Court to hold hearing on airport tenant case

April 9, 2012
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A show-cause hearing scheduled for next week in the 17th Circuit Court may determine whether the Kent County Board of Aeronautics violated its own rules last February and the previous May in approving a 10-year lease for Rothbury Executive Air at the Gerald R. Ford International Airport.

Northern Air and Grand Rapids Air Center, also GFIA tenants, filed the complaint; Kent County Circuit Court Judge James Sanford will preside over the hearing April 18.

At the February meeting, the aeronautics board approved the lease for Rothbury Executive Air by a 3-1 vote. The aeronautics board has six members, but two were absent, leaving a quorum of four. Robert Buchanan, the airport’s attorney, told the board that its standing rules allow a motion to be approved by a majority of the members present as long as a quorum is present.

Northern Air and GR Air Center, though, claim the vote is invalid because the chair of the aeronautics board can only vote to break or create a tie. The record shows that board Chairman Joseph Tomaselli voted in favor of the lease when the vote was 2-1. The vote wasn’t deadlocked and his vote didn’t create a tie. The record also shows that Kent County Commissioner Ted Vonk, a board member, asked for the measure to be tabled because all the board members weren’t present, but his motion wasn’t supported.

Section 7.3 of the board’s rules states: “All questions that shall arise at meetings of the Board shall be determined by the votes of a majority of the members present so long as a quorum is present. The Chair may vote only to break or create a tie vote to decide a question requiring a two-thirds vote.”

Vonk voted against the lease, while Roger Morgan and Terri Lynn Land joined Tomaselli in approving it.

Northern Air and GR Air Center also are disputing a vote the aeronautics board took in May 2011 when it approved a location for Rothbury Executive Air’s operations. In addition to claiming the approved site violated the airport’s 2004 master plan, the plaintiffs argue the vote breached the same rule when Tomaselli voted. The vote was 3-2 in favor of granting Rothbury two waivers and a variance for its location. Tomaselli’s vote made the final tally 4-2 and gave the resolution a two-thirds majority. Prior to the chairman’s vote, the plaintiffs claim Buchanan said the motion failed.

Last November, Northern Air and Northern Jet Management filed a formal complaint with the Federal Aviation Administration citing the May vote violated the airport’s master plan by allowing Rothbury to locate in an area Northern said is reserved for private corporate operations. Rothbury offers a charter service for freight and business travelers. The FAA is still reviewing the compliant. If the agency finds the board violated its plan, the airport could lose up to $43 million in federal funding for 2013.

The airport’s lease with Rothbury Executive Air is for a term of 10 years with three 10-year options. The lease requires the Muskegon-based company to make $6.5 million in capital improvements to the location and pay rent and fuel fees of $155,000 annually.

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