During the new Leesburg Town Council’s first meeting of the year, Mayor Kelly Burk proposed some major changes to the town’s Airport Commission.
Burk pointed to the arrival of the airport’s second fixed-based operator last year, this one headed by JK Moving Services CEO Chuck Kuhn, as creating a need to bring more a business-focused approach to the commission. She said both Kuhn and Shye Gilad, the CEO of the airport’s other fixed-base operator, ProJet Aviation, approached her individually to propose some changes to the commission’s membership make-up and responsibilities.
While Burk was effusive in praise for the commission’s current seven members and the work they have done over the years, she said her proposed changes are “a way to make it even better.”
“We need to have different voices. The pilots [on the commission] are not at the airport every day. It would be valuable to them to have different voices besides just pilots,” she said.
Burk pointed to her appointment of Commissioner Lindsay Arrington two years ago, which she said was met with tremendous pushback from commissioners at the time. Since then, Burk said, Arrington, who works for ProJet Aviation, has received praise from her commission peers for her contributions.
“The pushback for that in itself made me realize there needs to be different voices there,” Burk said.
In addition to Arrington, the commission’s current members include Chairman Dennis Boykin IV, who has served on the commission since 2004 and as chairman since 2006, along with fellow longtime commissioner Tom Toth, former Town Council member Hugh Forsythe, Vaughn Allex, Raymond de Haan, Gary Rogerson, and Board of Supervisors representative Jonathan Corcoran.
Among her proposed changes, Burk has suggested expanding the membership of the commission to four licensed pilots who do not have any association with either of the airport’s flight schools or fixed-base operators; one resident with no business connection to the airport, and who lives in one of its surrounding neighborhoods; two individuals, either town residents or town business owners, with experience in commercial business operations that are also unaffiliated with the airport; one non-voting representative from each of the two FBOs; non-voting members from each of the airport’s four flight schools; and the Board of Supervisors representative. As with the current commission, council members would be responsible for making individual appointments.
Burk has also proposed changing the commission’s powers and duties to one that reports directly to the Town Council, much in the same way the town’s other commissions do. Currently, the commission’s powers are a bit stronger, with responsibility for reviewing leases, oversight of airport rules and regulations, preparing and maintaining a capital improvement plan for the airport, and working directly with state and federal aviation authorities, among other charges.
Burk said she did not reach out to the Airport Commission ahead of time to give a heads up about her proposed changes, as she wanted the Town Council to first weigh in on the proposal. She also said she would be fine with the council discussing whether it wanted to entertain changing the commission into an airport authority, which would work independently from the town government to oversee the operation of the municipal airport. That topic was first broached Monday during the council’s work session.
Councilwoman Suzanne Fox said she supported the idea of moving toward an airport authority, but cited hesitation on some of the changes proposed by Burk.
“I’m not sure what the problem is that we’re trying to solve,” she said. “Before we solve a problem, we need to know what the issue is. Why are we calling for limiting pilot involvement? That says to me that we are [saying], ‘hey, let’s get rid of the experts.’”
Councilwoman Kari Nacy said the discussion may be a good opportunity to take a “holistic look” at all of the town’s boards and commissions. The former Planning Commission chairwoman also expressed some concerns about involving the airport’s fixed-base operators in the commission.
“Would that be like having a developer on the Planning Commission,” she asked. “Is that something we really need/want? Is there a conflict?”
Boykin said the proposed changes were disclosed to the Airport Commission when they were released for public view—when the council’s agenda packet was released last Thursday.
“We will be reviewing the changes at our meeting on Wednesday evening [Jan. 13]. I anticipate that we will be providing input to the Town Council for its consideration,” he said.
Boykin declined to share his opinion on the proposed changes ahead of the commission’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting.
At least one airport-based business owner is supporting changes on the commission.
Gilad said he believes there needs to be more equitable representation on the commission, and that its scope should to be more in line with the town’s other advisory boards and commissions. He pointed to the commissioners who have been re-appointed for years, and said that does not allow for much diversity of opinion. Gilad also pointed out that there is a limited amount of time for the public or non-commission members to participate in meetings, and that can limit what information gets to the Town Council.
“Voices are not heard unless the commission decides that they’re heard, and even if you’re the largest employer at the airport you’re only allowed to speak during the open comment session [of the commission meeting]. Some of the largest stakeholders are not being heard officially, and I don’t think that that’s equitable,” he said.
The discussion will continue at the council’s next work session, Jan. 25.