Nez Perce County Commissioner Douglas Havens insisted Thursday that management of the Lewiston-Nez Perce County Regional Airport Authority should be put out for bid.
His comments came during a weekly commission meeting with county Prosecutor Justin Coleman at which Havens elaborated on his opposition to a city of Lewiston proposal to take over management of the troubled airport. He questioned the legality of not having a competitive process to award the contract and said the county might want its own shot at putting together a management plan.
Havens also reiterated his complaints about the “disenfranchisement” of the county’s two airport board appointees because of their inability to get their concerns heard at board meetings.
“We have no representation on the board if the county members can’t get items on the agenda,” he said, with a reminder that the county and city own the airport together. “And we’re sitting here with no authority to do anything. We just keep having more meetings and talking about it.”
As evidence, he cited a Jan. 14 email from airport board Chairman Jim Bennett to interim airport Manager Chris Clemens in which Bennett advised Clemens against granting board member Gary Peters’ request for two confidential executive sessions to discuss personnel matters. Peters is a county appointee and Bennett is a city appointee, and Havens disputed several of the reasons Bennett gave for recommending against the request.
The county has been scrambling to maintain its influence at the airport since the city believes a management contract only requires approval from the airport board and the Lewiston City Council. Still, City Manager Alan Nygaard met with commissioners last week to hear their concerns about the city plan. The city council is set to have a discussion on the proposal at Monday night’s regular meeting.
But approval of the plan is far from certain. Clemens is on a leave of absence from the airport board to serve as interim airport manager, creating the possibility that the remaining board members could deadlock 2-2 on the city proposal and deny its passage.
Coleman wasn’t even sure if Clemens is a voting member of the board. But Clemens hasn’t voted on any airport issues since taking the interim manager position after the board voted unanimously to fire Manager Stephanie Morgan in November.
Coleman told Havens he would inquire with the city and the airport board in an attempt to get answers to that and other questions. He also renewed his call for the city and county to enter into mediation over their disagreements in an effort to salvage the joint-powers agreement that governs the airport.
Coleman said he recently spoke with Lewiston City Attorney Jana Gomez, who responded favorably about the prospect of mediation but asked for specifics on how it would work. And he said a contact at the Federal Aviation Administration has given him the name of a retired FAA mediator who could be hired to lead the process.
Mediation is intended for situations where there is a lack of communication and trust, just like there is between the county and city, Coleman added.
Havens said he has spoken briefly with Coleman about putting together a proposal for county management of the airport, but nothing has been completed. He also railed against the airport board for postponing its January meeting until Wednesday when it has so many pressing issues to address.
Coleman said he has only had the city management proposal for about a day and hasn’t had time to thoroughly review it. But Havens called it cumbersome.
“It creates another level of bureaucracy and oversight that is almost impossible to figure out how you’d stay on top of that stuff,” Havens said.
He also dug up the past, recalling that financial irregularities more than a decade ago were one reason the city and county created the independent airport authority. Havens said he didn’t want to sit by and watch the city retake management of the airport with that history in mind.
“We’re just going to keep doing the same stupid stuff over and over again,” he said.
A county proposal to manage the airport would be minimal and leave airport employees with the airport, Haven’s speculated. Under the city proposal, airport employees would become city employees. Havens also envisions an airport board composed of two city councilors and two county elected officials, so there would be direct representation of each entity’s interests.
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