed to be ignored and the projects moved forward, at least according to the budget the airport board had; not the budget the commissioners approved.

The commissioners were not asking the airport board to not take care of the airport; only that they prioritize projects and have the funding in place before construction began.

Also asked of the airport board was to let the commissioners see all grant applications before they were sent. That never happened even though the commissioners asked to see those grant applications numerous times.

The airport board and commissioners no longer seem to be able to work together as a team.

The SilverWest Airport will not cease to exist. I am pleased that many people in the community realize how important this transportation link is.

In 1984, the then county commissioners saw a need for an Airport Authority Board and such was established. In the State of Colorado, six Airport Authority Boards still exist. Also existing are airport advisory boards.

Both airport boards take care of the day to day operations of the airport including maintenance needs. Both airport boards are comprised of volunteers. The only difference between the two boards is that an airport advisory board does not have autonomy. An advisory board must work hand- in- hand with the Board of County Commissioners.

An advisory board is important for the same reasons as an authority board. These are the volunteers who do the same thing that the authority board has been doing since 1984, which is 28 years.

I cannot see the Airport Authority Board moving ahead when other Colorado counties and municipalities are successfully managing and operating their airports without the use of an authority board.

I believe it is time for Custer County to abolish its Airport Authority Board and move toward operating the county airport with the use of an advisory board.

I move that we do just that—to abolish the Airport Authority Board, effective today via Resolution, and appoint an advisory board on Jan. 8, along with the other county appointments. In the interim, which is 11 days, the commissioners will assume the responsibility for day to day operations.”

Commissioner Attebery seconded Butler’s motion and discussion commenced.

Mullen commented that the commissioners had the authority to take such action per state statutes and asked that if the motion passed did that mean his responsibility to the county airport ceased to exist.

Commissioner Butler responded that it did and he asked Mullen to submit all records pertaining to the airport to the county clerk’s office. Butler’s telephone number was also to be placed on the airport’s phone messaging system as the point of contact.

Taylor and Giacomelli also said they would no longer serve as airport volunteers, effective immediately.

Commissioner Butler commented he was disappointed by the “I’m done” attitude of the airport volunteers. He also invited all airport volunteers and board members to re-apply to be considered for the advisory board.

Butler also said the SilverWest Airport is a $6.3 million dollar asset to the county according to the state aviation department, and that asset, which was started and run successfully by volunteers, would continue to operate as such. “The county airport is not going to go away,” said Butler.

And, said Butler, since an airport advisory board does not fall under state statutes, those board members can live outside of Custer County.

Commissioner Austin expressed sorrow that the commissioners elected to dissolve the airport authority board before trying to solve the problems, and he said he thought the basis of the dissolution was a personality conflict.

Additionally, Austin said he took some of the responsibility for some of the break in communication as he was the designated commissioner liaison with the airport authority board.

Moreover, Austin said he thought the segmented circle and prairie dog eradication projects Butler referred to in his prepared statement were good projects.

Commissioner Attebery said the change to an airport advisory board was not an easy decision, however, it was a decision he felt was necessary. Attebery said he believes a $15,000 to $17,000 a year airport budget is acceptable to the commissioners and the taxpayers, however, a $177,000 budget, which was what the budget grew to in 2012, was not.

Attebery also commented that the county auditor, county attorney and county financial officer had also expressed unease about the spending of the airport authority board. “We have to take into consideration what they are telling us,” said Attebery.

Attebery also said, “I feel the commissioners need to have a lot more to say in what directly happens out there.”

Following the meeting, commissioner-elect Kit Shy, who will be sworn into office to replace Jim Austin on Jan. 8, told the Tribune he thought the decision made by the commissioners to change to an airport advisory board was made by those who were more knowledgeable than he.

Shy also reiterated the comments and statistics he provided during the public hearing held on Nov. 30 to see how residents felt about the proposed change from a county airport managed and operated by an authority board to one managed and operated by the commissioners with the assistance of an advisory board.

Commissioner Attebery made the original motion, and Butler seconded that motion to start the process to dissolve the authority board and switch to an advisory board during an Oct. 31 commissioner meeting. Austin voted no on that Oct. 31 motion.

Part of that process was to conduct a public hearing. Some 90 folks showed up at that Nov. 30 hearing with around two dozen speaking.

At the hearing, Shy said according to information provided by Colorado Counties Inc., in the state of Colorado there are 20 airports such as SilverWest Airport and they are run by counties with the assistance of some type of advisory board; there are six county airports still operating via an authority board; 16 such type airports are run by municipalities; two are run by joint municipal/ county agreement; four are run by towns; and one is a private airport.

At that Nov. 30 hearing Shy also said he had been given the name Hilary Fletcher, who works for Jviation as the director of community and government affairs. Jviation is a consulting firm that does airport master planning and work with the FAA.

Commissioners Attebery and Butler said on Dec. 28 that they had received the same information as Shy.

Just like he said at the public hearing, Shy commented on Dec. 28 that he would like to see the commissioners hold a workshop with Fletcher.

Now that the commissioners have made the switch to an advisory board, said Shy, the workshop with Fletcher would likely help with a smooth transition.

Additionally, Shy said he would like the Fremont County Airport manager to also attend that workshop as the Fremont County commissioners successfully made the switch from an authority board to an advisory board many years ago.

Commissioners Attebery and Butler indicated they would likely schedule such a workshop for late January. “She (Hilary Fletcher) can give us the lay of the land,” said Attebery.

Attebery and Butler also told the Tribune they did not understand why Mullen and others thought the county commissioners would not have the expertise or inclination to maintain the airport in accordance with state and federal standards.

Such comments were expressed by many at the Nov. 30 public hearing and Mullen has also said such at numerous commissioner meetings.

Butler said the county airport is a state airport, not a federal airport, and to his knowledge the SilverWest Airport has always followed state regulations as required

Butler also said that from time to time those state regulations do change and the county would continue to comply with them.

Attebery and Butler also commented the county airport was a county asset and as such the commissioners would take care of it.

Mullen has also maintained the airport authority board and its volunteers were persons whose primary interest was maintaining and operating the county airport to the best of its ability for the economic viability of the community.

Mullen has also said numerous times that he thought the dollars spent at the airport were dollars spent wisely, and often times such as with the segmented circle, the cash match required for grant proceeds was reduced due to in-kind work by airport authority board members and volunteers.

Butler said such in-kind work in lieu of a cash match has also been the case in past years and he did not see that going away. Nora Drenner