Will 1996 resolution affect battle over control of MidAmerica?

News-DemocratOctober 29, 2013 

File photo of MidAmerica Airport.

ZIA NIZAMI — znizami@bnd.com

Proponents of St. Clair County Board members having more control of MidAmerica St. Louis Airport say county officials are not following a 1996 resolution calling for joint control of the county-owned airport.

St. Clair County Board Chairman Mark Kern, a Belleville Democrat, said in a statement MidAmerica Director Tim Cantwell has followed the resolution.

"Col. Cantwell has provided reports to the County Board since the resolution was passed and all bond issues affecting major construction projects have been approved jointly by the Public Building Commission and the County Board," Kern said.

The resolution, passed before the airport began operations in 1998, spells out the management of the financially struggling airport. The Mascoutah-based airport has not made a profit since it began operations.

The resolution says the county's Public Building Commission will provide "oversight of the day-to-day operations of MidAmerica airport." However, the resolution states the commission "shall not enter into contracts concerning the management and operation of the MidAmerica Airport without the joint approval of the County Board."

The resolution also states the commission must "provide regular reports and accounting of the day-to-day operations" of the airport to the board.

County Board member Frank Heiligenstein, a Democrat of Freeburg, said the resolution is similar to a proposal from him and three other board members for the board to have more control of airport oversight. Along with Heiligenstein, the proposed legislation is co-sponsored by board members Larry Stammer Jr., a Democrat of Belleville, and Republicans Ed Cockrell, of New Athens, and David Tiedemann, of Shiloh.

Kern has previously opposed the proposal saying the Public Building Commission ensures politics does not hamper business negotiations.

The proposal would make the County Board the airport authority instead of the commission. It also would require the board to approve the appointment of an airport director and outlines director duties to keep the board informed about airport finances.

"The only thing not in the resolution is the appointment of the airport director, which to me should be a recommendation from the full County Board like all other department heads we have at the courthouse," Heiligenstein said. "I don't know what the administration is hanging their hat on. Basically, it's there -- we just have to implement the process."

Stammer said the resolution shows the "County Board is just as important and needs to be just as informed on all measures occurring out at MidAmerica airport as the Public Building Commission."

"The resolution clearly provides for any contract concerning management and operation of MidAmerica to be voted on with the advice and consent of the County Board. I don't believe at this time that is happening," Stammer said.

Stammer added the resolution should immediately be followed and he looks forward to receiving regular reports from the Public Building Commission.

Cockrell said the resolution was "pretty straight forward" and the board does not give joint approval to contracts as outlined in the resolution.

"Not at all," Cockrell said. "The resolution doesn't say just bond issues. It should be any and all items related to the airport and management thereof."

The full County Board is not informed of the airport's day-to-day operations as the resolution intended, Cockrell said.

"The airport is too much of drain on the county budget," Cockrell said. "Elected representatives, if they choose to, should be totally informed. ... The resolution says the County Board shall be informed, and as a representative of taxpayers I think they should be informed."

County funds regularly subsidize airport operations. County audits show MidAmerica has received more than $28.7 million in county funds to subsidize its operations.

Stammer said if the resolution is not followed, then the first step would be seeking the advice of St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly for avenues of enforcement.

"I don't know how anyone in public office who took an oath of office would not try to fulfill and complete all the obligations (of the law)," Stammer said. "Clearly, the board is not allowed to vote on some of the contracts. The question I have to ask and my constituents are asking is 'How come the board is not being fully informed about what is going on at the airport?'"

The legislation proposed to transfer some control of MidAmerica to the board has not left committee-level discussions since it was introduced in July. In September, the board's Judiciary Committee postponed discussing the issue until the next budget year begins in January.

Cockrell submitted the proposal for consideration by the committee on Monday. The committee did not take action on proposal.

Cockrell said the committee must take action on the proposal because it was brought before the committee.

Kern said the committee had already taken action on the proposal in September.

"It did get acted on," Kern said during the committee meeting. "The Economic Development Committee has Tim Cantwell come once a month and he gives the report. Many board members have been there and have partaken and asked questions. I think it's working out well. I think the committee said give it a full budget cycle and see how it works out."

Stammer said former County Board Chairman John Baricevic kept board members fully informed and current board members no longer had a "voice in how money is spent" under Kern's chairmanship.

"We had an ad hoc committee for MidAmerica Airport that any County Board member could belong to and it was chaired by Mr. Cockrell who did a great job of running the committee -- making sure that we were informed. That disappeared over a period of time after John Baricevic left," Stammer said.

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

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