Metro-East News

Four St. Clair County Board members push MidAmerica Airport oversight change

Four St. Clair County Board members are pushing for the County Board to have full oversight of MidAmerica Airport.

Currently, airport operations are overseen by the Public Building Commission. A proposal, being pushed by District 26 Democrat Larry Stammer, District 21 Democrat Frank Heiligenstein, District 19 Republican David Tiedemann, and District 7 Republican Ed Cockrell, would bring the airport operations and finances under the purview of the County Board.

Under the proposed ordinance, which is scheduled to be on Monday’s County Board agenda, the Airport Director Tim Cantwell would report to the County Board and the County Board would have to approve airport programs and review incentive programs.

“We want to see it on the agenda, and we think it’s time the St. Clair County Board took ownership of what’s going on at MidAmerica Airport, and responsibility,” Stammer said.

County Board Chairman Mark Kern calls the proposal an election year ploy.

Stammer and Tiedemann are running for re-election to the County Board this year, and Stammer has a primary challenge. Cockrell, whose term on the County Board ends in December, is running for a Board of Review seat, which is a county-wide elected position.

Heilgenstein’s term ends in 2018.

We just want the public to know, not everybody is a Kool-Aid drinking bobblehead for Mark Kern, in Mark Kern County.

Ed Cochrell, St. Clair County Board member

In 2013, Cantwell made quarterly reports to the Economic Development committee, according to meeting minutes on the county website.

Cochrell, Stammer, Heiligenstein and Teideman previously pushed this initiative in 2013, but County Board members opted for monthly reports in front of the Economic Development committee.

“The airport director was supposed to report monthly to the economic development committee, which doesn’t happen,” Cochrell said. “They don’t approve or disapprove his report. Nobody does.”

In 2014 and 2015, according to county minutes, an airport report has been given at the Economic Development meeting during 11 out 19 meetings.

Heiligenstein, who is a part of the Economic Development committee, has missed nine meetings in the same time period.

He said his many absences from Economic Development meetings have been because of schedule conflicts, as he works as a code codification consultant for municipalities across the state.

Heiligenstein said the committee doesn’t take action to place Cantwell’s reports on file.

He added the County Board initially authorized the entities that began the airport. The Public Building Commission could act as a recommending body to the County Board when it comes to the airport, Heiligenstein said.

“We as a County Board need to step up and take responsibility for that activity out there and achieve more transparency,” Heiligenstein said.

Cantwell earned more than $124,000 in 2015, and received a $20,548 bonus.

“I see no bonus on something that takes a $12 million operating loss every year, why does somebody deserve a bonus?” Cochrell said.

All those county board members make over $19,000 a year and they should be spending more time at this courthouse than the committees they’re assigned to and one County Board meeting a month.

Mark Kern, St. Clair County Board Chairman

Cochrell, Stammer, Heiligenstein and Tiedemann want to look at all county contracts, the consultant deals, the airport director and the structure of the airport, Cochrell said.

“I understand stuff has to be kept in confidence at times. I’m a business person, I understand that,” Cochrell said. I want to see the taxpayers’ representatives that are duly elected by each constituency, informed. If most of the County Board wants to ignore it, like they do everything else, that’s fine. There are those among us that want to be informed about operations at MidAmerica Airport.”

They said they want reports by Cantwell at County Board meetings.

“He gets paid enough to do that. It would be one evening he could spend with us,” Cochrell said.

County chairman’s view

Kern said County Board members can have input and receive information about the airport either in private discussions or at the Economic Development committee meeting.

“They choose not to attend,” Kern said. “All those County Board members make over $19,000 a year and they should be spending more time at this courthouse than the committees they’re assigned to and one County Board meeting a month.”

Kern also defended the bonus of more than $20,000 Cantwell received last month. Cantwell was hired before Kern became county chairman.

“When he was hired, part of the agreement to get him to come working for the airport ... was an incentive-based contract,” Kern said. “The county is honoring the incentive-based contract that brought him here that he works under. It’s based on actually definitive things that occur at the airport.”

Kern said the proposal was just a political move with the upcoming elections.

“I think they’re looking at election time, they’re looking to try to sway the voters with misinformation,” Kern said. “We are looking at their proposal. It does have things that I believe the state’s attorney is going to have to correct in order to bring it to the board so it will be in the proper format.”

Kern added the number of flights at the airport has increased.

“They are moving in the right direction at MidAmerica,” Kern said. “As the economy has turned, we found some of our problems was due to the recession, and so we’re getting passed that. I think the Public Building Commission is doing a very good job. They’ve been very effective working with Allegiant Air to add flights, they continue to work toward the goal of bringing even more flights.”

Tiedemann said County Board members are kept in the dark, and he wants information about the airport directly from Cantwell.

We as a County Board need to step up and take responsibility for that activity out there and achieve more transparency.

Frank Heiligenstein, St. Clair County Board member

He added he didn’t believe it would pass because of the makeup on the County Board.

Tiedemann acknowledges people may read into it as an election year ploy.

“We’re still responsible to our property taxpayers, where their property taxes are is going,” Tiedemann said. “The money that is spent out at the airport is property tax money. If people vote me in, I like to know how their money is spent and if it’s being spent wisely.”

Cochrell added if this effort to change oversight of the airport fails, there might be another effort in the future.

“We just want the public to know, not everybody is a Kool-Aid drinking bobblehead for Mark Kern, in Mark Kern County,” Cochrell said.

To attend

  • What: St. Clair County Board
  • When: 7:30 p.m. Monday
  • Where: St. Clair County Courthouse Room B-564, Belleville.
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