Filling the 'information gap': County board will get updates, not airport control

News-DemocratAugust 20, 2013 

File photo of MidAmerica Airport.

ZIA NIZAMI — znizami@bnd.com

The director of MidAmerica airport will now address a St. Clair County Board committee monthly in response to some board members' call for greater input on the airport's finances.

The board's Economic Development Committee unanimously approved having MidAmerica Director Tim Cantwell update the committee during its monthly meetings. Previously, Cantwell addressed the committee on a quarterly basis. The meeting time was also changed to 6 p.m. on the third Thursday of the month in an effort to accommodate the schedule of more board members and the public. Previously, the meetings were in the afternoon.

The change stemmed from an initial proposal to place more control of MidAmerica St. Louis Airport in Mascoutah within the 29-member County Board instead of the seven-member Public Building Commission. The committee did not take action on the proposal.

The proposal stemmed from four board members, two Democrats and two Republicans, and met opposition from Board Chairman Mark Kern. Kern, a Democrat, previously said he believes the members of the commission ensure politics do not hamper negotiations with business leaders.

Proponents of the measure say it would increase oversight of airport finances and place responsibility within elected leaders instead of those appointed by the County Board chairman.

Kern suggested the monthly updates from Cantwell and change in meeting time during the committee meeting on Tuesday. Kern said Cantwell "understands the concerns of the board, which is largely an information gap."

"Tim Cantwell could come here on a monthly basis, sometimes he's out of the country or otherwise unavailable, but the intent is for him to come here and give the same report here virtually he gives to the Public Building Commission," Kern said.

One of the co-sponsors of the proposal to shift oversight of the airport to the board, Democrat Frank Heiligenstein, of Freeburg, said the intention of the proposal was not to make the County Board the acting airport authority.

"There is no way we as a County Board want to do that, but I would like to see some mechanism set up through that ordinance vehicle (the proposed legislation) to have the County Board at least receive an airport review. If it's not at every County Board meeting, then as much as possible, because I think that way there would be fewer missteps on our part."

Committee Chairman Ken Sharkey, a Democrat representing Fairview Heights, said his main concern with the proposed legislation was board members keeping plans confidential.

"You and I have been on the board for a long time and maybe served with close to a 100 board members in the duration we've been here," Sharkey told Heiligenstein. "Not everybody is confidential and could keep a secret. I don't know if we can trust the entire body with the information until we're ready to act."

Along with Heiligenstein, the proposed legislation was co-sponsored by fellow County Board members Larry Stammer Jr. of Belleville, a Democrat, and Republicans Ed Cockrell, of New Athens, and David Tiedemann, of Shiloh.

Stammer said he believed the board's Judiciary Committee needs to discuss the issue because it is an ordinance change. The issue was initially debated within the Judiciary Committee on July 29, but at Kern's suggestion was moved to the Economic Development Committee.

Kern said he believed the issue has been resolved without an ordinance change.

"Policy is generated in committee," Kern said in response to Stammer. "This committee has come up with their view and it won't require an ordinance change to get to what I think Frank (Heiligenstein) is OK with. If we are really looking to resolve the issue Larry (Stammer), this does that."

Heiligenstein said he would like to meet with Kern and county staff to further discuss the ordinance proposal.

The issue of whether the Judiciary Committee should discuss the proposal brought an exchange between Kern and Stammer.

"I'm simply saying our administrative rules require the Judiciary Committee to review and vote on all ordinance changes," Stammer said.

"But the Judiciary Committee sent it here," Kern responded.

"They can send it to the moon. It still belongs to the Judiciary Committee according to our rules, and I will ask for a legal opinion from our state's attorney," Stammer replied.

Four days after the topic's initial discussion in the Judiciary Committee, Kern shifted committee assignments in a move some board members said was politically motivated to kill the proposal.

Heiligenstein was removed as chair of the Judicial Committee and named as a new member of the Economic Development Committee. Another supporter of the proposal, County Board member Nick Miller, was removed from the Economic Development Committee.

Miller represents Lebanon and was the only Republican on the committee. The Economic Development Committee is now comprised of all Democratic board members.

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

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

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