Pitts: Have city or county operate airport
Former Grand Junction Mayor and ex-Grand Junction Regional Airport Authority board member Bill Pitts asked Mesa County commissioners Monday to consider disbanding the airport authority board and have the county or the city of Grand Junction take over decision-making for the facility.
Pitts said during the public comment section of a commission meeting Monday that a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe earlier this month at airport administrative offices was a “national embarrassment.” He said he hopes to prevent any future embarrassments by having the city council and/or board of county commissioners take over the authority’s duties.
“The system we have now obviously isn’t operating correctly. Nobody has any idea what’s going on out there,” Pitts said, referring to the investigation.
Records in the investigation are sealed and the FBI has only said the investigation involves fraud allegations against an unnamed member or members of the airport’s administration. Pitts questioned the effectiveness of the airport authority, which decided last Tuesday to conduct its own investigation into what may have caused the FBI probe and to retain airport manager Rex Tippetts.
“What are they going to investigate? The FBI’s got all the records and yet we’ve got an airport manager out there who can shuffle anything he wants to shuffle,” Pitts said.
Commissioner Steve Acquafresca said he likes that the airport authority board, which has three members appointed by the city, three appointed by the county with a seventh approved by those members, includes members who have a background or interest in aviation. Current city councilors and county commissioners “generally lack that knowledge,” he said.
Although some elected officials may have some catching up to do when it comes to learning about the airport, Commissioner Rose Pugliese noted she and the rest of the commission and city council serve on the Persigo sewer system board despite her lack of experience with sewers. She said she was intrigued by Pitts’ idea but has a lot of questions before she makes any decision.
“Obviously what we have right now isn’t working in my view,” she said. “We have some great people over there so it’s not a reflection of the people, it’s just we have to look at maybe doing things differently.”
Commissioner John Justman said he wants to see the results of the FBI investigation before he would consider replacing the airport authority system. Pitts said Grand Junction and one other airport are the only two in Colorado that operate on an airport authority system.
“Only two in the state doesn’t mean it has to be a failure,” Justman said. “It’s probably very important who you have on there for board members and how they hold an airport manager accountable.”
Acquafresca said commissioners are concerned about the events at the airport and have decided to meet more frequently with county appointees to the authority board during this time. The commission typically meets with its appointees quarterly but may have those meetings as often as every month for the time being.