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Impromptu meeting of airport authority appears to be legal

by Nora Edinger

REGIONAL EDITOR

BRIDGEPORT -- The incoming Benedum Airport Authority got a jump on its July 1 inception Thursday with a meeting for which some members received less than an hour's notice.

"It was put on my voice mail at 10:45 (a.m.), but I wasn't in my office," said Roger Diaz, president of the outgoing authority and a Harrison County commissioner. "I didn't find out until 11:15 or 11:20."

The meeting began at noon at a Fairmont State College property located at the recently renamed Harrison-Marion Regional Airport. It was called by Dr. Daniel Bradley, FSC president.

Fred VanKirk, state transportation secretary, said he first heard of the meeting on his voice mail Thursday morning. He traveled from Charleston to attend.

Media were given 10 minutes unofficial notice.

In spite of the haste in which the group assembled, most of the 11-member incoming board were present.

Half of the four commission appointees were there, including Diaz and Marion Commissioner Jim Sago. They are also members of the outgoing board, as are Harrison Commissioner Jim Smith and Marion Commissioner Cecily Enos, who were both absent.

Also present Thursday were VanKirk; Bradley; Bridgeport City Manager Kim Haws; Ralph Bean, the appointee from the state Council for Community and Economic Development, and two appointees from the Mid-Atlantic Aerospace Complex, Jim Skidmore and Charles Koukoulis. A third MAAC appointee, Gary Smith, was absent.

Del. Barbara Ann Warner, D-Harrison, a key player in the law that restructured the board, also attended as an observer.

The meeting appears to be legal, despite the late notice.

Rick Alker, executive director of the state Ethics Commission, said West Virginia's Open Meetings Law applies to governing boards of public agencies. While the commission does not enforce the law, he said the incoming authority does not seem to qualify as a governing board until July 1.

Even if the authority were officially enacted, the state law is so broad it would likely require a court challenge to determine whether sufficient notice was granted, he added. The law does not set a specific deadline for meeting notification, but requires the commission to advise boards of what is correct on a case-by-case basis.

Alker said boards that meet bi-weekly, for example, are advised to provide an agenda to the media and public three working days prior to a meeting.

Following commission advice on notification only assures board members are free from personal and criminal liability for their actions, Alker noted. A court could declare notice insufficient and nullify action taken during a questioned meeting.

Regional editor Nora Edinger can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at nedinger@exponent-telegram.com.

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