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Airport authority cries foul over bill

by Jeff Toquinto

BRIDGEPORT NEWS EDITOR

Legislation changing the Benedum Airport Authority was "orchestrated in a manner for us not to know," the board's president said.

According to authority President Roger Diaz, no one on the current 12-member board was aware of House Bill 3252 until after it passed. The only thing stopping the bill from becoming official is if Gov. Bob Wise chooses not to sign it, which those involved say is unlikely.

"It was a huge surprise," said Diaz. "I didn't learn about it until last Friday morning and it had already passed."

The bill was passed by a voice vote in both the House and the Senate. "There was no second reading and the rules were dispensed with," said Diaz. "It seems as if the bill was pushed through under a cloak of darkness."

Delegate Barbara Warner, D-Harrison, one of the bill's sponsors, said the legislation was no secret.

"I've said several times in the past that maybe the board needs revamped," said Warner. "I know I've talked with Oce Smith (current board member) about this way before the bill was introduced. I really don't think it was any secret."

Currently, the authority's members are appointed by the Harrison and Marion County commissions. The respective counties, which own the airport property, appoint six members apiece to the board that oversees the day-to-day operations of the facility.

If the law is enacted, the board will include four automatic, or ex-officio, members and seven appointed members. The ex-officio members would be Bridgeport City Manager Kim Haws, Fairmont State College President Dr. Dan Bradley, Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex Executive Director Jim Skidmore and Department of Transportation Secretary Fred Van Kirk.

The appointed members would be a Marion and Harrison County commissioner, a Marion resident and a Harrison resident appointed by their respective commissions, two representatives from an aerospace business in either county appointed by MAAC's board of directors and an appointment from the West Virginia Council for Community and Economic Development.

The new board will take office July 1 if Gov. Wise signs the bill.

Harrison County commissioners Jim Smith and Diaz were offended by Warner's remarks. She alluded to the board's role as no longer just "a matter of who cuts the grass or keeping deer off the runway."

"The board has upgraded the airport with runaway extension, property purchases and automatic doors," Smith said. "We do more than cut grass."

He also added that he knew of no public complaints about the authority's operation.

Diaz says the legislation appears to take control of the airport away from those who own it -- Harrison and Marion counties.

The bill was sponsored by Warner and Sam Cann, D-Harrison, along with two other delegates -- Doug Stalnaker, R-Lewis, and Harold Michael, D-Hardy.

Diaz said he believes the local delegates should have informed the authority of the legislation when it was being considered.

"They absolutely should have apprised us of what action they were taking," said Diaz. "We just didn't know."

The bill was passed in the House of Representatives April 6. It passed the Senate on April 12.

"It's hard to tell if the reorganization will work or if it won't work," said Diaz. " ... But I think any perception this board hasn't been progressive or forward thinking is the wrong perception."

Staff writer Tina Canon contributed to this report.

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