The future of the Leesburg Airport Commission looks to be a continued point of discussion throughout the year.
The Town Council this week moved forward with a Airport Commission-endorsed response to Mayor Kelly Burk’s proposed commission changes, presented in January. Rather than moving forward with Burk’s plan to change to both the membership makeup of the commission and some of its roles and responsibilities, the council instead chose to form an ad hoc committee to study the vision, mission, and responsibilities of the commission, along with its membership makeup.
Vice Mayor Marty Martinez was chosen to serve as chairman of the ad hoc committee, and council members Kari Nacy and Neil Steinberg will also serve with him. From the Airport Commission side, Vice Chairman Dan Duenkel, with Chairman Dennis Boykin assisting, will also be a part of the committee. The committee will also include two airport hangar tenants, Tom Saxon and Charlie Bobbish, and one representative from each of the 11 airport-based businesses will be invited to participate. There will also be a representative from the Economic Development Commission, to be determined by its members. Airport Director Scott Coffman and Economic Development Director Russell Seymour will provide staff support to the panel. The committee will serve until July 1, unless the council provides an extension. A date for the first meeting has not yet been set.
Burk’s proposal in January drew the ire of Airport commissioners, who said they were caught off guard with no advance notice. Her stated desire to have more of a business-first focus to the airport offended some, who felt that the commission has always had an economic development focus. It was her proposal that led the commission to instead advocate for the ad hoc committee approach.
Burk has been vocal about her preference to see the airport’s current and future fixed-base operators, ProJet Aviation and SK Aviation, respectively, be a part of the Airport Commission. Both had reached out to her with that stated desire, she said. She had proposed having both represented on the commission as non-voting members, but current commissioners have raised concerns about of fairness. Limiting business representation on the commission to the airport’s two FBOs excludes the other nine airport-based business, they stated, and could have the airport run afoul of its grant obligations.
That same argument was raised during Wednesday night’s commission meeting, and pointedly at Steinberg, the commission’s council liaison. The previous evening, after the council voted to create the ad hoc committee, Steinberg attempted to find support to initiate a Town Code amendment to include the FBOs as ex oficio members on the commission. Councilwoman Suzanne Fox did not support a motion to suspend the rules to consider that initiation, so the vote was not taken. However, Steinberg did find support from four of his colleagues to add the topic to the council’s next work session, Feb. 22.
Commissioners on Wednesday night questioned Steinberg why he was attempting to make such a change when that is one of the items the not-yet-convened ad hoc committee would be studying.
“Putting them ahead of the study, that blows my mind. Where did that come from,” Commissioner Tom Toth asked. “Ultimately what the mayor wants she’s getting putting the FBOs in there.”
Commissioners also pointed out that Scott Kuhn, president and CEO of SK Aviation, who was present during the commission meeting, had never raised objection to the process endorsed by the Airport Commission, nor had he expressed that he felt excluded from commission business. Toth said it was ProJet Aviation CEO Shye Gilad who was the one pressing for immediate changes.
In defending his action, Steinberg said, without naming names, “if you talk to at least one of the FBOs it’s a different picture entirely.”
“We have voices on both sides. We have to listen to all the voices, and we have to make decisions based on what we hear,” Steinberg said. Putting the FBOs on the commission sooner, “is not necessarily a permanent decision either. What comes out of this ad hoc committee will be the determining factor for the structure.”
Boykin emphasized that “you can’t treat businesses unequally because they’re bigger,” and said he’d already heard from two airport businesses on Wednesday that they were prepared to file a complaint.
“You’ve already been briefed that that’s going to be an issue. I don’t understand why you would do that,” he said.
The commission will convene again next Tuesday evening to discuss Steinberg’s proposal to have the FBOs empaneled immediately on the commission.
Wednesday night, the commission moved forward with the formation of a business operators subcommittee, to serve under the Airport Commission. That subcommittee will have representation from all 11 airport-based businesses, and will be included in all commission meetings and correspondence. The members of that subcommittee will select its chair. Boykin said it’s an idea the commission has been working on since the fall, and will be a good way for businesses to have more of a voice in commission business.