Following legal advice, the Nez Perce County Commission decided not to vote Monday on whether to dissolve a joint-powers agreement that governs the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport.
Commission Chairman Douglas Havens told a packed meeting room at the Brammer Building that he included the agenda item to consider terminating the agreement as a placeholder in case the board wanted to discuss the topic. But county Prosecutor Justin Coleman advised him Monday that such a discussion and action would be premature.
The city of Lewiston and the county ratified the joint-powers agreement in 2010, and in doing so created the airport authority board that governs the facility. City and county officials amended the agreement last year in an attempt to right an airport that has lost an airline, fired a manager and seemingly been careening from one crisis to the next over the last year.
Havens said Coleman will now draft an opinion on what termination of the agreement would mean.
“It seemed to be very prudent on the (county commissioners’) part to have that in writing and backed up by case law,” he said.
Coleman said any county action on the airport would be premature, especially in light of a Thursday meeting between airport officials and the FAA that could yield more bad news for the troubled facility. The commissioners should have additional facts after that meeting to help inform any discussion or decision about the joint-powers agreement, he said.
The meeting with FAA officials is tentatively set for 1 p.m. Thursday on the second floor of the airport terminal on Burrell Avenue, but it is not expected to be open to the public. Interim airport Manager Chris Clemens has only invited Havens and Lewiston City Manager Alan Nygaard, so neither the county nor the city would have enough elected officials present to require a public meeting.
County Commissioner Douglas Zenner (who will soon become chairman and take the authority to write agendas from Havens) agreed with Coleman that the item on the joint-powers agreement should not have been on the agenda.
“There’s a hell of an asset up there, and we don’t want to be screwing around and lose it,” Zenner said, noting that a hasty termination of the agreement could have unintended consequences.
Though commissioners decided not to take any action on the joint-powers agreement, several people in attendance paraded to the microphone to air their grievances in what has become a ritual at any public meeting regarding the airport.
Clemens said he was thrown into a panic when he read the commissioners’ agenda. And he again cautioned that the FAA is bringing a group of several people to Lewiston not to help, but rather to warn the airport, city and county that it could shut down the facility.
“We should be worried,” Clemens said, adding his belief that the meeting will be a chance for city and county officials to show their support for the airport, instead of fighting amongst one another.
He said officials from Delta Airlines subsidiary SkyWest have joined the FAA in expressing “grave concerns” about local officials’ ability to operate the airport. He added his support for dissolving the joint-powers agreement, but said it has to be done with advance planning.
Four members of the Lewiston City Council attended the commission meeting, but the city didn’t advertise the fact that a quorum – or majority – of the seven-member body might be present. Mayor Mike Collins, Mayor Pro Tem Kathy Schroeder and councilors Ged Randall and Bob Blakey didn’t interact with each other, but Schroeder and Blakey did make public comments.
City Attorney Jana Gomez said she didn’t consider their attendance a violation of state open meetings law since they didn’t discuss any business amongst themselves.
Angie Stegner, an assistant manager for SkyWest in Lewiston, warned of the continuing presence of county appointee Gary Peters on the airport board since Peters sparked a federal investigation by copying sensitive airport security information from computers after the board fired Manager Stephanie Morgan in November. Stegner also warned the commission against allowing Peters to be at the FAA meeting.
Nygaard took a turn at the microphone, asking elected officials to stop the counterproductive rhetoric and to unite to move the issue forward.
“As long as we’re throwing rocks at each other, we’re not supporting the airport,” he said.
The city council has called a special meeting for 4:30 p.m. Thursday at city hall, 1134 F St., to discuss the “long-term preservation and support” of the airport. The agenda also has a closed executive session for the council to discuss records exempt from disclosure, which will be followed by a possible vote on “airport operations.”
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