Airport authority heads to Lansing

February 13, 2015
| By Pete Daly |
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Kent County’s proposal for an airport authority to run Gerald R. Ford International Airport will now move to the Michigan Legislature in the form of a request for enabling legislation.

Language for the county’s suggested enabling legislation was approved by the Board of Commissioners last Thursday.

The next major task for board members is to begin drafting the articles of incorporation for the airport authority, spelling out in detail exactly how the airport authority will work and ways in which the county board will maintain basic control of it.

Commissioner Stan Stek said the commission’s deliberations will now become “more complicated.”

Commissioner Roger Morgan told the Business Journal the articles of incorporation are “where the rubber meets the road.”

Morgan chaired the county’s Airport Governance Study Steering Committee that recommended creation of an airport authority, which would be less constrained by the laws and policies to which county government is subjected. The theory is that the authority would be more independent and have more flexibility, enabling it to respond more quickly to trends and market changes, thus increasing use of GFIA by business and leisure travelers.

The Federal Aviation Administration, which has provided significant funding for development of GFIA over the decades, requires state legislative approval for major changes in operation of publicly owned airports, in the ultimate interest of air traffic safety. The enabling legislation would amend the Aeronautics Code of the State of Michigan to permit the creation of regional airport authorities by local units of government.

The draft enabling legislation supported by the county board stipulates the GFIA airport authority board would be comprised of five to nine members appointed by the county board. Up to 45 percent of the authority board may be elected officials; full-time local government employees are not eligible. Members may only be removed by the county board and only “for cause” (absences, convictions, breach of duty, etc.)

A key element in the goal of making GFIA a regional airport is the inclusion of at least one authority board member from outside Kent County. The state law currently does not allow board members from outside Kent County.

Stek, an attorney, told the Business Journal previously that creation of a Kent County airport authority to run GFIA is virtually irrevocable because to do so would require a return to the legislature for further amendment to the law — a process not taken lightly.

Morgan said at a commission committee meeting last week he was sure there would be a great deal of deliberation on the articles of incorporation because it will essentially be the “boiler plate” details on how the airport authority operates.

Kent County Corporate Counsel Tom Dempsey told the Business Journal work will start on drafting the articles of incorporation even before the legislature has passed the enabling legislation, “so that we can keep things on track from a time perspective.”

Legislators will not be involved with Kent County’s articles of incorporation for an airport authority, according to Dempsey.

The airport authority will be dealing with major issues that could include seizure of property adjacent to the airport for runway extension under the eminent domain legal process. Because of that, the articles of incorporation may require more than a simple majority vote to approve certain actions. A super majority requirement — two-thirds of the entire board — may be spelled out, said Dempsey, to provide “a higher threshold to make sure those decisions are being made correctly.”

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