One of the St. Clair County Board members pushing for more openness in a county commission's handling of MidAmerica St. Louis Airport was able for the first time to attend a closed session with commissioners Thursday morning.
County Board member Ed Cockrell is one of three board members seeking to make the County Board the final authority for the airport, rather than the current seven-member Public Building Commission.
The commission met Thursday morning. In the past, County Board members were asked to leave closed sessions of the commission.
"I'm happy the commission allowed me to stay in the closed session and answer my questions," Cockrell said after the meeting. "As owners of the airport allowing them (the commission) to operate the airport, it is important for us to have access to information about the airport."
The County Board granted control of MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah to the commission shortly before the airport's opening in 1997. The commission, whose members are appointed and not elected by the public, oversees daily operations at the airport, including hiring consultants and granting economic incentives to developers.
The proposal has not been voted upon by the full County Board and is currently slated for discussion by the board's Economic Development Committee. The proposal is co-sponsored by Cockrell and fellow Republican David Tiedemann of Shiloh, along with Democrats Frank Heiligenstein of Freeburg and Larry Stammer Jr. of Belleville.
Cockrell, R-New Athens, said he believed he was the first County Board member allowed to attend a closed session of the commissioners.
MidAmerica Director Tim Cantwell requested the commission close their meeting to the public to discuss pending litigation and personnel issues, two reasons a government body is allowed to conduct business in private under Illinois' Open Meetings Act.
Commission Attorney Bernard Ysursa advised the commissioners that they should weigh whether County Board members should attend closed sessions depending upon the issues to be discussed.
"If we are talking about personnel, which are basically (commission) personnel, I don't know if we are allowed to have anyone other than (commissioners) in here," Ysursa said. "However, the matter I have also has to do with pending litigation involving the airport. I don't see any problem with having County Board members if they would want to sit in on that."
Cockrell was allowed to stay throughout the closed session, which involved a personnel issue. He said after the meeting he understood not sitting in while commissioners spoke about employees and his main concern was being informed on airport issues.
Ysursa and Commissioner James Nations cited concerns that those allowed to stay in the closed session must not reveal what the commission discussed.
In response, Cockrell said, addressing Commission Chairman Rich Sauget, "After 30 years in public life Mr. Chairman, I've never given any doubt that anything given in the strictest confidence would be revealed."
In other news, commissioners were briefed about an ongoing project to replace the security system at MidAmerica Airport. The new system, which was approved in March, will cost more than $1 million and replace the current system, which was installed in 1996.
The Federal Aviation Administration is funding 90 percent of the project, with the county providing about $103,000 for the project. Cantwell estimates 10,000 passengers will use the airport to fly to Orlando, Fla., on Allegiant Airlines by the year's end.
Contact reporter Daniel Kelley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 618-239-2501.