Keep the Airport Authority

Here’s an idea that should not get off the ground, courtesy of former Grand Junction Mayor Bill Pitts: Let’s turn oversight of the Grand Junction Regional Airport over to either the Mesa County Board of Commissioners or the Grand Junction City Council and eliminate the seven-member Airport Authority that currently oversees the facility.

That way, every time there is a political change in the City Council or the Board of Commissioners, the newly elected public officials, who likely will have no background in aviation, can test their personal theories of airport management.

That ought to make for smoother operations at the Western Slope’s largest airport.

Clearly, there are problems at the airport today, as the ongoing FBI probe of the management makes abundantly evident. But, if allegations of fraud on the part of one or more management staff members at the airport are true, then it appears those involved hid it from members of the Airport Authority. They could have just as easily hidden it from the City Council or county commissioners.

We understand Pitts’ frustration with the Airport Authority. During the time he served as a city-appointed member of the authority, he was a vocal critic of Aviation Director Rex Tippetts. But Pitts was never able to muster enough support on the authority to get Tippetts fired. Since Pitts was frequently at odds with other members of the City Council when he served on that body, what makes him think there would have been a better chance of enacting major changes at the airport if the council had been making the airport decisions?

The Airport Authority was created decades ago, when Grand Junction Regional Airport was known as Walker Field. It is made up of three members appointed by the City Council, three appointed by the county commissioners and one selected by the other six. The authority also owns the land and most of the facilities at the airport.

As such, the Airport Authority amounts to a recognition by citizens of both Grand Junction and Mesa County that the local airport is a community operation which is critical to both entities. Any attempt to turn it over exclusively to either the city or the county would likely create significant political infighting. That’s what occurred a few years ago, before the city and county worked out a mutually acceptable agreement on operation of the Persigo Wash Wastewater Treatment System.

Members of the Airport Authority must answer to the city and county and, thereby, to the public. They can be replaced if the entity that appointed them believes they aren’t appropriately performing their duties.

Rather than abandoning a governance system that has served the airport and the community well for a long time, a better alternative is to do as the county commissioners say they plan to do: Elected officials should meet more frequently with their appointed members to the Airport Authority and discuss concerns they or their constituents have.


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