The Richmond Register

July 5, 2013

Mayors hope to settle airport board dispute on Monday

By Bill Robinson
Register Editor

MADISON COUNTY — The mayors of Richmond and Berea hope a Monday meeting will resolve an impasse over an appointment to the Madison Airport Board that has been simmering for more than six months.

The governments of the two cities, along with county government, which jointly own the Madison Airport, each appoint two members to the facility’s board.

Since the term of Berea appointee George Wyatt expired Jan 1, Madison Judge/Executive Kent Clark has sought to block his reappointment.

Berea Mayor Steve Connelly has not withdrawn the appointment and Clark has remained steadfast in his opposition.

Interpreting the statute governing city-county airports, under which the airport board was reconstituted in 2011, is at issue. It states that board members are to be “jointly appointed.”

Clark said he believes that means all partners must agree to appointments, meaning one can block any other’s appointment.

Earlier this year, the judge/executive said he was seeking a state attorney general’s opinion on the issue, but Friday said an opinion has not been issued. However, Clark said he had talked to the heads of other local governments that are partners in Kentucky airports, and they share his opinion.

Both Richmond Mayor Jim Barnes, who issued the call for Monday’s meeting, and Connelly said Friday they believe two of the three partners can override one partner’s objection.

Barnes said he would support Connelly’s effort to re-appoint Wyatt.

Even if he didn’t like another partner’s appointment and had the power to block it, Barnes said he would not seek to interfere with appointment by either Berea or the county. Connelly said he shared that opinion.

Also Friday, the Berea mayor repeated his belief that Wyatt’s position on the board remains in effect, even after his term has expired. That’s because a new appointment has not been made, and another state statute provides that previous appointments to public boards remain in effect until a new appointment is made.

Clark said earlier this year, he didn’t think that statute applied because the board had been reconstituted.

However, Connelly countered Friday that Clark did not object when Wyatt took his position on the reconstituted board, and the appointment went forward.

Connelly declined to say whether he was prepared to take the issue to circuit court.

“I think we’ll be able to work things out Monday,” the Berea mayor said.

Reconstitution of the airport board took place after Clark had former board chair Eddie Pullins suspended in early 2011, and Pullins filed suit seeking reinstatement.

Pullins and Wyatt, then the board’s secretary, drew the judge/executive’s ire when they acted to secure a temporary airport operator after the former operator exercised an option in its contract to terminate service on Dec. 31, 2010, with little advance notice.

Had he and Pullins not acted, Wyatt has said, the airport would have been without an operator Jan. 1, 2011, and planes that landed would have been unable to buy fuel.

The airport board moved soon afterward to accept all the emergency actions he and Pullins took, according to Wyatt.

However, Clark persuaded the fiscal court to back his move to suspend Pullins, citing what the judge/executive called a breakdown in communication between the airport board chair and county government.

Pullins’ suit was eventually settled without his reinstatement, but the legal action brought to light that the airport board had not been constituted according to statute. The three local governments then moved to re-create the board and appoint members.

 Wyatt has served long and well on the airport board, Clark said in an April interview, but he should remain off the board for an interval. He repeated that position Friday, but in both interviews left the door open for Wyatt’s future return to the board.

Without going into details, Clark said he believed having Wyatt return to the board this year was not in the airport’s best interest.

“I’ve tried to be low key about this,” Clark said of his effort to block Wyatt’s appointment, “because I don’t want to embarrass George.”

However, neither Connelly nor Clark expressed any intention Friday of backing off their positions, and Barnes said he would support Connelly.

Monday’s meeting is scheduled for 2 p.m. at Richmond City Hall, 239 W. Main St.

Bill Robinson can be reached at editor@richmondregister.com or at 624-6690.