Members of the Leesburg Airport Commission have asked the Town Council to pump the brakes on changes to the structure of the panel, following a proposal by Mayor Kelly Burk.
Commissioners met for a special meeting Wednesday night, one week following a sometimes-contentious commission meeting where Burk was questioned on her decision to present the sweeping changes, which were first discussed at the Town Council Jan. 11. Among her proposed changes to the Town Code section governing the commission were changing membership to include non-voting representation from the airport’s two fixed-base operators and four flight schools, and taking away some of the commission’s current powers.
In a letter sent to the council Friday, ahead of the council’s planned Monday work session on Burk’s proposed changes, commissioners ask the council to defer action until after the Town Plan re-write is completed. That is expected to happen at some point later this year.
“The consensus of the Commission is that, based on a multi-decade track record of the Airport Commission working harmoniously with the Council and Staff, additional time and resources, as well as public input, are needed in order to properly address these proposed changes,” the letter reads. “Historically, the Commission has worked successfully to grow and develop the airport, so major changes should be carefully studied to elaborate on the purpose for the changes, the problems that changes are focused on, and how these changes will affect the businesses and customers of the airport. It is also the sense of the Commission that changes should be made in consonance with the upcoming Town Plan, taking into consideration the Town’s desires for the appropriate roles of all Commissions in the future.”
Commissioners also underscored the need for an open public process in considering any changes, and suggested a working group should be formed, consisting of members of the Town Council, Airport Commission, and the staff. The letter goes on to recommend that the working group be charged with creating a mission statement and objective for the airport that coincides with the new Town Plan; gathering input from members of the airport, business and residential communities; providing opportunities for multiple business stakeholders at the airport to have input; and researching the applicability of an independent airport authority. The group would then report back to the full council with its recommendations.
On the option of creating an airport authority, the letter stated that commissioners shared Burk’s curiosity about whether that would be the best move for the municipal airport. An airport authority is an independent entity charged with overseeing the airport. If the town moves in that direction, Leesburg could look to some of its neighbors for examples. Winchester Regional Airport is run by an airport authority, with board members from five neighboring local governments—Frederick, Warren, Shenandoah, Clarke and the City of Winchester. On a larger scale, the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority manages both Washington Dulles and Reagan National airports, and is governed by a 17-member board of directors, with members appointed by the governors of Virginia and Maryland, the mayor of Washington, DC, and the president of the United States.
“As the airport grows, and additional developments are considered, a closer study of the benefits and costs of an independent Airport Authority is in the Town’s best interest and should be completed before making any changes to the current [commission] structure,” the letter said.