When should commissioners seek County Board approval for MidAmerica decisions?

News-DemocratDecember 19, 2013 

File photo of MidAmerica Airport.

ZIA NIZAMI — znizami@bnd.com

An attorney for the St. Clair County commission overseeing MidAmerica St. Louis Airport is drafting a guideline detailing when commissioners should seek approval for decisions related to the financially struggling airport.

The county's Public Building Commission Chairman Rich Sauget requested commission attorney Bernard Ysursa create the guideline with the review of State's Attorney Brendan Kelly and County Board Chairman Mark Kern. The county owns the Mascoutah-based airport, which has received $28.7 million in subsidies from the county in the past five years.

The proposal for a guideline followed a request from County Board member Ed Cockrell for the board to approve some of the commission's decisions. Cockrell, R-New Athens, asked the commission to seek County Board approval of an expansion by Boeing and a $60,000 consulting contract the commissioners OK'd during their meeting Thursday.

"The (2014) budget that was passed by the County Board subsidizes the airport to the tune of $1.4 million. We, County Board members, would just like to know and be informed what's going on," Cockrell told the commission.

Cockrell and some other board members, Republicans and Democrats, have been seeking more oversight and control of the airport since July. Ysursa said the County Board always approves real estate and lease related decisions.

On Thursday, the commission OK'd a plan to allow Boeing to house a small training facility at MidAmerica. The Boeing Co., an international aerospace and defense company based in Chicago, operates a subassembly plant at the airport.

The lease agreement between the county and Boeing allows for such expansion, according to MidAmerica Director Tim Cantwell. Ysursa said the facility's approval could be a "gray area" not specifically address in the intergovernmental agreements between the county and commission.

The commissioners also approved extending a six-month consulting contract with John Chang. Cantwell said Chang provided translation work for the airport in meetings between county and Chinese leaders.

Ysursa said he believed such consulting contracts did not need to be approved by the County Board.

A resolution approved by the County Board in 1996 calls for joint approval of contracts from the commission and board. Yet Ysursa said sections of the resolution conflicted with each other and his interpretation is based upon other intergovernmental agreements between the County Board and commission.

Boeing's plans for the training facility include installing a single twin-module outside the plant to provide classroom and office space. Boeing currently employs about 80 factory operators and 30 support staff in Mascoutah. The plant produces equipment for the F/A-18 Hornet fighter jet, CH-47 Chinook helicopter and C-17 Globemaster III, a military transport aircraft.

In March, the county approved issuing bonds to fund an expansion at the plant. Boeing is repaying the cost of the bonds through their lease agreement with the county.

The expansion included a 700-square-foot mezzanine for office. The expansion allowed Boeing to grow from 89 workers to the current 110 employees.

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

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