Beware flying politicians

July 31, 2013 

St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern is convinced a political setting cannot work to attract business to MidAmerica Airport. Curious, seeing as the airport itself is a business wrapped in a political setting.

Kern's most recent challenge -- aside from drug addicts in the courthouse and both state and federal probes of disability discrimination -- is a mini-mutiny by County Board members over the secrecy in which MidAmerica Airport's ventures are conceived.

We've seen decades of boondoggle and pie-in-the-sky schemes to justify MidAmerica's continued existence. We're north of $150 million in losses exclusive of the $250,000 handed to a Wall Street huckster, the $750,000 to a failed passenger airline and the $2.15 million given so a produce company would take a $5.7 million refrigerated warehouse off our hands when flowers didn't fly. Now details surface about a proposal to sell more than 250 acres of county land so a group can build medium-haul cargo prop planes from scratch. Surprise!

A bi-partisan group of County Board members said, "Enough. We want to be kept in the loop. We want to do the jobs for which we were elected." They propose putting the airport back under their control instead of under the watch of a group that was originally formed to oversee new air conditioner purchases, building expansions and janitorial services.

Kern's response was that you can't trust a bunch of politicians to negotiate sensitive deals with airport tenants, you need business people -- his definition for his Public Building Commission appointees who never have to answer to the taxpayers paying for their decisions. Funny, him blustering about sensitivity, competence and early disclosure by the newspaper when his chosen people freely distributed the "sensitive" industrial park and cargo plane manufacturing plans at a public meeting and on the company's website.

We imagine there's some business acumen on the 29-member county board. We imagine there is a healthy body of vets experienced around aviation. We imagine that there are diverse views. We imagine the elected members will keep the needs of their constituents in mind and the public informed.

We imagine a little more faith in the political process and a little less reliance on the political machine might be MidAmerica's best hope for fiscally flying on its own.

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