Commissioner: St. Clair County Board control of MidAmerica would be 'cumbersome'

News-DemocratJuly 25, 2013 

Decision-making would become bogged down should a proposal be approved to switch control of MidAmerica St. Louis Airport from a seven-member Public Building Commission to the 29-member St. Clair County Board, according to one member of the commission.

Four County Board members, two Democrats and two Republicans, have filed legislation that would put the Mascoutah airport under the authority of the entire County Board as opposed to the Public Building Commission. The proposal will likely be considered by the full board during a meeting on Monday.

The County Board gave the Public Building Commission broad powers to oversee daily operations at the airport in 1996, less than year prior to the airport's opening. The commission currently approves airport expenses, such as service and consulting contracts, and can sell bonds as well. The airport has a budget of more than $5.5 million.

Commissioner Dan Polites said the County Board already has the final say on airport decisions and the current approach is open to the public and elected officials.

"Anytime you have 29 opinions it can get to be really cumbersome," Polites said. "I think the seven commissioners have worked very well together. That's not just politics. You will find that whether running a charity or business. It's good to get as many opinions as possible, but things get passed around and never finalized."

Commissioner Luther Jackson declined to comment. Commissioner Rick Effinger declined to comment until he could study the proposal. Commissioners Rich Sauget Sr., James Nations Sr. and Charles Lee could not be reached for comment. The commission has a vacancy following the death of Commissioner Paul Klinger.

St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern on Wednesday said the proposal would need to be approved by a committee of County Board members and the board has a contract with the commission.

The County Board sponsors of the proposal are Democrats Frank Heiligenstein of Freeburg and Larry Stammer Jr. of Belleville along with Republicans Ed Cockrell of New Athens and David Tiedemann of Shiloh. The sponsors said they believe the change is needed to ensure board members remain informed about the airport and its operation held accountable to elected officials.

"I respect the County Board members position as elected officials. I've served as an elected official myself," Polites said, a former member of the O'Fallon City Council. "Having said that, I think I speak on behalf of the commission when I say we work in the best interest of the public. I think if they would see how we operate they would change their minds."

Commissioners are appointed by the St. Clair County Board chairman with the consent of the entire board. They receive no compensation or benefits, and the commission has separate legal representation from the County Board.

Polites said the current "theme of secrecy" stems from executive sessions concerning issues, such as real estate, litigation or personnel, which must be discussed in private.

County Board members are asked along with the general public to leave the meeting during those closed sessions. The lack of access to these closed door sessions is one of the reasons the four board members proposed the change.

Polites said he agreed County Board members should be able to attend closed sessions of the Public Building Commission meetings.

"I would actually side with them on the fact that they are elected officials and should be present on executive sessions," Polites said. "Currently, everybody leaves except Public Building Commission members and, if requested to stay by the commission, staff members."

Along with MidAmerica, the commission oversees all of the buildings owned by St. Clair County, such as the St. Clair County Building and St. Clair County Jail. The commission was first formed in 1966.

Funding for the commission to oversee the buildings stems in part from lease agreements with St. Clair County. For example, the county's budget anticipates paying the commission more than $4 million in lease expenses related to MidAmerica airport in 2013.

The county collected $10.6 million in property taxes to pay for the lease agreements and other related funding for the Public Building Commission in 2013.

The property tax revenue designated to the Public Building Commission represents about 30 percent of a resident's total tax bill from St. Clair County. This the largest portion of designated tax revenue with the next largest portion, 14 percent, collected to meet retirement benefit obligations.

Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at dkelley@bnd.com or 618-239-2501.

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